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jun 03

New airfare search site Trax.com not ready for prime time

A new site bills itself as the lone, truly-unbiased airfare aggregator:

Trax. It left its beta stage this week and is now officially competing with the big boys like Kayak and TripAdvisor's flight search.

Trax retrieves fares from more than 200 travel suppliers and promises to be "totally unbiased." (For a summary of how other sites can sometimes be biased, see Mark Ashley's survey "Disaggregating fare aggregators 2009").

But how does Trax match up to the competition in finding the lowest fares in an quick, intuitive way?

Not so well.

We did a handful of sample airfare searches, and while the prices found at Trax were as good as anywhere, the site doesn't have several features we love at other metasearches. For example, if you click on "search nearby airports" at Kayak, the site does just that: It retrieves fares at other airports in the vicinity of the main gateway you selected. Trax has no such feature. If you type in "Los Angeles" at Trax, for example, the site will search only the main airport, LAX. Kayak gives you the option of simultaneously searching five other area airports, including Long Beach, Burbank, and Orange County—and it's often the case that the best deals are found at such alternative gateways.

On a couple of sample searches using Trax, the top (i.e., cheapest) fare listed was from 1800AirDeal.com, which would not reveal the name of the airline until after a customer paid for the ticket. This sort of "opaque" booking understandably makes a lot of travelers nervous, but it's a tradeoff some folks can live with providing they're getting a cheaper price than published fares. The problem is, in our results, the published fares were just as cheap. So we can't see any reason to book with 1800AirDeal. We also can't see a reason why 1800AirDeal was the first result at Trax, which listed that site above options for the same exact price booked directly with the airline.

What's more, there were some issues when we clicked on Trax to try to book. When you select a flight at Kayak, the site sends you to an airline's website or a booking engine like Orbitz to actually pay for your trip. A new window opens on your computer, and the same flight you selected at Kayak—and that flight alone—appears. Using Trax, however, when the new window opened, we were confronted with multiple options to choose from, meaning the traveler has to find the departure times and connections all over again, which is an annoying waste of time.

That's not the only glitch. In one of our searches, Trax listed a nonstop flight from Denver to New York City's LaGuardia airport on American Airlines. Such a flight does not exist. As the American website revealed, the airline only flies between LaGuardia and Denver with a stopover, typically in Chicago or Dallas.

Finally, Trax doesn't have innovations like TripAdvisor's fees estimator (which we've blogged about) and Kayak's baggage fees calculator (which we've blogged about), which help a traveler figure out the grand total for a flight, checked bag charges and all. So all things considered, we can't see a reason to use Trax over other metasearches. Our take is that it doesn't seem like Trax was ready to come out of its beta testing stage.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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