Microsoft, United Airlines in Marketing Alliance

Redmond,Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. has teamed with Chicago-based United Airlines Corp. in a marketing deal that is designed to bump-up interest in each company’s Net offerings.

As a part of the strategic deal, Microsoft’s MSN network of Internet services and United Airlines will cross-promote both MSN and United online properties. The companies said they would develop a co-branded access service, including a new customized version of MSN Explorer tailored to the needs of United travelers.

Several perks the companies are offering to users include additional mileage-earning opportunities for United’s Mileage Plus program, online booking, real-time flight and gate information and flight paging services.

The MSN-United offering will include MSN Internet access and a customized version of MSN Explorer, which will include special features such as a “My United” button that will provide users with access to Mileage Plus account information, flight availability and flight status.

“This alliance deepens the relationship with our customers by offering additional electronic opportunities to earn Mileage Plus miles and by giving our customers easy access to important travel information,” said Doug Hacker, executive vice president and chief financial officer of United Airlines and president of United NewVentures.

United said it would promote MSN services on its onboard videos, in Hemispheres magazine and in a variety of on and offline direct-mail sweeps, including promotions in Mileage Plus mailings.

United Airlines is the world’s number one air carrier based on revenue passenger miles. The company flies about 600 jets to more than 130 destinations in the US and 27 other countries from hubs in Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

MSN, which is second to AOL as an Internet service provider, is available in 33 markets and in 17 languages.

In its drive to best the newly crowned media giant, Microsoft is no doubt banking that its alliance with United will acquaint travelers with the software maker’s .NET platform, among other offerings.

Users can buy Microsoft software online over a PC, cell phone or other handheld device. Already consumers can use Microsoft’s HailStorm — a part of its .Net program — to check flight schedules and keep a calendar of trip times and dates.

Even as it announced its relationship with United, Microsoft said it had signed a deal with hand-held device maker Handspring Inc. to carry MSN content and services on Handspring’s mobile Web browser.

Handspring’s new Blazer Web browser is designed for use in Visor personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other handheld devices. Consumers can expect to pay $19.95 to use the Web browser, which runs off of the Palm operating system.

Ironically, Palm is a main Microsoft competitor. The software maker has touted its own operating system for wireless devices, Windows CE, in the past, but may be tweaking its strategy and swallowing its pride to lure more customers to its offerings across a better known wireless platform.

Microsoft was unavailable for comment by press time.

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