The move marks the first time one of the UK’s major online travel agencies has risked sending users on their site direct to a competitor.
Thaddeus Hanscom, Expedia Europe’s director of media solutions, told Travolution the companies rolled out the programme on Expedia.co.uk and Expedia.it in a soft launch two weeks ago.
This is not the first time Expedia has included Sponsored Links on some of its other brands, but the initiative will set the OTA apart from the likes of lastminute.com, Ebookers, Opodo, Travelrepublic, Teletext Holidays and On The Beach in the UK.
A similar programme has run on Hotels.com, Expedia’s accommodation service, since February this year and Tripadvisor has included Sponsored Links for a number of years.
Links to specific products or landing pages of other sites will now appear against flight search results across the Expedia website.
The initiative is part of Expedia Inc’s push to transform itself from a transaction-oriented company into one that also is heavily into the media business.
“We are an e-commerce platform trying to do media intelligently,” Hanscom said of Expedia’s media push.
The company signed a landmark media deal with Intercontinental Hotels Group last November.
Expedia and IHG officials said the agreement, which combines a transaction and media model, is working well, although many of the more than 3,000 hotels that will participate won’t be integrated into the new program until the end of 2008.
“On the question of the hybrid deals, I think that IHG was a bit of a unique situation … They were very interested in that kind of deal,” Expedia Inc president and chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi told analysts a few months ago.
“The economics work for them. The economics worked for us.”
He added: “Most of the renewals that we have had with our hotel partners and most of the discussions that we have had with the chains have been along the line of, call it, more traditional economics.”
Hanscom said Expedia is testing the Google Sponsored Links to ensure Expedia “does it right,” adding that some companies display such links in a manner that distracts from the consumer shopping experience.
Expedia is not known to be filtering the link system to block other websites.