Lastminute.com has added low-cost carriers to its product range in a move the company admitted was well overdue.
Agents and consumers will now be able to compare around 40 European-wide budget airlines with its existing scheduled and charter flights.
It will use screen-scraping technology through Travel Fusion to access the flights.
Commercial director Vic Darvey agreed the introduction was “not before time” but said finding technology robust enough to search the low-cost airline systems had proved hard.
“We have had difficulty in finding partners that were stable enough to screen-scrape,” said Darvey.
Despite a thawing in relations with the trade in recent times, low-cost carriers remain reluctant to forge close working partnerships with the likes of Lastminute, preferring to control their own inventory and drive sales through their own websites.
Various other sites which feature low-cost carriers use screen-scraping technology.
“EasyJet and Ryanair are still not playing ball,” confirmed Darvey. “They frown on screen-scraping but I believe they are pretty happy with these back-door bookings.
“They have been very clear in saying that they don’t want to work with the trade but they can’t ignore 7,000 travel agents.”
Darvey said the reluctance to forge links with the trade was not so much about the refusal to pay commission – although that remains the case – but more to do with customer data.
“It’s all about the ownership of the customer,” he said. “EasyJet and Ryanair do not want to lose that data to third parties.”
Meanwhile, Lastminute said it was in no rush to ditch any of its niche brands despite some calls within the organisation for rationalisation.
“Brands such as Ifyouski.com have huge, loyal followings with blogs and chatrooms,” said Darvey. “If sites have got a community they will be around for a long time.”
Lastminute acquired 23 brands when it bought Online Travel Corporation in 2004 with UK managing director Mark Jones saying rationalisation was “inevitable”.