NORWALK, Conn. -- Although the name Travelers Advantage may be a
new one to your agency, the members-only travel service quietly has
become a force in the trade.
For starters, it booked $500 million in leisure sales in
Moreover, it claims to beat Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz on
price more often than not.
And, with the negotiating power of 2.5 million members, it has
preferred deals with major suppliers in every category.
Travelers Advantage is one of several membership clubs, along
with shopping, health and entertainment services, operated by
Trilegiant. Formed in July 2001, Trilegiant is a privately held
Cendant affiliate that's owned -- and in large measure run -- by
the former managers of Cendant Membership Services and Cendant
Cendant and Trilegiant are joined at the hip. Cendant last year
outsourced its membership and loyalty business to Trilegiant,
pumped $100 million into the group to support its marketing efforts
and provides Trilegiant with a $35 million, revolving credit
When consumers telephone Travelers Advantage, which describes
itself as a "travel-service intermediary," they reach one of the
1,500 res agents of Cendant's in-house agency, Cendant Travel, in
three call centers: Denver, Oklahoma City or Nashville.
And when travelers telephone Cendant subsidiary Avis to reserve
a car, they are invited to join Travelers Advantage.
In addition, Travelers Advantage sells a wide array of Cendant
hotel and vacation rental inventory, although an official pointed
out that the club, which was formed in 1985, partnered with many of
those properties before they belonged to Cendant.
So, how does Travelers Advantage work?
For an annual fee of around $80, members can call a toll-free
number or visit www.travelersadvantage.com and access discounted tour
packages, flights, hotels, car rentals and cruises.
Formerly a Sabre customer, the club switched its Web site to
Cendant's Galileo in July.
The club offers a lowest-price guarantee on air, hotel and car
rental reservations, and members receive 5% cash back on eligible
travel reservations when they complete their trips.
From what it calls its Airline Savings Certificates to Hotels at
HalfPrice, Travelers Advantage offers members deals that often are
unavailable to the general public.
Of course, you have to be a member to view and book the full
slate of inventory.
Travelers Advantage can negotiate these discounts because of its
clout and below-the-radar presence.
"We are really large," said Travelers Advantage vice president
Julia Ryan. "And we are in a closed loop. Service providers give us
special discounts and don't consider it public because we are a
A random sampling of Travelers Advantage's offerings shows them
to be competitive with online products:
• Seven-day Disney Park Hopper Plus tickets, for example, were a
few dollars cheaper through Travelers Advantage than at Disney
• A seven-night stay at the Lahaina Ohana Maui Islander in
November was $262 per person (or $249 after the 5% rebate) through
Travelers Advantage compared with $272 per person at Expedia.
The vast majority of Travelers Advantage bookings take place
over the phone. That's not surprising because the club's Web site
When users select "Get A Price Quote" for a three-night stay at
the inclusive Moon Palace in Cancun, Mexico, they must e-mail their
vacation quote request instead of receiving a real-time
Travelers Advantage promises a rate-quote response in an
Internet eternity -- one business day.
"People are focused on the Internet and have the impression
that's where to get the best rates," Ryan said. "We're able to
provide better rates."
With Cendant funding its growth, Travelers Advantage has ample
marketing ammunition as it targets what Ryan termed its
"middle-America" membership base.
The club's business is based on acquiring new members, and one
of the ways it grows is by operating clubs -- and soon
client-branded Web sites -- for large banks, oil companies and
The travel service, though, may evolve and target new
demographics, Ryan said, as it explores expanding into upscale and
In addition, Travelers Advantage is considering new ways to
leverage its Cendant relationship, including partnering in a
membership service for Cendant's Trip Network.
As Travelers Advantage explores its options, it's enabling its
members to do so, as well -- and sometimes in unusual ways.
In partnership with Space Adventures, for example, Travelers
Advantage is running a sweepstakes promotion, with the winner
flying on a Russian MiG-25 "to the edge of space."
High-visibility stuff from a company that likes to stay below
Clubs target products to members
NORWALK, Conn. -- With the exception of a few firms that handle
their bookings, travel agencies essentially are on the outside
looking in when it comes to supplier sales through travel
That represents a potential loss to the trade.
Forrester Research conducted an offline survey of 8,000 U.S.
households in April that found that while 2% of leisure travelers
belong to fee- or coupon-based travel clubs, the average annual
household income for these club members was $63,100, and they
averaged five leisure trips per year at a total price tag of
Travelers Advantage "is probably the Carnival of travel clubs,"
said Michael Thiel, founder of an upscale travel club, Hideaways
International Travel Club, in Portsmouth, N.H.
"From a suppliers' perspective, the best clubs do a good job of
targeting their product to their membership," said Thiel.
"It's extremely difficult to launch a new one and be
successful," he added. "That's mainly because they don't
differentiate themselves and deal with appropriate niches. And the
marketing costs are fairly high."
It remains to be seen whether clubs like Travelers Advantage
will increase their foothold or whether the Internet will hurt
As for online competitors, "Travelers Advantage doesn't have the
playing field to itself anymore," said Forrester Research senior
analyst Henry Harteveldt. "Others will harness technology to
attract and retain customers." -- D.S.