Delta flies toward $1 billion in Web sales

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In a move that shows how important the Internet has become in the travel industry, Delta Air Lines has shifted its Web address to the easy-to-remember delta.com and launched an ad campaign trumpeting the new URL.

The campaign from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, launched last week and includes TV, print and radio. Print tells customers the simpler URL will save them "an extra 0.73 seconds," TV features the delta-air.com URL morphing into the new delta.com, while radio asks, "Why oh why wasn't delta.com our Web address all along?"

ONLINE TRAVEL BOOM

The answer lies somewhere in the travel category's recent Web boom and how much a site has become part of a company's identity and interface. Mixed in are the problems of the URL's previous owner.

The airline purchased the coveted address this summer from Delta Financial Corp., a mortgage company that lends to people with poor credit. A spokesman for Delta Financial declined comment on the sale, but the company recently has fended off charges of predatory lending practices, undergone debt restructuring, laid off workers and watched its stock plunge to a 52-week low.

The airline missed out on an earlier chance to own the URL: A former domain owner and ISP, deltaComm Development, sold delta.com in June 1999 to Delta Financial.

Delta Financial's problems this year may have prompted sale of the URL, which dovetailed with Delta Air Lines' rebranding as simply "Delta" and a need for a more user-friendly URL.

SIZABLE COST

A Delta Air Lines spokesman declined to cite the purchase price, but it likely cost millions. The generic loans.com recently sold for $3 million on GreatDomains.com. Naseem Javed, president of ABC Namebank, said blue-chip domain names can go for $1 million a letter. "It's a lifesaver for [Delta]," he said. "It's a great public relations and strategic play."

The airline launched its site in 1995 with the murky name Skylinks.com at the url delta-air.com. "The importance of having (delta.com) just wasn't there in the early years," the airline spokesman said. "URL's now are an intrinsic part of a company's identity." In February, Delta relaunched its site with faster navigation and other improvements. Company research showed many first-time users typed in delta.com when looking for the airline. Then, in the spring, the airline launched a major ad campaign from new agency Burnett and an image make-over that dropped "Air Lines" from the consumer brand in favor of simply "Delta." The airline felt it had considerable brand recognition worldwide as Delta.

SUCCESSFUL CATEGORY

This came as airlines began promoting their Web sites for the direct sale of tickets -- eliminating travel-agent commissions and saving employees time -- and as a way to communicate with passengers. Travel had become one of the categories to succeed on the Net.

U.S. consumers last year spent $6.5 billion on online travel bookings, triple the level of 1998, Jupiter Communications estimated. It pegs 2000 spending at about $11 billion.

Delta, which sold $400 million (5%) of its tickets at its own Web site for the year ended June 30, expects that to hit $1 billion in 2001.

Delta isn't the first airline to launch a campaign with its Web site as the focus. Northwest Airlines and Southwest Airlines have done so. Southwest has a tale similar to Delta's: The airline uses iflyswa.com and southwest.com. United Airlines, too, flies a new domain at united.com. American Airlines still uses aa.com. Cisco Systems owns american.com. Cisco could not be reached for comment at deadline on the now-inactive URL it acquired in in 1998 when it bought American Internet.

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