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Not too long ago, when you referred to the “Big Three” in online travel you meant Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity.
 
Well, all three of those brands do still have something in common—something they share with other household names in online travel: Hotels.com, Hotwire, Venere, CheapTickets, Trivago, Wotif, CarRentals.com.
 
They are all owned by Expedia, Inc.
 
Yes, in early 2015 Expedia finally gobbled up its two arch-rivals—Travelocity and Orbitz (and all of their subsidiaries)—and added them to the crowded slate of booking sites, OTAs (online travel agencies), and travel search engines it already owned. 
 
Now when you search Travelocity, the results are identical to those at Expedia, which means all Travelocity really brings to the table is one highly annoying gnome. (Replacing Orbitz’s infamously poor database results is pending governmental approval of the acquisition.)
 
So are there any independent online travel brands left?
 
Well, of course there are Booking.com, KAYAK.com, Priceline.com, RentalCars.com, and Agoda.com.
 
Yeah, those are all owned by The Priceline Group—which, for good measure, also owns the restaurant-reservation service OpenTable.
 
OK, so how about TripAdvisor? It is a populist, crowd-sourced site for unvarnished (if woefully inexpert and often ill-informed) travel information, right?
 
True. And did you know TripAdvisor was only spun off from Expedia in 2011? Or that TripAdvisor also owns (deep breath here): Airfarewatchdog, BookingBuddy, CruiseCritic, Family Vacation Critic, FlipKey, GateGuru, Independent Traveler, SeatGuru, SmarterTravel, Tingo, Jetsetter, TravelPod, Viator, and VirtualTourist
 
(To its credit, TripAdvisor pretty much seems to leave most of these acquired properties to their own devices, and most continue to run largely independently.) 
 
Now this doesn’t mean you cannot get excellent travel intel or find great deals on any of those sites. For my money, Booking.com is still the best one-stop-shopping site for lodgings of many types, CruiseCritic.com is the best site for cruising information and cruiser bulletin boards, and there’s no better place than Viator.com for ease in booking walking tours and other travel experiences from multiple local outfitters and guide services. 
 
However, it is chilling to think about how rampant consolidation has lead to what amounts to a triopoly controlling so many of the most recognized brands in online travel booking and search services.
 
Not that those three corporations have hoovered up everything. There are still some feisty independent OTAs and aggregators out there going it alone and doing quite well. 
 
I challenge anyone to find a better flight search engine than Danish-based Momondo.com (which, for the record, does also own CheapFlights.com). Yelp.com continues to hold its own against TripAdvisor when it comes to crowdsourced restaurant reviews, and the lodging aggegrator HotelsCombined.com continues to provide the best aggregator search results, depsite the recent aggressive advertising onslaught of rival Trivago.
 
How long can they stay independent and un-acquired in this era of rampant consolidation? That remains to be seen.


Photo credit: Images Money/Flickr