Sabre Finally Getting A La Carte Shopping

Distribution, Fares, Technology

First, I’d like to apologize to those of you who couldn’t get on the site this morning. I’ve been using for my site hosting, and they went down once again. I’m up for renewal in a couple of months, and I’ll most likely be switching. Let me know if you know any more reliable hosts out there.

At last week’s Travel Innovation Summit, there was one company that really stood out. Believe it or not, the old-school global distribution system (GDS), Sabre, was at the show ready to show something innovative. What we got is effectively what Air Canada did on their website years ago and everyone else has been begging for every since. They’re finally getting around to putting a la carte shopping, or attribute-based shopping as they call it, into their system. This is innovative? Well at least it’s finally happening.

The demonstration they gave us used the Travelocity interface. Once you put in a search for a certain route on a certain date as you would now, it will return fares as you would expect to see. But there was also a new filter option that lets you include fees for meals, first checked bag, second checked bag, etc in the price that they show you. This way you can determine which of the fees you wanted to see included – basically it gives you a customized price for comparison purposes. I can talk about this all day, but here’s the video of Sabre’s presentation if you want to see it yourself. It’s a little over 10 minutes long. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get the embed function to work with this player, so you’ll have to click out.

As you may have noticed, the key here is that you won’t just be able to see the all-in price but you’ll actually be able to pay for everything at the time of booking. No more whipping out your wallet when you want a sandwich or when you need to drop off a bag. You will eventually be able to pay for this all in advance, effectively creating a tailored travel experience with only one swipe of the credit card.

This is the kind of system that I’ve been waiting for. I have no problem with a la carte pricing at all. I just don’t want to have to pay for each piece separately. As I said, Air Canada has done this for quite some time. I’m glad to see the lumbering GDS’s finally catching up. We’ll see when it’s actually in production.

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11 comments on “Sabre Finally Getting A La Carte Shopping

  1. Dan – I believe it’ll be some time next year, but I haven’t seen any hard dates. I also don’t think that they’ve announced whether Travelocity will have it or not. It may just be for carriers using Sabre has a host or GDS.

  2. I wonder if they will use this as an opportunity to bundle pieces together. As soon as you go to a’la’cart it allows you to bundle popular things together to get people to buy more pieces.

    I can imagine a long haul sleep bundle:
    $15 – 1 checked bag
    $14 – 2 adult beverages
    $10 – 1 blanket + pillow
    $27 – package deal!

  3. I am too lazy, eh, busy to watch the video right now, but since some fees are waived for elites, I wonder how they are able to deal with that. In other words, if I am a UA 1K flying from SFO to JFK with 2 bags, can they include the fee waiver UA provides me in their calculation?

  4. I’d like to know the plan for all the edge cases. You pay for the blanket, but there isn’t one available. What happens?

    Also if you cancel/change the flight do you get the ancillaries back? Finally this would be really great if they also gave the option to purchase the ancillaries after the main ticket is purchased. (E.g. two months in advance I’m not sure if I’ll be checking a bag, but two days before hand I realize that I am checking a bag.)

    Also how is this done on the back side, when I want to redeem that drink or pillow? You can’t rely on a printed voucher, because what happens if someone checks in online, then loses their boarding pass with the drink attached, then has the boarding pass reprinted at the airport. Its got to have a specific serial number/bar code for each individual drink.

    Its great that Sabre has gotten this piece of things up and running, but the devil is in the details.

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  6. Why do you have to use Air Canada as a shining example. This is an airline that charges 80% of their total fuel cost as a ‘fuel surcharge’ on the price of a ticket;

    YUL-LHR-YUL; 6500 miles
    ASM Fuel Cost; $0.061 (from their Q3 report, bound to be lower in Q4)
    Fuel Cost ASM; $396.50
    Fuel Surcharge; $320 (80%)

    And while they claim they’ve dropped the fuel surcharge in North America, they haven’t, it’s just bundled in the price of a ticket; which means your free Errorplan ticket still costs a huge amount of money.

  7. Ryanair also allow you to pay for bags up-front, with a discount (EUR 10 on-line, EUR 20 at the airport); they’ve been doing this for years (and I remember much lower fees). I believe they get to keep the cash if you end up not checking a bag that you paid for.

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  9. Scott, why shouldn’t they charge 80% as a fuel surcharge? Better yet, for those high volume customers offer to have them pay the fuel surcharge of 100%, basically flat out pay a monthly/weekly fuel surcharge. They’re have to be some adjustments for the different types of planes, but if you fly a bunch of people around the country why should the airlines be your insurance agent?

    I used to work at a company that sold a lot of fruit and we would do the transportation for a pretty good number of our customers. We gave them a number of options, they could have their fuel surcharge adjusted monthly, quarterly, or yearly. The longer they wanted us to lock in the fuel surcharge the more of a premium we’d build in. Basically if we were going to insure the cost of their fuel we wanted a buffer and a profit potential for the trouble. Why should we expect any different of the airlines?

  10. Oliver – This was a very basic demonstration of how the technology would work. If they were doing this for airline-specific sites, I’m sure they would have to work in the user account information so that they could see whether the fees applied or not. On a general travel site, I don’t know if that could be done without asking the user.

    Nicholas – Clearly there are many edge cases that need to be worked out. I’ve sent an email to the PR people at Air Canada and they’re going to get me information on how they handle those. That part, however, is more of an operational decision than a technical limitation.

    Scott – I use Air Canada as a shining example, because they are one. They have successfully implemented this system in a legacy model long before anyone else, and it has nothing to do with fuel surcharges. That’s a completely separate issue.

    Thank you to everyone for your hosting recommendations.

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