Skift Take

TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer is ordinarily far from being the most-compensated CEO in online travel. This year represented an unusual payout for him. But Skift's annual survey reveals that most online travel CEOs are often more handsomely compensated than what the top bosses in other industries receive, on average.

Stephen Kaufer, CEO of TripAdvisor, was the most-compensated chieftain in online travel last year and — at $43.2 million — the fifth most-highly-compensated CEO among Fortune 500 public companies in the U.S., following only the CEOs at Broadcom, CBS, TransDigm, and Time Warner.

TripAdvisor was quick to point out that the 55-year-old Kaufer received grants of options and restricted stock valued at $42.1 million. The earliest it would ever consider giving him another stock grant as long-term incentive compensation would be 2021.

Kaufer’s compensation last year of $1.23 million is much more typical, the company said.

Looking at compensation across the online travel sector became a look at somewhat new names.

Expedia Group’s CEO Mark Okerstrom, 45, became president and CEO as of September, 2017, having previously served as the conglomerate’s chief financial officer since September 2011.

After that ascension, Okerstrom became 2017’s next-most-highly-compensated online travel agency executive.

Expedia set the annual base salary for Okerstrom at the same level as it had for Khosrowshahi: $1 million. Given that Okerstrom started the job mid-year, his blended base salary for 2017 worked out to $824,039. But that’s not all, of course. Expedia also awarded Okerstrom a $1.25 million cash bonus and stock awards valued at $3.48 million.

The company’s largesse primarily came in the form of compensation tied to stock options that it estimated were worth $25.1 million.

The ultimate value of those options will depend on his performance and the trajectory of the company’s share price.

For example, the company awarded Okerstrom with 300,000 stock options. But 100,000 of those are subject to whether the CEO has boosted the share price of the company to $200 as a rolling average by early 2021. Some might call that goal ambitious, as it represents an approximately 71 percent increase over today’s share price.

Some of the other stock-based rewards have other performance goals, such as one tied to the growth in worldwide hotel room night bookings.

Okerstrom’s total compensation far exceeded the total compensation of his predecessor Dara Khosrowshahi in 2016 of $2.4 million. Sources said that, had he stayed, he would have likely made millions in more in pay in 2016. What we know for sure is that Khosrowshahi, who is now CEO of Uber, was having an off-year in 2016, partly due to a significantly lower bonus related to the company’s performance shortfall.

In 2015, Khosrowshahi’s total pay package was a much fatter $94.6 million. That’s a personal best that gives Okerstrom something to shoot for.

Booking Holdings

Last year,’s CEO Gillian Tans was the highest paid online travel CEO. Tans, 47, who in late April 2016, became the brand’s president and CEO, wasn’t able to compete this year with the compensation for the new head of the entire Booking Holdings Group.

The 56-year-old Fogel took office on January 1, 2017, and saw his base salary more than double to $750,000. As ever, stock awards and other non-executive compensation based on performance targets made the top job lucrative, bringing his total compensation to $27,774,458.

For 2017, Tans’ target performance-based cash bonus was tied to the financial performance of the business, for which she is responsible, rather than to that of Booking Holdings as a whole. Based on the 2017 performance of the business, the executive bonus pool was funded in amounts “well above” the target performance goal.

Tans’s compensation for 2017 was $13.65 million, down 20 percent from $17.1 million the prior year.

CORRECTION: This article originally incorrectly stated that the company missed some performance targets in 2017. The reason the company compensated Tans $3.45 million less in 2017 than the previous year was because she had received extra stock awards in 2016 for becoming CEO. The division had excellent performance.

This year Fogel’s total 2017 compensation included a one-time award of $7 million in stock as a promotion bonus for becoming CEO. Without that as a factor next year, Tans once again will have a chance to out-earn the head of the conglomerate she belongs to.

Pay Ratios

This year marked the first year that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission required companies to report a CEO pay ratio, or how much CEOs make relative to their workers.

In Expedia’s case, CEO Okerstrom made 431 times more than his median employee. Okerstrom started partway through the year, so Expedia annualized the base salary, but that method of calculation made a negligible difference in the pay ratio calculation.

In Booking Holding’s case, CEO Fogel made 599 times more than his median employee.

Best-Paid Online Travel CEOs of Public Companies in 2017

Numbers reflect full compensation

BrandTitleName20172016DifferenceEmployee MedianCEO Pay
Stephen Kaufer$47.93M$1.23 M$46.79M$99,643481
Expedia GroupPresident
Mark Okerstrom$30.72M$2.44M*$30.47M$71,696431
Booking HoldingsPresident
Glenn Fogel$27.77M$16.49M**$11.27M$46,355599
Gillian Tans$13.65M$17.1M-$3.45 million$46,355N/A
Expedia GroupChairman/
Senior Executive
Barry Diller$8.86M$8.54M$317,219$71,696N/A

Source: Company SEC Filings
*Okerstrom took the job in September 2017. The prior year compensation is the amount given to his predecessor Khosrowshahi.
**Fogel took the job at the start of 2017. The prior year figure represents the compensation for his predecessor Jeffery Boyd.

As context, the typical CEO of a major U.S. public company made 164 times what their median employee earned last year, according to an analysis of S&P 500 companies by the Associated Press and compensation consultancy Equilar.

Being a top boss in online travel means you’re at the high end of median pay packages, compared to a U.S. wide cross-sector average of $11.7 million in salary, bonuses, stock, and other compensation for the top job.

One more surprising set of facts from these tales of compensation. Expedia and Priceline have about as many workers but don’t pay them the same on average.

Expedia Group has about 22,150 employees, while Booking Holdings has about 23,000. Priceline’s total compensation for its median employee was $46,355, less than Expedia’s median of $71,696. Ctrip has far more workers than its rivals — with 37,400 workers across its subsidiaries — but it pays them far less, though it doesn’t reveal the median. TripAdvisor only had 3,228 full-time and part-time employees, but its median compensation was $99,643. All of the median estimates exclude the amounts earned by the CEOs.

Ctrip’s Secret

Don’t forget Ctrip, the online travel giant in China that has a market capitalization in between that of Booking Holdings and Expedia.

CEO Jane Jie Sun became Ctrip’s CEO in November, 2016.

As a foreign issuer of stock, China’s Ctrip didn’t have to detail executive pay.

But Ctrip did say it paid its executives, including chairman and former CEO James Jianzhang Liang and CEO Jane Jie Sun, $2 million in cash in aggregate in 2016, though both Liang and Sun also benefit from compensation for being directors. The directors in aggregate received $1.2 million in total.

As a foreign issuer, Ctrip also doesn’t have to participate in providing a CEO pay ratio, and it doesn’t. Generally speaking, the CEO pay gap is much smaller in China than in the West.

That may change next year, though, for Ctrip. Looking ahead, as a promotion bonus, Ctrip awarded Jane Sun stock options for 568,140 ordinary shares that she has had the option to exercise in the past two months. As a foreign issuer, Ctrip is not required to issue a notice when a CEO buys stock, so we don’t know if she has.

We also don’t know the terms of the options. But in theory, given a share price this spring hovering around $45, the options could be worth millions of dollars. Perhaps next year’s financial filings will provide a hint.

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Tags:, ceo pay, expedia, priceline, tripadvisor

Photo credit: TripAdvisor CEO Stephen Kaufer spoke at Skift Global Forum New York 2017 about the company's future. A survey of compensation for last year found he was the most-compensated, though the company said it was a statistical fluke and not representative of a multi-year average. Skift

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