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Business

Cheapest airfare might be on airlines’ own website

Some airlines are making travelers work harder to find a deal.

Carriers are offering more deals to passengers who book flights directly on their websites. It’s an effort to steer people away from online travel agencies such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, which charge the carriers commissions of roughly $10 to $25 a ticket.

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Frontier Airlines is the latest carrier to jump into the fight, disclosing Wednesday it will penalize passengers who don’t book directly with the airline. Those fliers won’t be able to get seat assignments until check-in. And they’ll pay more in fees while earning half as many frequent-flier miles.

‘‘Particularly for families, it provides an incentive to book directly,’’ said Daniel Shurz, Frontier’s senior vice president, commercial. ‘‘There is no logical reason for our customers to want to book anywhere else.’’

Contracts with the online travel agencies prohibit airlines from offering lower fares on their sites. Instead, airlines such as JetBlue Airways Corp., Spirit Airlines Inc., and Virgin America often provide discount codes in e-mails to their frequent fliers or through Facebook and Twitter.

The savings for booking directly can be significant.

Toronto-based Porter Airlines frequently offers codes that save travelers up to 50 percent. A recent search of flights from Chicago to Toronto for November produced an airfare of $249.61 using a code at flyporter.com. The same flights would have cost $404.38 through Travelocity.

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Besides the discounts, the airlines say their sites offer passengers a better experience, providing up-to-date seat maps, details about in-flight entertainment, and more seamless booking.

The online sites said they provide travelers with several advantages, including comparison shopping and the ability to mix and match airlines for a single trip. ‘‘That’s something you can’t do on an airline’s site,’’ said Dara Khosrowshahi, president and CEO of Expedia Inc.

The battle is not new. Southwest Airlines Co. was a pioneer in cutting out the middleman. The airline does not list its fares on third party sites. That means travelers have to search both southwest.com and then elsewhere to compare fares. Southwest hopes fliers will never make it to another site.

Frontier, part of Republic Airways Holdings Inc., is making its changes specifically to cut the commissions. And customers have a big incentive to book directly.

Only those going through the airline’s website will get to pick their seats in advance. Travelers booking through third-party websites will only get half the frequent-flier miles. Fees for changing itineraries, going standby, or bringing a pet onboard will be $50 higher for those booking elsewhere.

Scott Mayerowitz writes for the Associated Press.

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