“We’ve removed the need for the consumer to bid,” Brigit Zimmerman, Priceline.com’s senior vice president of air and vacation packages told The Wall Street Journal. ”It’s a heck of a lot easier."
When Priceline introduced its name-your-own-airfare feature in the late 1990s, it was such a roaring success that the company tried to replicate the online-auction model in other areas, including home mortgages, new cars and groceries. Those efforts were scrapped a year later so the company could shift its focus back to travel.
"Priceline Negotiator" Shatner appeared in dozens of ads extolling the virtues of name-your-airfare bookings.
But as the industry changed, fewer people were using the bidding feature, opting instead for straight-forward airline and hotel bookings. In recent years, Priceline has tried to steer customers toward its Express Deals, which offer so-called blind bookings for a discounted rate.
It tried to drive home that point, that Priceline isn't just about auction-like fares, by killing off Shatner's character in 2012.
"You don't have to bid," he says moments before his bus plunges off a bridge, erupting into flames. "At Priceline, you can choose from thousands of hotels on sale every day."
(Though they brought Shatner back for a few ads including during the 2014 Super Bowl blitz.)
The elimination of Name Your Own Price is yet another way to steer people toward Priceline's newer model, particularly as more customers look to book flights, hotel rooms and rental cars using their smartphones.
“The company’s new strategy will help customers connect with deals faster and more easily than before," a company spokeswoman said in an email, adding that Express Deals is "easy to use [and] mobile-friendly."
The spate of airline mergers in recent years also made the auction-like tool less practical. As carriers like US Airways and Northwest Airlines disappeared, there were fewer seats available and less incentive for airlines to accept discounted bids.
“Now, we have four supercarriers that collectively control approximately 85 percent of U.S. capacity,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst for Atmosphere Research Group, told the Wall Street Journal. “A product like name-your-own-price only works when there’s a critical mass of seats available.”
Priceline, which was founded in 1997 during the heyday of the dot-com boom, was among the first online travel sites to offer discounted bookings with the click of a mouse. Two years later, the company went public, raising a record $12.9 billion in one day.
Today, Priceline.com is the world's largest travel reservation site. The Priceline Group has expanded rapidly in recent years with the acquisition of sites like Kayak and Booking.com. Last year, Priceline had $55.5 billion in gross bookings and $9.22 billion in revenue, more than double the $4.36 billion it posted in 2011.