While travel management companies have battled over the years for government travel contracts, Priceline seems to have found a solid niche in a less lucrative leisure travel business for members of the U.S. military and their families. Priceline isn't looking for a big return from the effort while executives and employees feel proud to be a part of it.
Members of the U.S. military and civilian Department of Defense employees are looking for a few good vacations, and Priceline is stepping up to provide them exclusive travel deals.
Booking Holdings’ U.S.-based leisure travel business, Priceline, and American Forces Travel announced Friday they expanded their two-year-old partnership, upping the number of eligible active U.S. military from all branches, the National Guard, veterans, and civilian employees of the Department of Defense to 22 million. When the website debuted in 2019 there were about 6.5 million military members eligible to use it.
As part of the expansion, Priceline enabled members of the U.S. military and their families to book thousands of participating hotels using the Military Star Card, Priceline CEO Brett Keller told Skift. The card extends credit card benefits, including a competitive interest rate regardless of credit score during deployment.
“And so we invested a significant amount of resources to build out this additional payment capability,” Keller said.
The Military Star Card capability is a small piece of Booking Holdings’ 5-year-old effort to develop a new payment system, highlighted recently by its formation of a Fintech unit.
American Forces Travel, in partnership with Priceline, offers exclusive leisure travel deals, purported to be at a 40-60 percent discount for eligible users, to members of the U.S. military in all branches and civilian employees.
On the events side of the equation, including for concerts, athletic performances and theater seats, TicketNetwork likewise powers events on American Forces Travel.
Priceline spokesperson said Priceline is the official and exclusive leisure travel provider to the Department of Defense. Priceline contracted TicketNetwork to handle Department of Defense events.
TicketNetwork, according to Billboard, reached a $1.55 million settlement with the New York Attorney General in 2019 for allegedly defrauding consumers.
In a statement at the time, TicketNetwork admitted no liability in the settlement, and said it subsequently updated pricing disclosures on its site to “ensure that customers are fully informed concerning their ticket orders.”
A TicketNetwork spokesman said Friday that tickets for a seat in row 22 for George Strait performing at Houston Livestock and Rodeo Show a few months ago were $627 in both the display price and final price using the American Forces Travel platform versus StubHub displaying it initially elswhere for $555 but fees took it up to $690.
Priceline’s partnership with American Forces Travel isn’t a significant money-maker for the brand or parent Booking Holdings. Keller said Priceline takes a “nominal” commission, which it reinvests in the site, and all proceeds go to Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs for members of the armed forces.
Keller said Priceline is honored to partner with American Forces Travel. “It’s exciting and motivating for the Priceline team to provide this platform for our armed forces.”
The website’s expansion grew out of the U.S. Congress broadening veterans’ benefits in a variety of categories.
Keller said some hotel, airline and car rental brands are especially amenable to offer exclusive discounts to military members, and the deals extend to 71,000 destinations around the world.
Popular leisure destinations for site users include Orlando, Las Vegas, San Diego, and trips to cities and towns closed to military bases.
“American Forces Travel travelers tend to book last-minute, are more likely to purchase insurance and take longer trips,” Keller said, adding that average hotel stays are 17 percent longer than Priceline customers.
Note: Skift updated this story to elucidate Priceline’s relationship with TicketNetwork, and to include TicketNetwork’s views on all-in pricing.
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Photo credit: Priceline expanded its partnership with American Forces Travel. Pictured is a Delta Air Lines military lounge in Atlanta. Delta Air Lines