When searching, remember what goes on behind the scenes

Special to The Times

ONE of the most popular places to start planning a vacation online is at an Internet search engine such as Google or Yahoo.

Type “Las Vegas” in the Google search box, and you get a list of websites about traveling to Las Vegas. The top result (after maps of Las Vegas) may be, an online travel agency that specializes in Sin City. Also near the top of the results are sites about Las Vegas that are not trying to sell anything.

There are clearly marked “sponsored links” at the top of the page from travel agencies and others that are trying to sell Vegas vacations, but the results beneath are driven by Google’s algorithm that determines the best match for a search term based on popularity and other factors.


On Yahoo, the search results page was altered in April.

Type “Las Vegas” into the Yahoo search box and between the sponsored results at the top of the page and the actual search results (which are otherwise similar to Google’s) is a link to “Las Vegas NV Visitors Guide.” Click it and it takes you to Yahoo Travel. Change your search slightly to “Las Vegas flights” and a Yahoo box comes to the top of the search results. It’s dubbed “Farechase,” and it allows shoppers to search for flights to Las Vegas from the search results page.

Yahoo has inserted at the top of the search results page its own, proprietary travel offerings.

“It’s just a logical step [for Yahoo] to exploit the Farechase asset, now having it pop up more often,” said Lorraine Sileo, an industry analyst for Connecticut-based PhoCusWright, a travel research firm.

But consumers need to understand what they are seeing and using.

“It’s pretty innovative in a whole bunch of different ways,” said Jasper Malcolmson, director of Yahoo Travel.

Farechase is a meta-search engine. Translated from geek, that means it searches other travel websites for the best deals. It’s similar to how Yahoo searches the Web but with an important caveat: It searches only those travel sites with which it has unpaid agreements.

Consumers don’t buy tickets on meta-search sites, which include Kayak, SideStep and Mobissimo, but are sent to the website making the offer. Those meta-search engines are essentially marketing vehicles that help drive travel shoppers to other websites.

Typing “Las Vegas flights” into the Yahoo search box brought up a Farechase box that showed me a $99 fare to Las Vegas. To find the lowest fare, Farechase searched several months ahead. The dates in the box reflect the dates for which that airfare was available. I changed the dates to early June and searched for a flight.

Farechase returned 120 flights on nine carriers. The lowest fare ($147) was on JetBlue. I then clicked the “go” button and was taken to the JetBlue site.

Unlike some meta-search sites, Farechase does not charge the airlines for inclusion. And some airlines do not participate, so you won’t see those flights. Southwest, for example, does not participate in any meta-search engine. Its fares can be accessed only at Its best fare to Vegas on the dates selected was $178.

Farechase also will launch from a Yahoo search for hotels.

The results are driven by keyword patterns, Yahoo’s Malcolmson said. The same caveats apply for hotels as for airlines. Not all websites are included in a search. Notably missing on Farechase are Expedia, and Travelocity, though many hotel sites such as Sheraton, Hilton and Marriott are included.


You can reach James Gilden at