Amazon.com has selected SideStep.com to replace Hotwire.com as its travel provider, a move that could add momentum to a possible shift in online travel distribution.

SideStep is an aggregator, one of a new breed of travel sites that simultaneously search the Web sites of airlines, hotels, car rental companies and travel consolidators, and then present itineraries and prices so users can comparison shop and book their travel directly from the supplier's Web site.

Aggregators make money through referral fees and advertising. Intermediaries, such as Hotwire, Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz, typically sell inventory handed over by suppliers and collect a markup or commission on what they sell.

While less than 2% of consumers use meta search engines to book travel, per Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., the aggregators seem to be gaining ground by aligning with big general search engines. Kayak is the meta search engine for AOL; Yahoo acquired FareChase.com to launch its new travel product. SideStep will replace Hotwire, which sold discounted hotel rooms, airfare, cruises and car rentals, starting next year on Amazon. The aggregator also signed an alliance with American Airlines, which will advertise on SideStep and allow direct connection to its schedule and fares. Agreements were also forged last month with Marriott and Hilton hotels. Orbitz also allows SideStep to spider its Web site.

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