Orbitz.com charging fees for airline ticket purchases

Online travel vendor Orbitz.com has for the first time begun charging a service fee to customers buying airline tickets from its Web site.

In an announcement posted on its site this weekend, the company said it will charge US$5 for each airline ticket ordered online, with a cap of $10 for up to four tickets. The fees won't apply to hotel, rental car or other accommodations, according to the Chicago-based Orbitz LLC.

A company spokesman could not be reached for comment early today.

The announcement, from Roland Jacobs, the company's chief marketing officer, said the company will waive the fees "for a limited time" the first time a customer uses the site.

Air fare searches using the Orbitz Web site will continue to be free. Only actual ticket purchases will incur a fee.

Competitor Travelocity.com LP doesn't charge a ticketing fee, though two airlines, Northwest Airlines Corp. and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, each charge a $10 per-ticket fee, according to a spokeswoman. The other major online travel site, Expedia Inc.'s Expedia.com , doesn't charge a fee for airline tickets purchased online.

Analysts say the Orbitz fee was probably inevitable in an industry hard hit by the economy and the recent terrorism in the U.S.

"It's probably a matter of survival actually," said Carol Baroudi, owner of Baroudi and Associates in Arlington, Mass. She said she wasn't surprised by the announcement because when Orbitz was launched last June, one of the question marks was whether it could be profitable by giving its services away, she said.

Kate Rice, an independent travel analyst in New York, said the fees won't deter ticket sales because they are reasonable.

"I think consumers will pay those fees because we all pay $1.50 to take our money out of the bank" at ATM machines," Rice said. Marketing online tickets, selling them and shipping them to consumers is expensive to do and Orbitz "is just now learning that lesson," she said.

Orbitz was launched in June by Delta Air Lines Inc., Continental Airlines Inc., Northwest Airlines, United Air Lines Inc. and American Airlines Inc. and is supported by 450 other U.S. and international carriers.

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