Among those professions that have essentially gone the way of the dodo, the travel agent appears to be the next victim. The internet has reduced this once necessary profession into an oddity as any and everyone can now simply log on to their favorite travel site and order the cheapest tickets available with a few mouse clicks, even finding discounted hotel and rental car rates in the process. So, with President's Day fast approaching and the long weekend stretching out ahead of us, here's a few of the companies fighting for you travel dollar.
Like Star Trek? Than this is the travel site for you! Priceline is currently funding the retirement of actor William Shatner through its ubiquitous television commercials, but the costs don't appear to get passed on to the consumer. Priceline.com rose to prominence through its "Name Your Own Price" system, which it then tried to translate to other areas including home loans, groceries, and gas. Now, the company is by far the largest travel site in the world with a market cap of over $28.75 billion. It's been a solid year for Priceline so far in 2012, as the company's share price is up nearly 25 percent since New Year's Day.
The first of those sites falling into the also-ran category is Expedia. Like the other, it's dwarfed by Priceline, with a valuation of about one-seventh the industry leader. Expedia offers essentially the same services as Priceline, using over 145,000 hotels and 300 airlines in 200 countries to find the best prices possible for consumers. Expedia was initially started by Microsoft (MSFT) before getting spun off when the company ceased to be focused on "software intensive technology." Expedia, like Priceline (and most of the market), has enjoyed a bump in 2012, with share prices up over 14 percent.
TripAdvisor is a research-based model that offers up reviews and information on hotels, airlines, and vacation destinations for the curious potential traveler. TripAdvisor is free for users, deriving its income from ad revenues, and isn't competing in the same market as Priceline and Expedia as a result, instead focusing on research and review functions rather than booking discounted tickets. One of the early adopters of user-generated content, this Newton, MA company was founded in February only 12 years ago. Perhaps by someone trying to plan a President's Day retreat.
Orbitz Worldwide (OWW)
Finally, Orbitz is another discounted airfare site that uses a database of different carriers and services to find discounted prices for the consumer. Orbitz, though, is clearly the runt of the litter, with a market cap of just $313 million. Headquartered in Chicago, IL, and offered its IPO in July of 2007. What a wonderful time to enter the market that must have been.
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