LOS ANGELES – America Online (search), the world's largest Internet service provider, on Monday launched a test version of a travel Web site it hopes will attract consumers looking to bypass online travel agencies and book directly with airlines and hotels.
"Some shoppers are loyal to an agency brand, but we believe the vast majority would rather book through a supplier and miss the middle-man fees," said Jeffrey DeKorte, general manager of travel at the Time Warner Inc. (TWX) online unit.
The new comparison shopping site, www.PinpointTravel.com (search), "facilitates a behavior that already exists," he said, noting that online travel shoppers typically visit three or four sites before buying.
Travel search sites, a fast-growing segment of the Web, refer customers to providers, rather than booking hotels and plane tickets on behalf of the providers, which is the model of most big travel Web sites.
Travel search competitors include SideStep.com and Yahoo Inc's (YHOO) farechase.com.
The AOL site uses technology from Kayak.com, a new travel search company launched by founders of Orbitz, now owned by Cendant Corp. (CD), Sabre Holdings Corp.'s (TSG) Travelocity and Expedia, a unit of IAC/Interactivecorp (IACI).
AOL also has a minority equity stake in Kayak.com (search).
The AOL site contains advertising and collects a fee of 50 cents to $1 for each click to a supplier's Web site -- although so far airlines are not paying fees.
The site does not have permission to search major online travel agencies like Travelocity and Expedia, which generally see travel search as competitors.
The company is also banking that its instant messaging, content reviews and travel ratings will attract users.
Travelocity will continue to power the AOL Travel site.
PinpointTravel.com, like AOL's Mapquest.com, will be marketed as a stand-alone entity easily accessed by Web surfers who are not AOL members, the company emphasizes.