As you know from my trip report last week, I was in Miami attending Farelogix media day. But what is it that Farelogix actually does? The company’s end goal is to give airlines the freedom to sell tickets the way they want. Ultimately, this will make it easier for travelers to buy tickets with the options they want. In fact, Farelogix has put together a system that would make buying tickets much better today… if there weren’t so many roadblocks preventing it from being implemented.
As a traveler, you shouldn’t care about the name Farelogix. Farelogix sells directly to airlines and won’t be the name you’ll see as a traveler. The idea is to create a system that the airlines can use to distribute fares and ancillary options to anyone who wants them. And I do mean anyone, because this is really just putting the information into an XML format that can then be sliced and diced in a million different ways. It’s up to the airlines to use this technology to reach the end customer, but as a customer today, you aren’t going to see it.
Today, I’m going to talk about what the system is, but then I’ll address why you can’t use it yet in a future post. Keep in mind that these screenshots are just of a basic system showing functionality, so it’s not meant to be pretty. The bundle names and fares have been changed as well.
When you do a search, you will be able to see fares in the way the airlines want them displayed. In this case, we see American’s fares on top with the three different bundles that the airline rolled out earlier this year. Then United’s fares are below and they don’t do bundles. So you can display it all in one place, expanding each airline if you want to see more details.
Then when you pick a fare, you can see all options available to go with that fare. Here’s where it gets really interesting. The idea is that you would have logged in and all of your airline frequent flier numbers would be stored, so it would know if you have elite status or not. It would then enable you to see exact fee information instead of just seeing ranges of fees as you do today.
In this particular example, there were two travelers. The one on the left is an elite member and the one on the right is not. As you can see, the guy on the left gets priority boarding and first two bags free while the guy on the right has to pay. But the guy on the right can simply click to add that to his cart before checking out.
Each of these options also gives the ability to integrate multimedia. So here you can see a picture of the meal that you would be buying. They can also put video in there as well. It means no more searching for pictures on random sites online to find these things.
You’ll also be able to pull up the seat map and see which seats are available at which price. It would include premium economy seats and those “choice” seats where you have to pay to sit. And you would be able to mouse over and see the seat that you’re going to get (maybe not the EXACT seat but, well, you get it).
Then when you’re ready to check out, you can see a final price that shows everything that’s included and everything you’ve opted for. It can process the payment and issue the tickets right there.
If you purchased something like a lounge pass, how would you get it? Well, the system can just send it directly to your phone if the airline is set up to use a QR code to allow you to enter. It can all be done very easily. But it doesn’t stop at the purchase point.
You can even check in using this system and it would be able to push upgrade offers right there, with payment handled in the system. Then you can get your boarding pass and be on your way.
Of course, for Farelogix, this is just something they mocked up to show what could be done. It’s pretty impressive, but it’s far from limiting. It’s all about having the data in a simple format that can be manipulated in a million ways. Online travel agents can use this data to create a far better display than what they have today, comparing options in a much more intelligent way incorporating fees as needed. Real travel agents can use a system like this to manage their own ticketing as well. In fact, it’s set up so that you can plug anything into it. In other words, if American did this, a travel agent could then pull in American’s data and combine it with that of other airlines that sell only through the Global Distribution Systems (GDSes). Then it can all be presented and acted upon in one place. How ideal.
So why hasn’t this happened? Oh me, oh my. It’s a long and painful tale. That will have to follow in a later post.
A 21st Century Answer for a 21st Century Problem.
Looks great. That means the explanation of why it hasn’t happened has to be spectacularly awful, mind numbing and nonsensical!
I’m awaiting the long and painful tale. Does its ending involve SAAbre going out of business?
Nick – Well, Sabre is definitely involved, but my post is going to be delayed. Shortly after this went live, I got an email from Sabre wanting to explain how they do everything I’m talking about her. So I’m now talking to them on Friday (can’t wait). I’ll have to push part two until next week.
Nice to see them showing so much about the airline’s product. More focus on airline product will presumably move consumers to airlines with better products and, in turn, incentivize airline’s to improve their products.
