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As a sign of just how desperate travel sellers are getting -- or perhaps one of how the Web is turning into a true free-for-all -- the major travel booking sites have been shucking their fees. Last month, Orbitz, Travelocity, CheapTickets, Hotwire, and Expedia all reduced or eliminated the fees they charged for booking airfare through May 31. That eliminates a cost to passengers of about $7 per flight.

Until recently, if you compared a hotel quote on, say, Travelocity and Orbitz, you might see a lower price on Travelocity than on Orbitz, but when you clicked through to make your purchase, suddenly the "taxes and fees" line item that showed up near the end of the process could reverse your good fortune and make the other website the winner. It was time consuming, annoying, and expensive. But the websites make their money out of a portion of those fees (and some analysts think that up to 60% of their income is based off the fees), which can easily mount $25 to $40 on a single night at a standard business class hotel.

But Orbitz will not charge a fee through July 15. Presumably, it will take its profit out of any markups in the hotel rate. In response, Expedia matched the fee cut (I'd expect Travelocity to do it soon, too), but Orbitz says it will still be cheaper than competitors like Travelocity "80% of the time."

Hooray! With the new savings, we can finally afford to check bags and use pool towels again!

Orbitz, though, hasn't ended the changes there. The site, which is clearly trying to remake itself to draw travelers again and stay in business, has started quoting you one price, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get rate. I wish the airlines could try the same thing. I'm sick of combing through airfare sales for $199 that turn out, when I'm ready to plug in my credit card number, to be nearly twice that price because of taxes and fees. Tell me the price, the whole price, and nothing but the price. Then we'll see how you really stack up in the marketplace.

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