Every Wednesday, American Airlines entices footloose fliers to cancel their weekend plans and head for an airport. The lure: tickets that cost 70% to 80% less than the airline's already-discounted, 21-day advance-purchase fares. The catch: They're only available in cyberspace to travelers who sign up at American's World Wide Web site (http://www2.amrcorp.com/cgi-bin/aans).
Subscribers are sent an e-mail listing of about 20 cut-rate fares each week. Markets vary according to the number of unsold seats available; the discounts apply to North American flights that depart on Saturday and return the following Monday or Tuesday. Fliers can book the nonrefundable tickets by phone or computer. More than 93,000 Internet users have joined the NetSaaver program since American launched the nationwide promotion in early May. While fewer than 10% of those bargain hunters have actually purchased a ticket, "these are bookings that we would not otherwise have had," says American spokesman Tim Smith. "At this stage, we're still experimenting . . . but the interest level is certainly there. It's just one more alternative that takes advantage of the new technology."
American isn't the only airline hawking deeply discounted travel over the Internet. Northwest started selling last-minute weekend fares through its Web site (http://www.nwa.com) and Compuserve (go Northwest) late last month. The discounts, which are posted online every Wednesday, average 70% off the airline's lowest advance-purchase fares. Northwest hopes to expand the program to about two dozen North American markets by August.
Both American and Cathay Pacific Airways, meanwhile, have held several cyberspace auctions of airline seats, travel packages and merchandise. In an American auction that ended June 28, about 2,000 travelers bid frequent-flier mileage for everything from a Victoria's Secret gift basket (winning bid: 3,282 miles) to a three-night vacation in Aruba or Montego Bay, Jamaica (winning bid: 46,666 miles). In American's first Internet auction this spring, a pair of first-class, coast-to-coast tickets sold for between $475 and $800--versus a retail value of $4,100.
Cathay Pacific has been running its own cyber-bazaars since September. Travelers who register at the airline's Web site (http://www.cathay-usa.com) can bid for flights to Hong Kong or participate in such Internet-only promotions as a bonus of 15,000 American AAdvantage miles for economy flights between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. Cathay's current auction, which ends July 31, offers a chance to bid on a Boeing 747's worth of first-, business- and economy-class seats for round-trip travel between Los Angeles or New York and Hong Kong. Earlier auctions saved winners an average of 30% to 50% off the applicable published fare.
Such promotions, which allow airlines to unload otherwise unsold seats without significant advertising or travel agent commission costs, "makes a lot of economic sense," says Philip Wolf, a Sherman, Conn.-based travel consultant specializing in new media. "And unlike selling cheap standby tickets at the gate, it's a more controlled environment."
Small bytes: Conde Nast Traveler's Web site now appears under the banner of Epicurious, Conde Nast's online food and wine publication (http://www.epicurious.com). Several of Traveler's original features remain, including a "beach and island finder" that selects a destination based on your budget and interests. But missing (and missed) from the revamped format is Stop Press, a daily roundup of news impacting travelers. . . . Travel Health Online (http://www.tripprep.com) is a new Web resource that provides required and recommended immunizations, pre-trip travel precautions and other advice for more than 220 countries. . . . Passport, a 31-year-old travel newsletter that charges print subscribers a hefty $75 per year for its upscale insider advice, is now available via America Online in the Travel Channel (keyword: Passport News).
Bly welcomes reader comments; her e-mail address is Laura.Bly@latimes.com. Electronic Explorer appears monthly.