In the last couple of weeks, Fly.com, with a huge marketing assist from parent company Travelzoo, introduced 20 Twitter accounts, including LAFares, DCFares, CHIFares, BOSFares and SEAFares, and plans to tweet followers airfare deals from these airports perhaps three times a week.
Deal-publisher Travelzoo promoted Fly.com's new Twitter accounts to millions of Travelzoo's newsletter readers in e-mails with the headline, NEW: Real-Time Fare Alerts from Your Home City, and some of Fly.com's accounts have already picked up around 2,500 followers.
The development signals that a battle royale is under way between Fly.com and fellow flight-metasearcher FareCompare and others for the hearts and minds of the Twitteratti over airfare deal alerts. FareCompare launched 170 Twitter accounts, such as flyfromLAX, early last Summer, but has yet to attract the kind of following for its individual accounts that Fly.com has attracted in a couple of weeks.
Among the online travel agencies -- as opposed to the two comparison shopping engines, Fly.com and FareCompare -- Travelocity is in the game, too, with 10 Twitter accounts such as flyfromDallas, and is trying to ramp up followers by publicizing them through social media outlets such as its The Window Seat blog. Travelocity's account usage goes beyond deal alerts for its website; the OTA also uses the Twitter accounts to inform travelers about delays or wait times at these airports, says spokesman Joel Frey.
Among the two metasearchers, at this juncture I would give the marketing edge to Travelzoo/Fly.com and the technology advantage to FareCompare.
For consumers, if you are focused on deals from your local airport, I would subscribe to Fly.com, FareCompare and Travelocity accounts. None are totally comprehensive, so you're liable to find some value in each.
You can sign up for the Fly.com alerts here; for FareCompare's Twitter accounts here, and Travelocity's Twitter accounts are referenced on its blog.
Both companies tweet airfare deals from followers' selected airports, and link to calendars from which consumers can pick their dates and then shop around on airline and travel agency websites if they choose to actually book the flights.
But, while Fly.com intends to tweet approximately three deals -- including "exclusive fares and discounts" -- perhaps three times per week, depending on what's available, FareCompare can detect price drops before they are otherwise public because it subscribes to 11 daily feeds of airfare changes from some 500 airlines through the industry airfare source, ATPCO.
Note to Travelzoo and Fly.com: You too should probably sign up for an ATPCO feed. Just sayin'.
On the other hand, Fly.com General Manager Brian Clark tells me "we intend to post only very good deals, all tested and qualified by Fly.com team members." In other words, Fly.com will attempt to ensure that the deals it posts actually exist in the real world and are bookable.
FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney says "we are gratified that large organizations like Travelocity and Fly.com (Travelzoo) are copying our ideas," and he adds that FareCompare also vets the deals it tweets. On Fly.com's marketing inroads, Seaney acknowledges Travelzoo's clout with its newsletter subscriber base and says FareCompare has attempted to grow its Twitter accounts organically.
However, Seaney plans on soon taking what he calls the one-way conversation that Fly.com and FareCompare currently participate in with air-deal seekers on Twitter, and turning it into something more interactive.
In the works from FareCompare, Seaney says, will be airfare deal alerts that link to maps, where consumers will be able to determine where, for example, five of their friends want to travel or which of all the U2 concert dates would make the most sense for the group of friends to pick in terms of attactive airfare deals.
FareCompare is focusing its social media efforts on Twitter -- and not Facebook -- for now because Twitter is an easier, more facile testing ground, Seaney says. For example, there are more security hurdles involved in getting to Facebook friends than there are with Twitter followers, he adds.
"If you can crack into that space," Seaney says, referring to Twitter, "it's the biggest space out there."
Seaney notes that it is a fierce battle that travel marketers face when they attempt to win over sometimes "fickle" consumers and keep them engaged.
Tongue in cheek, Seaney quotes some lines from Gladiator and likens FareCompare's upcoming interactive airfare-alert tools to the Romans trying to control the mobs with games in the Coliseum.
Says Seaney: "I would love to have the hearts and minds of the mob."