Star Alliance carrier Lufthansa is to become the first airline to test a new booking engine from distribution specialist Amadeus, which uses a broad search to find flights based on budget, and other criteria, rather than destination.
While travellers typically select a destination before hunting for an acceptable fare, Amadeus' new 'Affinity Shopper' system aims to offer a wider range of options to passengers by effectively reversing the process.
The engine allows passengers to enter their budget criteria and a rough time period in which to travel, and then uses specially-developed rapid-search algorithms to present destinations meeting these requirements.
These options are initially broken down into broad regions, through a simple graphic map interface, allowing users to explore travel alternatives which might not have previously been considered.
Users can also specify particular requirements - locations with beaches, golf courses, and so on - and the system will filter destinations accordingly, and produce simple graphs illustrating the variation of fares by date.
Lufthansa head of e-commerce Marcus Casey says the engine will allow passengers to treat its Internet booking site as a "traveller playground", rather than channel effort into comparing prices for a pre-determined route.
"The ability to inspire the traveller to search easily and fast, through quality data, gives us a considerable competitive edge," he says. The airline will introduce the system within a few weeks.
Speaking in London today, Amadeus vice-president of marketing Ian Wheeler said customers had gradually been driven towards low prices rather than towards a satisfactory travel experience.
He says the rapid-search techniques at the heart of the new system - the first product to emerge from a heavy Amadeus investment programme - would shift competition to a broader field, and enable airlines to "manage route networks rather than city pairs".
Wheeler also believes that the presentation of hundreds of tailored options, and the difficulty of comparing these with other carriers' fares, would reduce the likelihood that travellers will stray from the booking site. "We hope it will improve the look-to-book ratio," he adds.
Amadeus' system has attracted interest from other carriers, he says, and the system could be adapted to multiple airlines and, by extension, the major alliances. Wheeler adds that budget airlines could also make use of the concept.