Like a lot of frequent travelers, Kevin Pollard relies on the internet to save money on airfares, hotel rooms and rental cars. The quest generally took him to the web’s most popular travel sites — Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia — until he discovered a new breed of specialty search engines that promise to dig up even better bargains.

“I am always looking for something that gets me the best deal out there with the least amount of effort,” said Pollard, 56, an international marketing consultant who travels from his Metarie, La., home every other week.

Pollard believes he got just that with Mobissimo, which he used to plan two recent trips. The San Mateo company and other so-called internet “travel aggregators” such as SideStep, Cheapflights, Qixo, Kayak and Farechase are hoping to win more converts as people arrange holiday season getaways.

“Many consumers are becoming frustrated with the online travel experience,” said Mobissimo co-founder Svetlozar Nestorov. “Our goal is to make it better.”

Millions of travelers turn to their computers whenever they plot their itineraries. Forrester Research estimates that 29.4 million U.S. households will use the internet to book travel in this calendar year, spending $53 billion in the process.

Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz have helped change the way people book travel by deploying sophisticated travel reservation systems that quote prices from most major airlines, hotels and rental car providers.

“The online agencies really represented ‘Travel 1.0’ because they democratized the process of booking travel and made it available to all of us,” said Phil Carpenter, SideStep’s vice president of corporate marketing. “The next generation is represented by the travel search engines. We’re ‘Travel 2.0.'”

The travel engines say they are more consumer-friendly because they crawl the websites of travel suppliers more frequently, generating an even broader array of choices.

After a selection is made, the travel engines send people directly to the supplier’s website to complete the purchase. They collect referral fees from the travel suppliers, but those commissions generally fall about 50 percent below the costs triggered by a booking at three major online travel agencies — a difference that leads to lower consumer prices.

San Francisco-based Qixo is the only travel engine that charges consumers to use its service.

Besides offering better prices, the search engines say they pull fares from suppliers that aren’t represented by the major travel agencies. Several travel engines include fares from JetBlue in their indexes. SideStep, the oldest travel engine, includes the entire inventory of Southwest Airlines, the industry’s longtime discount leader.

Neither Southwest nor JetBlue list their fares through the online travel agencies — a void that has prompted many consumers to consistently visit three or four travel websites to ensure they are getting the best deal. The travel search engines depict themselves as a one-stop shop that provides a totally transparent window into industry pricing.

The growth prospects of the travel search engines look even brighter now that internet heavyweights Yahoo and America Online are moving into the space.

More here.