Travel Wired: Online Gets Bigger While Passengers Get Smaller

By Martin Kelly

Getting out of the United States late last week felt like leaving a war zone.

Security was tighter than a travel agent’s profit margin with a slew of news crews prowling LAX for horror stories.

But the only tear jerker I had was one they wouldn’t be interested in – the Qantas starvation rations on the way over – perfect for those on a diet and a nightmare for everyone else.

It’s pretty obvious that this is an airline looking to cut costs any way they can. The food is basic and sparse.

I used to think that Singapore Airlines had no right to fly between Sydney and Los Angeles; now I’m not so sure.

What I am certain about is that online travel is already big and getting much bigger in the United States.

It has a far greater media presence than traditional travel operators, especially if you count airlines telling customers to book direct.

The marketing is anything but sophisticated – cheap and fast are the major messages.

Both Orbitz and Priceline are running TV campaigns offering savings of up to $US200 on holidays when flights and hotels are combined (ie dynamically packaged).

Accommodation website Hotels.com has taken a different tack in a promotion it is running on AmericanAirlines boarding card wallets.

Hotels.com is offering “Great Deals Direct From The Experts” complete with a photo of a few call centre staff looking like Blues Brothers extras, wearing dark shades and stony expressions.

The twist, of course, is that they are promoting people over machines with the tagline: “Call our certified experts 24/7 or go online today”.

Interesting – perhaps they have discovered people close a deal better than any computer and are worth the extra money (hotel sales were up during the June quarter for parent company Expedia).

AmericanAirlines, meanwhile, flush with its first profitable quarter in eons, is continually pushing the message that “we guarantee you’ll get our lowest fares at AA.com”.

Travellers who find a cheaper fare elsewhere will get a US$50 ticket voucher.

The good news is that is enough to get yourself a decent meal before boarding your next long haul flight.

Believe me, you’ll need it.

Ends.

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