Airline unbundling becomes an onscreen battle

Attribute Based Shopping.JPGThe unbundling battle is moving, shifting from the airlines to the travel agent, both real and on-line, as the big three major Global Distribution Systems – Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport – hustle to deploy systems and initiatives that will allow agents to sell up and let home shoppers consider ancillaries and spend.

Sabre has made the biggest splash so far with its Attribute-Based shopping, a ‘solution’ that will be available to travel agents in the first quarter of 2009, but its rivals say that they have some unique features. At Travelport, for instance, a major project will allow travel agents to customise an airline’s offering, while at Amadeus, progress with large clients such as Air Canada and Qantas will lead to a major new offering next year.

Kyle Moore, Sabre’s vice president of product marketing, said during a presentation that the Attributes Shopper allows easier price comparison, which may address one of the public’s major complaints: complexity and opacity. In fact, a survey by Amadeus, a major rival of Sabre’s, suggests that travellesr accept ancillary fees if they are clearlye stated – and if the airlines’ don’t push too far. Robert Buckman, the Amadeus North American director of airline distribution strategies, says, “consumers won’t feel nickel-and-dimed if they are getting something they value, whether it is choice, convenience or simplification.’  

But it is the simplification that is the challenge. As Moore puts it, “complexity is the friend of the agent. Air-travel shopping has become very complex.”


 In the Sabre demo, the new product used a Travelocity-style search matrix, letting a user check off services in a box in the upper-right side of the screen, after which the search returns different results, showing both the base fare and the total fare, with all the charges included.

For example, a search for flights between Dallas and Salt Lake City returned non-stop flights from Delta and American, each with a base fare of $281. A user who checked “seat selection,” “first checked baggage” and “second

Amadeus Airline Retailing Platfrom_Ancillary Services Illustration_19NOV08.JPG

checked baggage” on the box would see the fare for Delta jump to $306, including the $25 second-bag fee. For American, the new fare would be $336, including a $15 first-bag fee, a $25 second-bag fee and a $15 seat selection fee. Sabre’s demo was conduced via WebEx in advance of the PhoCusWright travel conference.

Amadeus in April announced the Airline Retailing Platform, which will enable airlines to promote add-ons and aircraft features through a flexible GUI (Graphical User Interface). This optional service lets airlines unbundle services and sell items separately as value-added options, Amadeus says. Its new a la carte platform will be available starting next year, Amadeus’s Buckman says. Its FlexPricer has already begun to allow “airlines to essentially package up core attributes through their websites, and its retail platform will allow them to make presentation of such attributes as refundability, meal options and the like. 

And Travelport is well on its way with a major attributes shopping service that it will begin to roll out early next year. Paul Hesser, vice president, product programmes and service at Travelport, explains that this offering will allow the travel agent to name and present the

product rather than rely on the airline’s presentation of it. Travelport’s Neal Sunners, group vice president and head of product, says, “I’d rather be a little later and second to market and be able to offer our customers and clients a lot more.”

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