Thursday, March 14, 2013

Farelogix product spotlights ancillaries

By Kate Rice
Airline Commerce Gateway, the distribution platform introduced by Farelogix last week, offers airlines a richer way to showcase and market their ancillary services.

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That, in turn, gives travel retailers who use GDSs or other aggregator solutions the opportunity to comparison-shop ancillaries — at least, to the extent possible given the increasing variety of airline revenue models.

What’s more, Gateway appears to be unique in the market. Bob Offut, senior technology analyst with PhoCusWright, said the new application, built on XML open standards, currently has no competitors.

Gateway enables airlines to illustrate their ancillaries with videos of such offerings as premium seats, airport lounges to which airlines now sell access on an a la carte basis, and even of the meals being served on a flight.

It also offers airlines new ways to communicate with clients via mobile devices, such as an app that enables travelers to change their flights on smartphones or tablets.

Currently, the only way to change a flight is on the airline’s website or by calling a travel agent or the airline directly.

Gateway also gives airlines the option of notifying travelers of pending disruptions, such as an approaching storm, on a mobile device. Carriers provide some notifications of this sort now, but the mobile app Gateway provides enables them to offer consumers alternative actions, such as canceling their reservation or picking a new flight.

It also offers airlines a chance to make good by immediately offering an inconvenienced flyer additional miles to compensate for a problem. Right now, that kind of compensation can take a week.

Gateway is an XML-based airline distribution platform that combines Farelogix’s existing products, merchandising, pricing and distribution management into a single, integrated, mobile-enabled platform. More than a dozen airlines already use one or two stand-alone Farelogix products.

Gateway is designed to work with IATA’s New Distribution Capability (NDC), an optional airline industry standard. Gateway basically provides airlines with a pipeline to their customers, either through direct channels like the airline’s own website, its mobile apps or mobile-enabled sites, its kiosks, call centers and social media outlets.

But it can also operate through indirect channels, including travel agents, online travel agencies, travel management companies and aggregators. It is designed to work with GDSs.

Agencies connecting to this pipeline by using an intelligent aggregator can get all of this detail on the airlines and also use it to perform functions such as emailing clients their boarding passes instead of making them go to the airline’s website to get a printable boarding pass.

Notably, said Jim Davidson, Farelogix’ president and CEO, agents can also use Gateway to book ancillary services. They can also use the program to email clients coupons, complete with scannable images for redeeming them, or perhaps a pass to an airport lounge or drink coupons.

Gateway also offers airlines traveler authentication, meaning they can identify a consumer and, if it’s a frequent flyer, offer that passenger a free premium seat based on the customers’ frequent flyer status.

Davidson said the system gives agents a new way to provide service to customers because they can comparison-shop some ancillaries that airlines offer on a la carte basis. However, it’s tougher to compare an airline that offers a la carte services to one that bundles certain ancillaries into the cost of a specific ticket as American Airlines recently did with its Choice Essential and Choice Plus seats.

This is where a travel agent can offer tremendous value,” said Davidson, who added that agents could explain the differences between the products and help consumers decide which best fits them.
Gateway can work with a GDS as long as the GDS uses XML as Travelport already does featuring Air Canada’s fare families.

Farelogix is just beginning to market Gateway; no airlines are using it yet.

Although Gateway is an airline product, Davidson said agencies could take advantage of it by using an intelligent aggregator, such as Farelogix SPRK or intelligent aggregation tools offered by GDSs.
“Then you could take feeds from all the different airlines,” he said.

Other merchandising products in the marketplace now include Sabre’s Air Extras in its Sabre Red platform; 350,000 travel agents have access to it. Nearly a dozen airlines already have their ancillaries listed in the system or are implementing them, including US Airways, WestJet, Qantas and others.
Sabre said it is working with Air France-KLM and United on their ancillaries. In addition, Sabre said it has contracts with 13 more airlines to sell their ancillaries, including Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America.

Air Extra, which shows photos and images of ancillaries, is offered at no extra cost to users of Sabre Red, and it is also free for airlines. It can support nine different ancillaries, but for the most part, airlines are using it to sell seats and bags. One carrier is using it to sell airport lounge passes.

Air Extra can also support other ancillary content such as in-flight meals and in-flight entertainment, but only if airlines provide that content.

That is a flashpoint with airlines and GDSs with airlines seeing ancillary content as essential leverage in their negotiations with GDSs. Airlines claim that GDSs are an unjustifiably expensive distribution channel and accuse them of taking too long to bring new technology to market.

Another established player in the ancillaries market is Ireland-based Datalex. Its clients include Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines and many others. However, the focus of Datalex is on working with airlines that want to sell their ancillaries directly to consumers on websites, mobile devices, kiosks, call centers and social media sites.

Datalex, too, supports traveler attribution and helps airlines showcase their services with video.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.
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