The early results are in, and the new and controversial online travel site, Orbitz, is mostly living up to its promise of low fares and customer-friendly service. Orbitz was spawned in the late 1990s, when airlines were struggling to reclaim some of the revenue earned by travel agents and Web sites for distributing tickets (commissions paid for domestic flights totaled $2.1 billion last year). Five carriers--American, Continental, Delta, Northwest and United--joined forces to create what became Orbitz.

The Orbitz edge: Its airline partners have agreed never to offer lower fares to competing sites and to sometimes offer the best deals exclusively through Orbitz. In theory, that would mean that no competitor could beat Orbitz--but in the convoluted world of airline fares, theories sometimes work as well as yesterday's boarding pass.

In some cases, Orbitz members offer lower fares on a competing site. How is that possible? Industry experts see a variety of explanations. For example, some sites may have access to ticket inventory that is sold through consolidators--essentially, tickets that are sold in bulk--which may be priced even lower than the ones offered directly by Orbitz members to the Orbitz site.

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