, a specialist in eleventh-hour cut-price travel deals via the internet, yesterday acquired French rival Degriftour for £59 million ($88.5m) - £27m in cash, the remainder in shares.

Claiming that the buy would bring forward LastMinute’s move into the black to the end of 2002, chief operating officer Martha Lane Fox said: "Travel is a scale business. You need a big number of suppliers to match a big number of customers and that is what this gives us."

Degriftour, which [incredibly for a dotcom] is profitable, will also bring to the party nine years of experience in the French travel industry where it is one of the leading online brands, generating more revenues than its new British parent.

As ever, someone was eager to pour cold water on the marriage: Degriftour is "too small, too French and too family-owned to spend £20m to £30m to develop on its own across Europe," carped an insider.

News source: Financial Times