Budget travel: Virgin links with sidestep search tool

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In the midst of a big push to entice business travelers, Virgin Atlantic Airways is also reaching out to the price-conscious leisure traveler through SideStep, a travel search engine that consumers download onto their browsers.

SideStep performs searches among airlines, hotels, rental cars and vacation packages, including discounters. The tool appears vertically on the left-hand side of the screen. Results show the best prices compared to competitors'.

Virgin advertises with banner ads and through sponsorships in SideStep's e-mail newsletters and pays about the same as it does for sponsored links on Overture and Google, said Joy DeBach, interactive marketing manager, Virgin.

The ads target people journeying from one of Virgin's nine U.S. gateways to London, and appear when the user keys in New York, Boston, Orlando or another gateway, or London.

SideStep only has 3 million unique visitors in June, according to Nielsen/Netratings. But they are a uniquely qualified niche, Ms. DeBach said. "The only part that matters to me is they are in the purchase cycle."

Pleasure trippers also tend to do travel research online and are looking for the best deal on an airline. "They are not purchasing the $10,000 ticket to London," Ms. DeBach said.

"Users are quite comfortable using the Web to help them shop," said Phil Carpenter, VP-corporate marketing, SideStep. "They are smart and frequent travelers and therefore they are worth a lot."

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