Priceline.com, the name-your-price Internet travel company, is extending last-minute travel booking to all travel services.
The Norwalk, Conn., company officially launched last-minute automobile rental bookings this week. Priceline, which has retrenched back to its core travel business after unsuccessfully experimenting with name-your-price groceries and gasoline, began offering last-minute hotel room reservations at 200 properties in February and expanded that to 1,500 properties a month later.
Priceline has offered last-minute airfares since its launch in 1998.
Customers can buy domestic airline e-tickets as late as 6 p.m. EST the day before travel, and they can book hotel rooms as late as 6 p.m. the day of their stay. Travelers who reserve a rental car on Priceline can pick it up as few as four hours later.
"It's something the customers wanted. It's something analysts have indicated from their studies is a growing section of the market," says Priceline spokesman Brian Ek. He acknowledges that it's unclear whether last-minute bookings will boost revenues or profits at Priceline, which had to lay off employees last year amid lower-than-expected revenues.
Like nearly all e-commerce stocks, Priceline.com has been battered by investors and traders. Priceline's shares have fallen 98 percent from a 52-week high.
Internet travel research firm PhoCusWright concluded through a random telephone survey in May that 25 million Americans had taken a last-minute trip of at least 100 miles during the past six months. A handful of Web sites such as LastMinuteTravel.com and Site59.com are targeting travel-planning procrastinators and impulsive travelers.
"(Last-minute travel is a segment of the travel market that's here to stay, but in and of itself, it's not a very large segment," says PhoCusWright analyst Lorraine Sileo. Although last-minute travel is growing, most people still plan in advance, she adds.