Orbitz to Pop-Up on Comet Cursor

Web travel site Orbitz is looking to boost its traffic through a Gator.com-like price comparison service, provided by Comet Systems.

Through the arrangement, financial terms of which were not disclosed, New York-based Comet Systems plans to integrate Orbitz’ flight and fare information into its Comet Cursor software.

As a result, the service will show Orbitz’ flight and fare information as users browse fares at rival sites through pop-up ads delivered by Comet Cursor.

As users type in their travel itinerary at sites such as Travelocity.com and Expedia.com, an ad will appear that displays pricing information at Orbitz, possibly for the same flight and time.

Orbitz stands to benefit from its new partner’s massive reach. Comet Systems said that more than 95 million Web users have downloaded its software, which is chiefly positioned to consumers as a way to customize their mouse icons in Internet Explorer.

That reach could prove crucial as the travel site seeks to compete against its two more established rivals. In addition to troubles resulting from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and heightened airport restrictions, Orbitz lacks a major portal marketing partnership.

Travelocity, for instance, operates a co-branded site with Yahoo at travel.yahoo.com. Expedia, once majority owned by Microsoft Corp., still enjoys a partnership with the software giant’s MSN portal.

“Our priority is to deliver the Orbitz advantage of having the most low fares to as many consumers as possible,” said Mike Sands, vice president of marketing for Orbitz. “The Comet Cursor has a reach superior to many portals and can deliver our flight and fare information exactly when travelers need it most. It’s an excellent solution for us.”

Additionally, the move comes as pop-up ads of the competitive, price-comparison sort have become de rigueur during the past several months, as competition among e-commerce players continues at a fever pitch while consumer spending remains sluggish.

Like Comet Cursor, Gator.com positions itself chiefly as a fun and useful Web browser add-on, rather than an advertising vehicle — though it, too, has delivered competitive pop-ups for Web sellers including uBid.com and Dell.

Yet some research firms have published research suggesting that consumers react poorly to pop-ups and similar “intrusive” advertising types — which potentially could harm the advertiser’s brand image. Nevertheless, that argument has been countered by claim by the ad firms that “intrusive” formats generally see user response several times greater than do banner ads.

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