- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Fly now. Pay later.

US Airways is offering a promotion through Nov. 30 that lets passengers wait 90 days after booking a ticket to pay. After 90 days, they are charged 17.99 percent interest on the balance due.

The promotion began last month. When ordering tickets online, customers must check a box on the purchase page to receive the offer.

A Timonium, Md., firm, I4 Commerce, is in charge of collecting the payments and remitting them to the airline. Under the standard Bill Me Later payment option, customers are charged five to seven business days after they book flights.

The 90-day payment option was one of the airline’s most popular promotions among passengers when it was offered another time, said Valerie Wunder, a spokeswoman for the airline.

“Obviously, customers liked it. So we want to do it again for them,” said Ms. Wunder, who could not specify how many passengers used the promotion last time. “Now that the holidays are coming up, this is a good time to start thinking about plans.”

If customers do not make a full payment or start a payment schedule within 30 days after the 90-day period, I4 Commerce will send letters and make calls to remind customers of their bill. If payment is still not received, I4 Commerce officials will send a customer’s information to a credit bureau, said Vince Talbert, vice president of marketing for I4 Commerce.

Mr. Talbert said this rarely happens, even though customers do not have to think about the payment for months. Those who choose the 90-day promotion typically have higher credit ratings and are more likely to pay on time, he said. Also, customers’ credit ratings have to be approved before they can use the Bill Me Later option.

The promotion still won’t attract new customers for US Airways, said Doug Abbey, an airline analyst and partner for the Velocity Group in Washington.

Mr. Abbey said airline flights are full and that competition from low-fare airlines such as Jet Blue and Southwest won’t give the 90-day promotion much influence over travelers on a budget.

“It’s only an incentive if you can’t pay for it now, but pay for it in three months,” he said. “It’s pretty much inconsequential.”

Continental Airlines also offers a Bill Me Later option, although not this particular promotion, as do several other businesses such as Walmart.com and Petco.com.

On the average, about 5 percent of a company’s sales are conducted through the payment option, and about half of those customers commit to sales because of it, Mr. Talbert said. Customers generally like it because it relieves them of giving credit-card information online, he said.

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