NewsFormer Virgin Blue exec brings online travel agency Webjet to USThis article was originally published onBy Dennis Schaal | April 23, 2010 A former Virgin Blue executive has teamed with Australia online travel agency Webjet to bring the brand to the U.S. market.Mathias Friess, who left Virgin Blue as head of global sales and distribution about five weeks ago, says Webjet.com is a 50-50 joint venture between himself and Webjet Ltd.Webjet.com is in soft-launch mode, focusing on international flights and retail hotels for now. Cars will be turned on soon, and eventually so will merchant-model hotel sales within the air-booking path, Friess says.The launch of Webjet.com marks public company Webjet Ltd.'s first foray into the U.S. market. A leader in the Australia market, Webjet has country websites in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.Based in Tampa, Fla., Webjet.com sources its retail hotel and car inventory from Travelport's Galileo GDS -- as does Webjet Australia -- and Webjet.com uses Amadeus for its air booking engine.Webjet.com's also draws on technology from U.S. online travel agency Farecrawler, which Freiss owns. Traffic to Farecrawler now gets redirected to Webjet.com.So, what differentiates Webjet.com?For hotel bookings, Webjet.com offers a staythenpay retail option, where consumers pay a nonrefundable $10 booking fee to Webjet.com at the time of booking, and then pay the remainder of the rate at the hotel when they check out. Customers can cancel up to 72 hours before their stay without penalty.For airline bookings, Webjet.com offers domestic and international fares with a focus on international bookings.Friess says that Webjet.com sifts air combinations a bit differently than other websites, adding "we do fee this gives us an edge."One thing that doesn't give Webjet.com an edge is airline booking fees, which many U.S. websites eliminated in 2009 or earlier.Webjet charges a $14.95 booking fee for domestic flights and a $24.95 booking fee on international trips.Friess says Webjet plans to partner with international tourism authorities, such as Tourism Australia, to drive international air and hotel bookings.