Selling Online Boosted Alaska Air

Alaska Air, which in 1995 was one of the first airlines to sell tickets online, has sold $1 billion worth of tickets this year through its Web site, executives said.

That's about 40 percent of its total bookings, said Steve Jarvis, the Seattle-based airline's vice president of sales and customer experience.

It doesn't account for tickets bought online through other travel sites such as Expedia and Travelocity. Adding those sales, Alaska Airlines and its sister carrier Horizon Air sell more than half their fares online, Jarvis said.

Alaska Airlines claims to be the first U.S. airline to begin selling tickets online, in 1995. Back then, customers logged onto a bare-bones site where they could do little more than check a list of scheduled flights and book a seat, said Mark Guerette, who runs the Web site and helped build it 12 years ago.

Today, customers can use the site to buy tickets, print boarding passes, check bags, book a hotel room, rent a car and check their frequent-flier accounts, among other things.

"We were ecstatic and high-fiving each other when we sold 50 tickets in a week," said Guerette, remembering an early milestone in the Web site's progress.

"Now it takes us 6.9 minutes to sell that many," he said.

The more customers who book online, the better it is for the airline's bottom line, Jarvis said. That's because the company can save more than $10 per ticket when customers book at, he said.

It costs Alaska Airlines more to sell through old-fashioned travel agents and Internet travel sites because of the reservation fees and commissions they charge, Jarvis said.

Alaska Airlines has nudged customers toward its own Web site in different ways over the years.

Early on, the airline awarded frequent-flier miles for every ticket purchased online, but now it offers miles only as an incentive for first-time online ticket buyers, Jarvis said.

"We've hit a critical mass and we don't need to do that anymore," he said.

Today, the airline's Web site marketing program includes painting the site address on the side of two of its jets, mentioning the site in all of its advertising, and guaranteeing passengers that they'll get the lowest price available for a ticket when they book online directly through the airline, Jarvis said.

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