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United Betting on Bringing Passengers Into Direct Channels

By Robert Silk | Travel Weekly

Only time will tell if United will follow through on its recent, bold pronouncement that it will stop doing business with the Expedia Group of OTAs as of Oct. 1.

But should United bring the promised move to fruition, it could signal a new resolve by the Chicago-based carrier to drive distribution away from the price-sensitive OTA model and on to its own website and mobile app.

“The airlines that we speak to are very big on investing in the digital transformation process,” said Aditi Mehta, a marketing manager for Pros, which develops pricing engines and revenue management solutions for airlines. “Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen United invest heavily in their website and mobile app.”

If United removes its inventory from Expedia, it will be following a path that is becoming increasingly common among airlines. JetBlue and Delta have removed inventory from selected OTAs in recent years, though not from any as large as the Expedia network. More substantially, Southwest doesn’t work with OTAs at all.

Mehta, though, said airlines like United want more opportunity to control the offer they make to customers, especially as improving technology enables them to increasingly personalize those offers.

“I’m sure United has done the calculus, and they are looking at where they are seeing the return from,” she said. “They are probably seeing a lot of return from their own channels.”

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