Expedia a step closer to ditching TripAdvisor

Travel industry … welcome to high finance! By the end of the year, online travel agency Expedia is expected to spin off its TripAdvisor unit in an initial public offering, according to MarketWatch. And, the deal could be worth as much as $4 billion.

Think about it: all those hotel reviews you’ve written, photos you’ve posted and advice you’ve sought could be worth as much as Facebook generates in advertising revenue this year. Clearly, you’ve been working hard to churn out all that free content for your fellow travelers.

So, here’s the cosmic justice in all this. Expedia, the largest online travel agency in terms of revenue (which is what really matters), is set to benefit in a big way. But, you don’t post to TripAdvisor for fame and fortune. You do it to help your fellow travelers. Well, imagine how much traveling the folks cashing in on this IPO will be able to do. Maybe they’ll take your reviews to heart!

Look for the IPO filing in a few weeks … and celebration by a handful of people around the Christmas holiday.

[photo by jollyUK via Flickr]

Spirit Airlines goes public … with dirty laundry

Remember when Spirit Airlines talked about going public? The company felt the need to disclose customer service as a critical risk in its initial public offering documents. One would expect nothing less from the carrier that used flight attendant-turned nutjob-turned spokesman Steven Slater to sell seats. Well, Spirit hopped into the arena of public finance, raising $187.2 million in its initial public offering last week.

What’s interesting is that the folks with the dough – Indigo Partners and Oaktree Capital Management – weren’t shy about looking for the exits. In addition to revealing the problems with “[n]egative publicity regarding our customer service,” Spirit noted in its filing:

“After the offering, our private equity sponsors may elect to reduce their ownership in our company or reduce their involvement on our board of directors, which could reduce or eliminate the benefits we have historically achieved through our relationships with them.”

Time to brace?

Spirit Airlines discloses real consequences of poor customer service

If you ever want the truth about anything, the smartest thing you can do is follow the money. Cash doesn’t lie, regardless of the people who are wielding it. So, if you don’t think airlines have any real risk because of poor customer service – that everyone just expects and lives with the worst – it pays to check out the recent Spirit Airlines financial filing.

Spirit is looking to go public with the hopes of raising $300 million. To do so, of course, it had to file all kinds of paperwork with the SEC, including a Form S-1, which includes, among other things, the risks the company faces. Think of it as a warning label for potential investors.

Based on the document, covered over on Elliott.org, service is enough of a risk that Spirit feels warrants mentioning:

Negative publicity regarding our customer service could have a material adverse effect on our business.

In the past we have experienced a relatively high number of customer complaints related to, among other things, our customer service, reservations and ticketing systems and baggage handling.

This isn’t just theory, here. Spirit is disclosing what it has actually experienced. It’s a touch of North Korean-style self-criticism that’s eye-opening for potential investors. It’s also a case of brutal honesty. Spirit is saying that it has had lots of complaints across virtually the entire company.

In particular, we generally experience a higher volume of complaints when we make changes to our unbundling policies, such as charging for baggage.

Okay, no shocks here.

In addition, in 2009, we entered into a consent order with the DOT in which we were assessed a civil penalty of $375,000, of which we are required to pay only $215,000 provided there are no further similar violations for one year after the date of the consent order, for our procedures for bumping passengers from oversold flights and our handling of lost or damaged baggage.

Not only does Spirit suggest that that there is a risk to future customer revenues, the airline also indicates that there are regulatory expenses associated with poor customer service.

Our reputation and business could be materially adversely affected if we fail to meet customers’ expectations with respect to customer service or if we are perceived by our customers to provide poor customer service.

Translation for investors = our service levels could cost you your money.

Spirit is in a tough spot, because it’s looking to enter the pubic capital markets – it isn’t there already, like the major characters. And, as they say, the first time can be uncomfortable and awkward.