By Mark Kleinman, City Editor
Lastminute.com, one of the icons of the original dotcom boom, is being put up for sale nearly a decade after its takeover by an American technology giant.
Sky News has learnt that Sabre Holdings, which is listed in New York, is exploring plans to offload Lastminute.
Sabre has appointed bankers at Houlihan Lokey, an advisory firm, to oversee an auction, and has already begun sounding out potential buyers.
A sale of Lastminute could still be aborted if the terms of a deal are not sufficiently attractive to Sabre, but sources said on Saturday that the US company was prepared to accept a substantial loss on the roughly £600m it paid in 2005.
Prospective buyers could include private equity firms or rival online travel groups such as Expedia.
Sabre has itself listed on the public markets, floating on Nasdaq in April with a valuation of nearly $4bn.
It has four main divisions, with Lastminute operating as a subsidiary of Travelocity, Sabre's group of travel e-commerce businesses.
Lastminute was one of the darlings of the early UK internet industry, floating in 2000 two years after being founded by Brent Hoberman and Martha - now Baroness - Lane Fox.
However, Lastminute's performance has been underwhelming, despite it continuing to spend substantial sums on marketing and advertising.
Its biggest market shares are in the UK and France but it has struggled to make an impact elsewhere in Europe.
Analysts say that Travelocity failed to integrate Lastminute effectively or to build the network of hotels or other partners to which it has access during a period when some rivals have expanded aggressively.
Mr Hoberman has also criticised Sabre's exploitation of the Lastminute brand, calling it "an under-utilized asset" last year.
A Sabre spokeswoman said in a statement: "We are always reviewing options to make our technology company as successful, relevant and innovative as possible.
"If we have news to share, we commit to doing so quickly and transparently."