After a long and unpredictable relationship between OTAs and meta that veered from downright disrespect to a marketing marriage of convenience (or necessity?), the biggest OTA on the block is taking on meta head on. Expedia's TripAdvisor last week launched Flight Search, a meta still in beta that is already turning heads and clearly gunning for the biggest boat in the moat.

Well, how does TripAdvisor's meta measure up? Pretty darn well, considering Kayak has a five-year head start. It does not have all the bells and whistles of Kayak, such as flexible dates search and low fare availability calendars, and it only offers flights (whereas Kayak offers metasearch for hotel, car, cruise and vacations), but TripAdvisor also offers a few innovations?such as links to SeatGuru flight reviews and deep links into live seat availability maps on Expedia?that make its Flight Search product stand out.

TripAdvisor claims Flight Search returns far more results than any other metasearch player. While our test searches corroborated this claim, this does not appear to be a competitive differentiator. The number of results returned is not as important as the number and relevance of lowest logical fares. Both Kayak and Flight Search use ITA Software for the underlying airfare shopping technology, and there is likely to be little if any practical difference in the lowest logical fares returned.

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