Priceline Relaunches, Adds Hotels and Rental Cars

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Yesterday's relaunch of Priceline.com -- the Internet travel company now lets consumers search for airline tickets, hotel reservations and rental cars in addition to naming their price for tickets -- puts it on par with Expedia and other online travel companies.


"We now have the opportunity to address the full leisure market," said Brett Keller, chief marketing officer at Priceline, Norwalk, CT. "This does put us right into the mix in terms of competing with the Expedias, Travelocities and Orbitzes of the world."


Though Priceline let online shoppers search for airline tickets in January, this is the first time shoppers can search from a full range of travel products, including hotels and rental cars.


"They can select an itinerary and purchase that, or, if they choose to try to secure a deeper discount, they can name a price for air, hotel and rental car products," Keller said.


Though Priceline was the fastest-growing online provider in 2004, Keller said the company needed to expand its services because of the increased competition in the air travel market over the past two years.


"With the way the retail prices ... for airline tickets have come down, not as many people are interested in securing those lower rates for a non-disclosed itinerary," he said.


Also fueling Priceline's expansion was that adding airline ticket search last year boosted Priceline's full-year gross travel bookings 52 percent.


Priceline set off the relaunch with a multimillion-dollar television campaign featuring William Shatner. In the spot that carries the tagline "Shop -- Compare -- Save," Shatner encounters consumers who are comparison shopping for groceries, shoes, new cars and bedding. From them, he gets the "brainstorm" to turn Priceline.com into a comparison-shopping travel service.


Radio, direct marketing, e-mail marketing and paid search advertising will support the promotion but Keller declined to give details. Executives would not disclose the exact amount of this campaign but said Priceline would spend at least $30 million on advertising this year.


The revamped offerings and Web site yield more opportunity for advertisers of travel products and related services. Priceline's front page now includes a few "featured destinations." When a user clicks on the featured locale, there are a "number of advertising opportunities," Keller said.


Priceline is working with 60,000 hotels, airlines and rental car companies in the relaunched service. The company's recent acquisition of Active Hotels also gives its customers access to 8,000 European hotels, which "don't work with or connect directly to the other major travel and search engines," he said.


In another move to differentiate itself, Priceline is offering a best-price guarantee. If a customer makes a purchase, then finds a better price online within a certain period of time, Priceline will refund the difference.


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