Ticket Giveaway Launches Orbitz

A promotion offering free airline tickets has helped online travel site Orbitz sell more than $1 million in airline tickets and pull in more than 300,000 unique visitors and 38,000 registered members on the site's June 4 launch date.

The sweepstakes, which runs through July 15, gives away a ticket anywhere in the United States once per hour and a ticket anywhere in the world once per week. To enter, consumers register for the Orbitz site by entering their e-mail addresses, names, ZIP codes and home city airports. Registrants also may opt in for e-mail travel updates.

“Doing a sweepstakes for a travel site is usually a box to be checked off,” said Henry Harteveldt, senior analyst at Forrester Research. “What is noteworthy is the richness of this sweepstakes — the winner-every-hour aspect encourages registration for the site. This was a very smart move by Orbitz to boost its database.”

Orbitz's challenge will be to convert contest registrants into active members.

“Once Orbitz builds its database, it must get folks to fill out more robust profiles to understand their travel needs and wants,” Harteveldt said.

Orbitz is marketing the sweepstakes and its services through online, print and television marketing. The company aired radio ads this week in 25 markets nationwide. Print ads are planned to debut this weekend in 25 newspapers describing the service and sweepstakes. Next week, Orbitz begins television and radio ads across 12 markets describing the new site. Print ads also break this week in 40 magazines, including Vanity Fair, Travel & Leisure and in-flight publications.

The online arm of the campaign began this week with banner ads that link consumers to the site and the sweepstakes registration. The ads ran on 15 Web sites, including Yahoo, Excite and Altavista.

Through June 5, Orbitz had almost 500,000 unique visitors and was nearing 50,000 registered members. The site — founded by American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines Corp. and United Airlines — offers leisure travelers published and Web-only fares from 40 partner airlines as well as hotel and car rental fares and vacation packages.

The company would not reveal its marketing budget, but Roland Jacobs, chief marketing officer at Orbitz, Chicago, said, “our two large competitors (Expedia and Travelocity) spend roughly $100 million in marketing per year, and we need to stay in that range.”

Jacobs said Orbitz had formed “soft-dollar” marketing agreements with its airline partners. These deals will include sending e-mails to customers of selected airlines, inserts in ticket jackets, ads in airline magazines and posters in airport terminals.

Orbitz targets leisure travelers ages 30 to 50 who travel more than three times per year, have an annual household income of at least $50,000 and have three or more members per household.

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