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Priceline Revenues Dip

Name-your-price travel service Priceline.com, feeling the effects of a decline in airline ticketing revenue, posted a fourth quarter GAAP net loss of $7.4 million, or 3 cents per share.

Revenues came in at $197.3 million, substantially down compared to the $235.3 million the company took in for the same period a year ago.

Analysts on average were expecting a loss of 2 cents a share. The fourth quarter loss compared to a loss of $1.3 million, or 1 cent per share in the same period a year ago.

The bright spot was Priceline's hotel business.

"Continued weakness in opaque airline ticket sales was partially offset by another strong quarter for our hotel business, which sold almost 1 million hotel room nights," said Priceline.com President and CEO Jeffery H. Boyd. "In total, hotel room nights sold were up 47 percent in 2002 compared to the previous year. On a quarterly basis, hotel room nights sold grew 22 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2001."

Priceline said that it has increased its investment in the hotel business with a major TV campaign launched in January promoting the quality of its hotel inventory and "up to 40 percent savings compared to leading online sites."

"The early results are encouraging with quarter-to-date room night sales up over 30 percent compared to the same period last year," Boyd said. Priceline.com now has more than 9,000 hotel properties participating in its hotel program, covering the U.S., Europe, Asia, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The company predicted a return to profitability by the second quarter.

Norwalk, Conn.-based Priceline had posted a third-quarter loss of $24.3 million, or 11 cents per share, and laid off about 65 employees.

For all of 2002, Priceline posted a loss of $1 billion, compared with $1.2 billion during 2001. On a GAAP basis, the company had a full-year 2002 net loss of $21.5 million, or 9 cents per share.