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RealTime IT News

Travels With Amazon

UPDATED: Amazon.com has changed its travel source.

SideStep, a meta search engine for travel, announced a deal Thursday with Amazon Services that it will be the sole provider of travel search for Amazon.com as of January 2006, replacing HotWire as Amazon.com's current provider.

Details of the service are still to be determined, but it means that SideStep will be exposed to potentially millions of new users.

"Hotwire has been a great partner," said Amazon.com spokesman Greg Berman. "But SideStep's metasearch approach is really in line with Amazon.com's goals of providing customers with a really great selection and really low prices."

A HotWire spokeswoman said that her company valued its relationship with Amazon.com as a travel provider and was open to exploring opportunities with the online retailer in the future.

Phil Carpenter, SideStep vice president of marketing, said SideStep will be the anchor of the travel store, and its search will operate there the same way as on the company's own destination site.

"We search agencies, consolidators, and also the travel suppliers themselves," Carpenter said. "We bring back, in one place, all of these great choices. When you find what you like, we take you to the source to buy."

He wouldn't disclose financial details of the distribution deal with Amazon.com but did say that SideStep collects money each time it sends a qualified lead to a supplier.

SideStep searches a variety of travel sites, including airlines, hoteliers, and rental-car companies, plus online agencies and consolidators, then consolidates and ranks results. Once a choice is selected, SideStep hands the consumer over to the travel provider's site to make the actual purchase.

"The source at which you buy handles the customer service," Carpenter said. "Consumers like that model. If you need to change your flight at the last minute, you don't want to have to call Amazon.com or Sidestep."

In May, the company added the ability to search for vacation packages.

SideStep has alliances with major companies, including JetBlue, American Airlines, Hyatt, Best Western, National Leisure Group and Thrifty Car Rental. And earlier this week, it announced agreements with American Airlines, Marriott, Hilton and Cendant Car Rental Group, which operates the Avis and Budget services.

The online travel market remains healthy.

Travel market research firm PhoCusWright forecasts that U.S. online leisure/unmanaged business travel bookings will grow from $52.1 billion in 2004 to $93.6 billion in 2007.

Merrill Lynch analyst Justin Post forecasts 18 percent growth in U.S. online agency bookings and 43 percent growth in international online agency bookings in 2005.