Not to mention giving them a much better chance at up-sell.
As you mentioned, the screenshots aren’t particularly pretty. However everything is laid out very consistently and intelligently…and if you’ve got a functional UI that handles the information you’re pushing in a sensible way, you’re a couple template revisions away from a pretty, functional UI that handles the information you’re pushing in a sensible way (said by a software dev that does more UI than he’d like at times).
Also, can ? please have this UI in a fully cross-airline context? I know it would make comparing prices too easy etc., but decreasing the amount of time it takes to book a flight would be a wonderful thing.
The idea of just trusting the airlines to offer me the best fare rather than using their data warehousing and mining to skew the data based on my FF data and travel patterns scares me. Always has.
This concept isn’t new. Neither are the promises from the airlines. But I’ve seen far too many instances where they “tweak” things and mess them up rather than offer the best deals. What United is doing is right now is a great example. They’re actively screwing their customers and they don’t really care. They’re actually proud of it.
I don’t subscribe to the idea of letting airlines distribute their content to whom, what, when, and how…oh….and at what price based on my buying patterns and characteristics, what agency I’m working with, what company I work for, etc.
While I agree that travelers shouldn’t have to pay for what they don’t want (such as baggage) – airlines haven’t demonstrated that they are willing to bring down airfares as they strip out those items that was once bundled.
Lastly – many have pooh-poohed the GDS’s for their lack of flexibity and antiquated systems. Those that agree with that philosophy do not appreciate the consumer advocate role that the GDS’s play in the travel supply chain.
GDS’s have a consumer advocate role? Last i checked they were out for themselves, and themselves alone.
As for the fares coming down as bundled parts get stripped out, I think its more a matter that the fares haven’t risen as quickly as they would’ve otherwise. Air travel is still cheap compared to what it was 35 years ago.
I agree Nick. Statements like that show up a lot on here, and I’m genuinely puzzled. There is no such thing as a for-profit company that is for anything other than profit first. In this case it has been easier for the GDS providers to block changes that accommodate ancillary additions to defend their fortress share of the bookings market. I fail to see how that’s serving the consumer’s interests.
The technology for this has been available since the early 90’s. I’ll ignore that XML is a horribly inefficient format for data exchange but it’s the de-facto standard. It’s everybody’s fault that this hasn’t been implemented yet. That includes airlines, GDS providers, and reservation system vendors. It’s going to take a lot of consumer demand and possibly regulatory intervention to overcome that much inertia.
The other thing, is airlines are barely profitable. They go through Billions in Revenue, and they have only a small profit of in the tens or low hundreds of millions.
BW, Airlines are the ones pushing the ability to sell these items unbundled. I expect the consumer facing websites will start to pull off this data soon enough as it’ll allow them to differentiate themselves better.
The airlines would rather people book directly with them because 3rd party bookings have lower margins. The GDS providers are the gateway to the large corporate travel departments and travel agencies so they have to work with them to fill planes.
The reason I said it’s everybody’s fault is that there really has only been one instance of a major airline taking the GDS providers to the mat and consumers haven’t voted with their wallets enough to get them to change. It is starting to turn around though. I think it’s going to be a lot slower and more expensive than it needs to be.
Agreed….consumer advocate is a strong term. Everyone is out to make a buck – of course. However, by design, the GDS’s ensure that content is aggregated into a single, neutral display – in a way that fares and inventory can be easily compared – giving travelers the confidence that they are able to choose from ALL options relevant for their search request. This wall between the consumer and airline guarantees transparency…someting that I believe the airlines will exploit …eventually at a cost to the consumer.
The fact that GDSes are now neutral is a result of government action. The GDSes used to be owned by the airlines and they’d rank their owner’s flights higher than anyone else’s.
Having the data available for aggregation is a strong consumer protection. GDSes serve that role, but they don’t reliably allow consumers to say I’m checking one bag and I want to buy a beer onboard, what is the best deal?
