INTERACTIVE: INTELLITRIP TURNS UP HEAT ON SEARCH FOR LOW AIRFARES

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Catering to bargain hunters, business travel site TheTrip.com rolled out what it calls the Web's first airfare shopping agent last week.

Called Intellitrip (www.intellitrip.com), the site uses agent technology to scan five top travel sites -- Microsoft Corp.'s Expedia.com, TheTrip.com, Preview Travel, Sabre Group's Travelocity and Internet Travel Network -- for the lowest published airfares.

While Jupiter Communications estimates that $827 million will be spent on the Web in e-commerce travel transactions in 1997, the industry still is plagued with the costly problem of consumers who reserve a seat on a flight, but then never buy a ticket.

TURNING LOOKING INTO BUYING

Intellitrip addresses this problem, said Antoine Toffa, president-CEO of the Englewood, Colo.-based company. "Essentially all the services are interested in solving the 'book to look' to 'book to ticket' ratio."

To use Intellitrip, users must download a plug-in, which works with the Intellitrip site. Intellitrip scans the five travel sites, and returns with a comparative list of fares. Shoppers purchase a fare by hitting a buy button, which links them to the particular site, where they're pre-registered to make a purchase via Intellitrip's software.

Doug Meer, director of ad sales at TheTrip.com, said that revenue is expected from co-branded versions of Intellitrip, at sites like the frequent flier site WebFlyer (www.webflyer.com). Intellitrip is also close to signing sponsorship deals with a credit card company and an airline, he said. Ad banners cost $20- $30 per thousand impressions.

UNCLEAR HOW SITES WILL REACT

Yet it remains to be seen how the four travel sites, which were notified about Intellitrip the day before it launched, will accept the program, as it could weaken their traffic and potential ad dollars.

Erik Blachford, a product manager at Expedia.com, said that Expedia.com was not involved in Intellitrip's development. In addition to security concerns, Mr. Blachford said, "We're wondering if people would have a better experience at our site."

Mr. Meer responded that "Intellitrip is not a content site," and that people will still have reasons to visit travel sites for their articles and

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