Amex Sells Stake in Business Travel Unit

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- American Express  (AXP) said late Monday it has a deal in place to sell a 50% stake in its business travel operation to a consortium of investors led by Certares International Bank in a deal valued at $900 million.

Joining Certares in buying into Amex's Global Business Travel unit are Qatar Investment Authority through its wholly owned subsidiary Qatar Holding as well as funds managed by BlackRock  (BLK) and Macquarie Capital. Post-deal, the unit would continue offering travel services in coordination with American Express' other business units, including its global payments operations and the American Express corporate card.

New York-based Amex last September disclosed it was in talks with Certares about a potential deal after years of trying to revamp the business. The travel agency sector has been under pressure from cheaper, online methods for booking corporate travel, leading Amex in January 2013 to slash 5,400 jobs and to say it was working to develop tools that would allow it to better compete with online travel agencies.

The company in January named Bill Glenn, former president of global commercial services at American Express, to be CEO of its Global Business Travelunit. Post-deal, Glenn will remain in place, with Certares founder Greg O'Hara serving as chairman of the joint venture.

American Express chairman and CEO Kenneth I. Chenault in a statement said the joint venture "reflects our continued commitment to the travel business through a new structure with an outstanding group of investors and the resources to grow the business and provide additional value to our corporate customers."

The companies said they believe the business unit can compete by continuing to expand and improve its reporting tools and itinerary management applications, as well as building its meetings and events management services offerings. The business unit employs 14,000 from operations in 139 countries.

The deal is expected to close by the end of the second quarter, subject to regulatory approvals. Amex said it expects to use "a substantial portion" of any gain recognized at closing to invest in other areas. The American Express consumer travel business, which includes providing travel benefits and services to Amex cardholders, is not part of the transaction.

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