A new "travel" tab was present on Amazon's front door early Wednesday morning, linking customers to Web travel agencies Expedia and Hotwire. The partnership is expected to be announced later Wednesday, sources told CNET News.com.
Travelers can book a range of services from Expedia, including airline tickets, rental cars and hotel rooms. On Hotwire, a discount Net travel agency, bargain hunters can locate fares at a reduced price, provided they are willing to learn the name of the airline and the time of departure after they purchase their tickets.
Amazon executives were unavailable for comment.
Amazon appears to be reliving its brief empire-building period of the late 1990s, when the company branched into numerous new businesses. But the company is choosing a peculiar time to throw its hat into the Web travel ring.
Although the sector has been one of e-commerce's few bright spots in the past year, the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., two weeks ago have flung the airline industry into chaos.
Frightened would-be travelers are staying close to home, leading to a huge shortfall in ticket sales for many airlines. The nation's top carriers have scaled back flights, laid off workers and pleaded for federal aid.
The expansion into travel comes after partnerships Amazon has struck in the past month with discount retail chain Target and electronics merchant Circuit City.
The deals are part of Amazon's new focus on hiring out its e-commerce expertise to other merchants, leaving the actual retailing to them.
Amazon cut its first e-tailing deal with Toys "R" Us last year when the two former competitors agreed to create a joint Web site. Amazon agreed to oversee e-commerce operations while Toys "R" Us would handle merchandising.
Analysts praised that deal as they have similar ones that followed. For the e-tailer's partners, merchants with little experience--or success--at online retailing could rely on Amazon's technological know-how and gain access to the company's 35 million customers.
For Amazon, the company could forget about having to warehouse merchandise and about such labor-intensive operations as shipping goods, both of which are expensive.