Orbitz buffs up its low-cost website

Orbitz Worldwide on Wednesday will launch a retooled version of CheapTickets.com, its lesser-known U.S. travel agency aimed at travelers who strive for the lowest prices.

The revamp includes a new loyalty program for travel cheapskates and a new price-comparison tool.

Chicago-based Orbitz, which employs 800 in Chicago, is better known for travel bookings on Orbitz.com. But its CheapTickets.com brand appeals to a different customer, often younger people who use mobile apps, travel less frequently and are price-sensitive deal hunters. That’s why it’s worth maintaining separate websites, officials said.

“CheapTickets customers are really price-driven leisure travelers,” said Gayle Pigatto, general manager of CheapTickets. “These customers are going to spend a lot of time and energy ensuring they get the absolute best price for their vacation, and they’re going to celebrate a great deal.”

The effort to revitalize CheapTickets has been a year in the works, said Sam Fulton, president of Orbitz.com, which includes responsibility for CheapTickets. “We’ve been very focused on rebuilding brand awareness, re-establishing CheapTickets as the best source for bargain hunters shopping for travel,” Fulton said.

CheapTickets hasn’t been a focus for the company in recent years. “It’s a known brand that they have let slip (as they) paid more attention to the Orbitz brand,” said Maggie Rauch, a research analyst with travel market research company PhoCusWright. “It’s a brand that’s not very prominent in the marketplace right now.”

Orbitz officials hope to change that with new efforts at CheapTickets. They include a CheapCash loyalty program that racks up award currency for flight bookings that then can be spent on hotel stays.

For years, Orbitz, the second-largest U.S. online travel agency next to Expedia.com, has been trying to funnel more of its customers into booking hotel rooms, which are more lucrative for Orbitz than flight reservations.

Consumers who book a flight earn $50 in CheapCash that can be spent immediately on a hotel stay, often for the same trip. The award has to be redeemed during a booking in 30 days but can apply to travel within the next year. CheapTickets will offer an incentive to book via its mobile app by offering an extra $25 in CheapCash.

During a beta test, CheapTickets customers using the loyalty program saved an average of 13 percent on their vacations, Pigatto said.

The CheapTickets site also has relaunched a “cheap of the week” hotel offering. One such offering might be a 20-percent-off coupon code for a hotel booking.

A new best-price guarantee will match a competitor’s lower price and award a customer an extra $50 in CheapCash.

CheapTickets will also offer a hotel price-comparison tool to show customers how its rates stack up against the competition, such as Hotels.com and Expedia.

Behind the scenes, Orbitz and CheapTickets share the same inventory and prices for flights and hotels, but the websites sort offerings differently based on what visitors are likely to want, officials said. For example, CheapTickets will sort by lowest prices, and Orbitz is likely to show the best value, which might include a heavily discounted luxury hotel.

“Sorting can be very important,” Rauch said. “People don’t tend to look to Page 2 that much. They end up booking one of the first hotels they see.”

And the loyalty programs and promotions of Orbitz and CheapTickets are different, designed to appeal to different types of travel bookers, Fulton said.

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