is ‘live’ and well

TRAVERSE CITY – They're making only $6 per sale, but that hasn't deterred Passageways Travel from competing online against cut-rate airline ticketers Orbitz, Priceline, and Expedia, whose charges can exceed $20 .

Rather, the company's leadership is convinced that their way of selling discount airline tickets will keep their customers happy and hungry for more.

"Look, at $6 I am making money-and I can serve my client," said Tom Rockne, president of Passageways Travel. "Either the big guys are charging too much, or we have economies of scale and are doing more business than they are." was launched last fall as The name was changed to because it has strong name recognition all over the state, Rockne said.

The site runs off of the same booking engines that its competitors use, with a difference: displays live inventory; the competition refreshes theirs only once or twice daily, said Rockne.

"It costs more to do that, but for us, live inventory is the only real inventory there is," he said.

Live inventory costs more because each time a customer checks out a flight, it costs a fraction of a penny. Rockne says keeping live inventory is important for the customer, who may unknowingly purchase a sold-out flight on other websites and be notified later, perhaps after their 21-day advance purchase time period expires and prices go up.

Rockne says there are other cost savings for the client shopping at the Passageways website, especially if there's a mistake made in the purchase.

"You push a button and buy the wrong ticket at another website? That's too bad and it will cost you," he said. "Here, if you have a problem, you pick up the phone and it will be answered by someone in Traverse City, not offshore."

Industry experts say that Passageways' foray into the on-line airline ticketing business is "a pioneering move" on their part.

"This kind of depth and breadth that they are offering is not common," said Kristina Rundquist, spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Agents, a Virginia-based group that claims over 20,000 members.

Rundquist, who said she looked over the site and thinks it could be a "successful model" for the company, added that a recent survey indicated that 45 percent of ASTA's membership offered some type of online booking, but nothing of Passageway's scope.

"This is a pretty all-out system," she said.

Though very little formal marketing has been done, Rockne said that has grown to 12,000 registered members, with online air ticket reservations climbing at a rate of 11 percent per month.

Members receive no solicitation, save for a monthly email newsletter. By fall, however, the estimated $80 million, privately-held company hopes to roll out a program that emails members travel specials based on their preferences and interests. BN