Online Travel Site Offers Guarantee

In what could be the most aggressive move yet in the online travel war, Biztravel.com announced Tuesday that it will offer refunds to customers whose flights are late or cancelled.

Customers who buy their tickets from the site will be compensated for flights delayed or cancelled by American Airlines, Continental Airlines, US Airways, British Airways and Air France.

Biztravel.com, while not generally considered to be a peer of such top Internet travel companies as Travelocity and Expedia, is owned by Rosenbluth, one of the largest travel companies in the United States.

The new initiative guarantees that any flight arriving more than 30 minutes late will qualify the customer for a refund of $100 (US$). Flights more than an hour late will bring the customer $200, and flights more than two hours late will automatically mean a full refund of the ticket price.

Flights cancelled on the day of departure, regardless of whether the traveler is re-accommodated, will also result in a full refund of the ticket price. However, Biztravel qualified its offer by stating, “Due to our belief that safety comes first, any delays due to mechanical problems are not subject to this guarantee.”

Weather related delays and air traffic control snafus are covered under the guarantee policy.

The Refund Menu

While some observers believe the partial and full refund policies will be enough to sway some consumers to use the site, Biztravel went several steps further in its quest to generate new business and loyalty among existing customers.

For example, seat assignments that are not honored are worth $25, as is a choice of entree that turns out to be unavailable in business or first class. The company also pays up to $200 for incidentals when luggage is lost. A full list of service guarantees from slow e-mail responses, slow phone answering and slow callback service to unprofessional employee conduct and non-receipt of ticket will also mean payments of anywhere from $10 to $50 to the inconvenienced customer.

As for the refunds for delayed or cancelled flights, Biztravel is clearly counting on the airline companies’ punctuality.

“We chose these five carriers because they are making tremendous efforts to continue improving their service,” said Hal Rosenbluth, chief executive officer of Biztravel.com.

Rosenbluth believes giving money back to dissatisfied travelers will ultimately be a profit generator. “We thought this was more effective in getting loyalty to a site than advertising would be,” he said. “We’re not worried about how much it will cost us, because we think it will help Biztravel.com be profitable before the end of the year.”

Instant Test

Ironically, Biztravel’s site went down for some 40 minutes shortly after announcing its new initiative. According to the company, interest in the offer and a rush to reschedule trips drove traffic to unmanageable highs.

“We’re not happy with the outage, but we are delighted with the cause,” said Justin Shaw, Biztravel’s vice president and general manager, adding that a site outage is not covered by the guarantee policy.

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