Delta Takes on OTAs With Online Booking Bonus

Remember when most airlines offered a 1,000-mile bonus for tickets booked on the airlines' own websites? That bonus was subsequently reduced to 500 miles. And eventually it was discontinued altogether.

Until this week, that is, when Delta and Northwest turned the clock back, reinstating the 500-mile bonus for flights booked on delta.com or nwa.com through May 31.

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USA Today made a big deal of exposing the supposed "ulterior motive" behind the move, namely that the airlines are losing some of their share of online bookings to the OTAs (online travel agencies) such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, which have temporarily waived their booking fees for airline flights.

Well of course that's what Delta's doing! Lest we forget, the original booking bonuses were designed to train consumers to switch from booking by phone (which is expensive) to booking online (which costs the airlines less), but not with the OTAs (which among other things robs the airlines of cross-sell opportunities). The airlines have largely succeeded in training travelers to buy their tickets online. But the battle to marginalize the OTAs continues, and Delta clearly saw the OTAs' fee waiver as a potential game-changer that needed to be countered. The logical response: bonus frequent flyer miles.

And if the bonus generates a few extra ticket sales as well, that's OK too.

(Editor's Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

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