November 4, 1996 3:45 PM PST

Airline tickets sold in Net auction

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Electronic Travel Auction today launched a business that allows consumers to bid for airline seats, hotel rooms, cruise berths and other travel-related products over the Net, signaling a growing trend.

Real-time travel auctions on the Web are catching on. Why? Travel products are perishable commodities--an empty airline seat is worthless after a plane takes off, for instance--and companies think a Net auction is a good way to fill up a plane or cruise ship at the last minute.

Cathay Pacific Airlines, for example, has auctioned off seats over the Net for a select number of flights between Los Angeles and Hong Kong. In the auctions, consumers bid for the products--usually at well below the market rate--and they are awarded to the highest bidders.

In a recent report, Salomon Brothers described real-time travel as the "third revolution" in the airline industry after the launch of jet aircraft in the 1950s and industry deregulation in the late '70s.

ETA's service will be in beta test with travel suppliers, travel agencies, and consumers through this month. A commercial launch is planned for January.

"This is a service that takes advantage of the Internet in a unique and powerful way, and is a clear win-win for travelers and the travel industry alike," said ETA president Mark Hawkins in a statement.

ETA's partner in the venture is eBay, which offers online auctions for consumers. eBay's AuctionWeb has hosted more than 200,000 auctions since it was launched in September 1995.

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