RealTime IT News

Make a New Plan, Stan

Travel site operation Expedia , taking aim at the "things change" phenomena, is launching an online airline ticket exchange that lets ticketed travelers with altered plans make new arrangements.

The Bellevue, Wash.-based company said the new Expedia Online Exchange Wizard lets travelers research alternative plans, calculate price differences and complete changes without ever calling customer service.

Requests to exchange airline tickets are one of the main reasons customers dial into Expedia's call centers, and as they re staffed by people, they are of course expensive to operate.

The new wizard aims to let travelers change plans on their own, with no human intervention. Still, Expedia emphasized that its call center operations will continue to be staffed around the clock.

"I do believe this is a first for online travel agencies," said Lorraine Sileo, a travel analyst at research and consulting firm PhoCusWright in Sherman, Conn.

"Usually, to exchange a ticket, the traveler would have to call the airline directly, so to automate the process is cutting edge," she said, adding that "I am sure some high-end off-line travel agencies, especially the corporate agencies, would do this service manually."

Sileo added one caution, however: "Remember that there are lots of fees (and other hassles) when it comes to exchanging tickets, and none of those will be eliminated just by automating the process."

Expedia said that to exchange a ticket with the new service, customers click on the "Exchange this ticket" link within their booked itinerary found in the "My Trips" section of the site.

Customers are then alerted to the possibility that there may be airline-imposed fees and possible fare differences. They can then select the desired flight or flights they would like to exchange. Then Expedia presents the traveler with additional flight options. After selecting a different flight, customers are able to view the new fare compared to the old fare, and the total cost to make an exchange. At any point in the exchange process, travelers have the option to cancel their search and return to their original itinerary.

When the exchange has been completed, Expedia sends the customer a confirmation e-mail with the new itinerary. At least initially, the service is only available for e-ticketed flights to and from points in the United States.