American Airlines aims for online package travel: Companies such as Expedia dominate, but AA thinks it can save money for everyone

Jul. 10--American Airlines is pushing into the lucrative vacation-package market by revamping its Internet site to allow travelers to book fares, hotel rooms, rental cars, event tickets and other items all at once, for one price. The airline is...


Jul. 10--American Airlines is pushing into the lucrative vacation-package market by revamping its Internet site to allow travelers to book fares, hotel rooms, rental cars, event tickets and other items all at once, for one price.

The airline is starting an ad campaign to tout the redesigned site and is giving away a trip every day through Aug. 31.

The site, www.aavacations.com, is its latest effort to enhance its online presence. In recent months, the Fort Worth carrier has made it easier for customers to book tickets using frequent-flier miles and compare fares on flights at different times.

Customers now can compare options for flights, hotels and cars, identify destinations and amenities, and include tickets, such as visits to Disney World or Broadway shows. The site also allows them to pay for some or all of the package with frequent-flier miles.

Many online travel agents, such as Expedia.com and Travelocity.com, already offer such packages, but American allows customers to use their miles to pay.

"This is more in line with how customers are used to interacting online today," said Suzanne Rubin, president of American Airlines Vacations.

The market for online vacation packages has grown significantly in recent years, to about $2.2 billion this year, up 100 percent from 2005, according to travel analyst Henry Harteveldt of Forrester Research. Travelers increasingly want to book their trips on one site, and arranging a package deal is often cheaper than paying for items separately.

"There is no question that this is a fast-growing segment and a very lucrative market," Harteveldt said. "That's why American wants a bigger share."

Although American and other carriers have offered vacation packages for years, online travel agencies control 92 percent of the market. Expedia is the largest provider, according to Forrester, and Travelocity, based in Southlake, is a major player.

Travelocity also recently rolled out an upgrade, which it calls the "experience finder." Trip planning begins with categories like "adventure," "indulgence" or "romance" rather than just a destination.

In addition to luring more customers, American hopes that the new site will lower its costs by bypassing telephone reservations agents, Rubin said.

One disadvantage for customers is that American's site only offers flights on American. So lower fares that might be available on discount carriers like Southwest wouldn't be available.

"From a consumer standpoint, that's probably the biggest downside," Harteveldt said. "But if you're a frequent flier or live in an American hub city, there are probably some good deals there for you."

Shares of AMR Corp., American's parent (ticker: AMR), finished unchanged at $28.49 in trading Monday.

Online: For more airline coverage online, check out Sky Talk, the Star-Telegram's aviation and travel blog, under Interactive on www.star-telegram.com

Packing your vacation

Online vacation packages, where travelers can combine flights, hotels, rental cars and events, have become increasingly popular in recent years. Here are some of the top sites:

Travelocity www.travelocity.com

Expedia www.expedia.com

Orbitz www.orbitz.com

Priceline www.priceline.com

CheapTickets www.cheaptickets.com

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Trebor Banstetter, 817-390-7064

tbanstetter@star-telegram.com

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