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The top three online booking sites, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity, are out to win your business. They're now full-service travel agencies with robust products to help small companies save big when it comes to booking business trips. Is it time to give them a try? Consider these advantages:
- Your own site: When you contract with Expedia, Orbitz or Travelocity, your company gets a private booking site. This site looks and feels just like the well-known consumer sites but is configured with details of your company's travel policy, making compliance automatic. Setup fees, which run in the $150 range, are frequently waived.
- Lower transaction costs: When a business traveler calls a traditional travel agent, he or she is charged a fee for the booking, which can range from $25 to $50. The big three online agencies charge $5 or $6 per online booking. (Agents are also available 24/7, but if you choose to call one, fees range from $15 to $25.)
- Lower rates: Research shows that when business travelers are able to see all the air fares, hotel or rental car rates available online, they choose less expensive options than when they are talking to a travel agent on the phone. Savings are usually in the 20 percent range. (Downside: Not all low-fare carriers, like JetBlue Airways or Southwest Airlines, list fares on these sites-they'd prefer you book on their sites instead.)
- Increased bargaining power: When all your company travel is booked through a single site, it provides you with hard data to use to negotiate special rates from airlines, hotels or car rental companies.
- More control: You can assign different privileges for different travelers and require "exception reports" when employees stray from your travel policy.
Christopher McGinnis, travel correspondent for CNN Headline News, is author of The Unofficial Business Travelers' Pocket Guide.