Friday, March 13, 2009

Expedia to Orbitz: OWW-ch

Expedia's move to drop its consumer booking fee puts the squeeze on Orbitz Worldwide (stock symbol OWW), in particular. Jake Fuller, the online-travel financial analyst, tells me why OWW is feeling the pain.
"My bet is that the Expedia no-fee sale will become permanent and that is a real problem for Orbitz and Travelocity," Fuller says. "Orbitz generates around 60% of EBITDA from booking fees and carries a significant debt load."
Orbitz's stock already was reeling -- for real.
While Travelocity and Orbitz charge booking fees, Priceline does not, but was under pressure, too, because of the notion that Expedia's action might secure it additional market share.
The Wall Street Journal outlined some of the stock market dynamics from Expedia's punch.
It all leaves Orbitz, with its stock trading well below two bucks, in a tight spot.
"In other words, Orbitz cannot afford to cut the fee as that would mean it could not service the debt," Fuller adds. "If they do not cut [the booking fee], Orbitz would face share loss and potential debt service problems."
No word yet from Travelocity on any answer to Expedia.
"Travelocity is also heavily weighted to booking fees and presumably carries significant debt from its buyout by Texas Pacific Group," Fuller says.
Now, the big question that remains, of course, is whether Expedia picks up enough volume to offset the revenue loss from its missing-in-action booking fee.
Interestingly, Expedia's decision to drop its booking fee came just a few weeks after Expedia's and Travelocity's fares began appearing side-by-side in the TripAdvisor flight metasearch engine.
Travelocity and Expedia finally are playing side-by-side in metasearch -- but Travelocity might be thinking that Expedia ain't playing fair.

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