How does American Airlines/booking site tiff affect travelers?

If you hadn't noticed all the shoving, American Airlines (AA) has been in a bit of a tiff with a couple of online booking sites. On December 1, the airlines pulled its fares from Orbitz, upset over fees paid to the third-party sites. Then Expedia announced it wouldn't renew its contract with AA at the end of December, and now Sabre Holdings, the huge online aggregator of flight data, announced it won't display AA fares either.

When or if this dirt cloud will settle is one question. Another concerns whether travelers booking flights are losing out?

Doing a sample check on several sites (American Airlines, Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and Momondo), I compared late January fares on several direct US domestic flights as well as an international trip from Dallas/Ft Worth to Cancún. And, unsurprisingly, found a mix of results.

Travelers using sites like Orbitz or Expedia, or uninvolved booking sites like Travelocity and Momondo, can find cheaper roundtrip fares than on American Airlines' site for flights such as New York's JFK to Dallas (US$209 vs US$260 on AA's site), and about the same from JFK to Chicago (about US$213).

But AA's site had a couple better deals not captured on the booking sites. For example, AA priced JFK to Los Angeles for US$258,  $20 less than Orbitz; while Dallas to Cancun on AA was US$288, over $100 cheaper than the cheapest fare on Orbitz and $98 cheaper than Travelocity's.

What does this mean in the long term? Is this the beginning of an all-out war between airlines and the $5 or so fee paid to booking sites per sale, or a passing skirmish?

Hard to say. But as long as booking sites and airlines continue their huff-and-puff, be sure to compare any affected airlines' sites with regular booking sites (including Southwest Airlines). And note, as included in this great New York Times piece on cost-cutting ideas for travel, that airfares tend to be cheapest on Tuesdays.