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“Every time you look at a deal, your search is recorded somewhere,” the ex-Priceline programmer told me.

The hospitality industry has responded to all of this by trying to sell rooms without paying commissions.

For every potential deal, there are likely to be multiple aggregators in the food chain, with each site taking a cut and ultimately driving up the final cost.

My ex-Priceline source told me that aggregators explain away price fluctuations by citing the ebb and flow of supply and demand, which varies greatly in seasonal resort areas. Just as airlines and hotels began trimming travel agent commissions more than 20 years ago, now history is repeating itself.

Last August, Andrea Giacobbe logged on to Skyscanner, a European metasearch engine like Expedia and Travelocity that scans multiple travel websites and surfaces the cheapest fare.

Giacobbe, a 52-year-old management consultant, was looking to book a flight from New York City to Genoa, Italy—a trip he’s made numerous times for family visits. This time, the cheapest fare wasn’t that cheap: It was for an Alitalia flight that made two stops, through Milan and Rome, for ,050.

Who bothers talking to a human being—a travel agent?

You’re just going to be stuck in a long option queue.

Their conclusion is that the industry is in flux, and that really good bargains—for hotels, flights, and car rentals—are often largely illusory.All of this was made possible by the web aggregators.Web aggregators work like this: When you type in where you want to go, when you want to go, or where you want to stay, the aggregators give you a list of options.“Hotels are not giving the aggregators as many good deals as they did in the past,” a former software engineer who used to work for Priceline told me.(He didn’t want his name used because he still is seeking work in the industry.) “You might as well call Sheraton’s front desk.”And good luck finding the delinquent parties: The number of players behind each transaction has ratcheted up.I talked to a CEO in California that runs a corporation consisting of a handful of resort hotels (he also didn’t want to be identified).