Microsoft's Expedia travel Web site is cracking down on people who look but do not book, though instances of this seem to be rare.

Josh Herst, group product manager of Expedia, says the site now has over 700,000 members and is posting sales of over $2 million weekly, following its launch in October 1996. According to Herst, Expedia is monitoring 'how much shopping you do over what period - if you buy, if you make reservations.'

If Microsoft believes a member is abusing the system, his membership is suspended for one day and he receives a warning. The dismissal is only temporary, however, as the member may set up a new account the next day.

Herst reports that only a 'very small number of people' have been affected by Expedia's surveillance. 'Ninety-nine-plus per cent of people do not encounter this', he says.

Microsoft's goals in enforcing its policy are to ensure that its server is secure, and to reinforce the message that 'Expedia is a serious place to shop for travel', Herst says. 'It should be respected the same way you would respect a store on a street.'

Other travel Web sites are not enthusiastically supporting Microsoft's policy, nor does any US airline say it will adopt it. Terry Jones, president of Sabre Interactive, says his site has only asked users to exit once, during an airline fare war; those who were asked to leave were guests, not registered members.

Otherwise, Jones says Travelocity is quite liberal about letting prospective travelers look and not book. 'Our goal is to get people to use the service. We know how long this takes. It can take people several times before they become comfortable with it,' he adds. Jones says that Travelocity does e-mail regular 'lookers' to try to persuade them to place bookings.

Officials of Preview Travel and Internet Travel Network say they have not adopted Microsoft's policy, since they, too, are trying to encourage usage. Philip Wolf, a Sherman, Connecticut-based travel technology expert, describes Microsoft's temporary suspensions of its members in terms of 'isolated incidents that have been ridiculously blown out of proportion.'

Seema Chowdhury, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, however, predicts that other travel sites could also eventually take steps similar to Microsoft's if they, too, feel they are being abused.

Source: Airline Business