Monday, April 27, 2009

Airline Optional Services: TripAdvisor, Kayak, Farecast, FareCompare, OTAs to Get the Data

Before the end of 2009, metasearch engines powered by ITA Software, and online travel agencies (OTAs) and airline websites pumped up by Amadeus and Travelport, likely will get the optional services data necessary to transform the flight-shopping process.

As I reported in Travel Weekly today, more than a dozen airlines, ITA Software and Amadeus are testing airline-fed data through ATPCO for services like checked bags, Internet access, premium seats, lounge access, onboard gin and tonics, and even portable oxygen. Travelport GDS, too, says it will get the feeds by the end of the year.

This bit of travel news is huge.

Here's why:

ITA Software is part of the metasearch guts behind Farecast, TripAdvisor, Kayak and FareCompare, and it also powers Hotwire and a host of airline websites, including Continental's and United's. These metasearch sites use ITA to get fare, schedule and availability data so they won't have to scrape airline websites and get into new legal scrapes.

And, Amadeus powers some of Kayak's and Expedia's global sites, as well as ebookers, Opodo and Travelport GDS, including Worldspan and Apollo, provides booking engines for Orbitz, CheapTickets, Priceline and many others.

With standards for optional services in place and ATPCO finished writing the code and transmitting the data to ITA Software and the GDSs by the end of the year, the way travel agents and consumers search for flights will be transformed.

A bit of the complexity in flight shopping will get simplified.

So, if enough airlines go ahead and agree to file their optional services information and the metasearch sites and OTAs take advantage of this data bonanza, consumers would be able to shop for flights by preferences.

Travelers would be able to search for flights, for instance, that offer pay-as-you-go exit-row seats, lounge access and Internet service and compare these to flights that offer similar services.

Metasearch engines that don't offer these apples-to-apples comparisons in their search-results grids, could use the data to enhance transparency in their fee-translators, such as TripAdvisor's Fees Estimator.

And, the OTAs could come up with similar solutions, although access to the same standardized data from the airlines doesn't mean that all the displays will be identical.

Access to the data is just an enabler. There is plenty of room for innovation, and at least one prominent metasearch site is working on its unique solution as of this writing.

OK, shopping for flights still will be complex and a pain in the butt, but access to the optional-services data at least will be a major step forward in navigating the fog of helter-skelter service offerings.

Next on the docket, the airlines and ATPCO will be working on filing data on branded fares, or fare families, but that is stage 2 in the process, and probably won't get implemented until 2010.


Hudson Crossing said...

I think it is all predicated on if consumers actually *use* this data when they search for travel. I worry that it may add way too many variables - consumers are already overwhelmed by a multitude of airlines, connections, aircraft types etc etc. I think the number of consumers (and this assumes that the distributors make the required front end adjustments) that will search based on bag fees, free drinks etc will be VERY small. I can see it in hotels, but I am very skeptical on the air side, particularly on the leisure side.

Dennis Schaal said...

Tom, I guess it all remains to be seen. I see the optional service fees as removing some of the complexity because one thing consumers assuredly don't want is to find out at the end of the booking process -- or worse yet -- at the airport that the airline is tacking on umpteen fees that were undisclosed up-front. If consumers would be able to filter in or filter out fees, like Kayak does, for instance, with stops, flight times and layover durations, then perhaps the process would help simplify things. Yup, it's all in the consumer adoption and the front-end adjustments that the distibutors make under the hood.

Valyn Perini said...

I agree with Tom; most consumers booking directly will probably not appreciate the multitude of variables this could possibly provide, but a travel agent probably will. Anything to provide better service and inspire customer loyalty.

Sam Shank said...

I completely agree that the availability of this data will result in some great innovations and opportunities for differentiation. I also agree with Tom that overburdening the user with a la carte pricing is counter-productive to the metasearch goal of simplifying the purchase decision.

I've long felt that if a la carte products are positioned as upgrades (vs. add-on fees), and strategically-placed within the purchase decision process, they'll represent a key new source of airline revenue. Metasearch, with their focus on innovation and rapid iteration, is the logical partner for airlines to roll this out to consumers.
As an air traveler, I'm looking forward to spending more money to have a better flight experience. But, if the only products offered are things I used to get for free, my wallet will remain shut.