You’re 100% correct – during deregulation the GDS were spun off because they absolutely biased the display. But fast forward 30 years and here we are now.
I think the big disconnect is in your last statement. It’s my belief that the GDS’s are not only are capable of selling a bag, or a beer, or whatever an airline would like to sell (via XML), but also would be happy to….given the right commercial construct. So, as always (I have this debate quite frequently), this comes down to an economic discussion. Should the GDS’s distribute and sell something on behalf of the airlines for free? I don’t think so.
I’m sure if the GDSes would offer a reasonable rate for the service of the additional bags etc, the airlines would take it.
That being said the GDSes have a huge stranglehold on the airlines and often don’t offer a reasonable rate. Embracing Farelogix and XML is part of the airlines’ strategy to break that stranglehold.
Really? You don’t subscribe to the idea that airlines should be able to distribute their own information as they see fit?
As for the comment about bringing down their prices as they unbundle – did you see the statistics on profit for the industry last year? 21 cents per passenger doesn’t leave you much room for reducing your prices.
Is it really possible – it makes too much sense! Especially for someone in the “Grandma” category. I get so fatigued trying to find affordable prices so that the grandkids can visit. I can understand the concerns discussed by the frequent business flyers, but there are lots and lots of Grandma’s.
But, this will do just the opposite. Although the Grandma’s will probably have a better idea what all the extras will cost, it will make it much harder to find the lowest fare, because the airlines will be controlling what you see. The GDS’s allow quick comparison of price across airlines. Just look at how hard it is to buy the cheapest available fare on most airline web sights to see what it will look like when the airlines have more control.
If a third party puts a good interface over this it’ll help out grandma because she doesn’t need to know the policies of all the airlines. If she say selects “1 checked bag, 1 glass of wine to cool her nerves, and I want to board early” (through a well thought out interface) she will have the exact “out the door” price instead of finding out later once she gets to the gate/plane how much she’d have to pay.
THIS IS SABRE
DELETE THIS POST
AND PUT YOUR HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!
We have the right to charge you higher subscription fees
We have the right to charge you higher for anything you don’t buy
We have the right to all fares in this dimension or the next
So if I currently have 13000 status miles on United, and next month I’m flying to Auckland on Air New Zealand, and right now I am booking a flight to Chicago in two months, will the system know that I’ll have silver status by the time of my flight?
And is the system sensitive enough to tell me which days Delta operates a 747 with seatback entertainment and which days it’s the old configuration with overhead monitors? Am I entitled to some compensation if they swap the aircraft in the last minute, which is what happened on my most recent long haul flight?
(Incidentally, that swap really messed up Delta’s seat assignments despite the fact that the number and arrangement of coach seats is identical in both configurations. And the outstation didn’t know about the aircraft swap until the plane showed up…)
Ron – This works however the airlines want it to work, but I don’t know anyone who will consider future travel in something like this. You can always cancel your NZ trip and then not be eligible for waived fees. Better to underpromise than the reverse.
As for your question about what Delta is operating, it has nothing to do with this system. It’s all dependent upon what the airlines want to provide. They have the data, and if they want to push it out there, it can easily be pushed out.
Cranky — a good (human) travel manager, agent or concierge definitely should consider future travel, and recommend that I hold off on paying for baggage if I expect to gain status before my flight (once paid, I believe bag fees are nonrefundable). An automated system with access to the relevant information could perform this calculation. Here’s a similar example: where I work, we’re not allowed to use vacation days before they are accrued, but I did manage to convince HR to modify the vacation tracking system to allow requests for future vacation days based on anticipated accrual. Considering future expectations is doable and good for the customer; however, the airlines would probably rather peddle their credit cards instead.
Ron – I think you’re expecting too much out of an automated system. Yes, it could calculate this, but then what happens when you cancel your NZ trip and you decide to sue the airline because you were told you’d have a free bag on your following trip even though you now won’t? That’s why human travel managers are good because they can explain that to you directly.
I am not expecting too much from an automated system — I am trying to push an automated system as far as it can go.
I think the issue is not what an automated system can or cannot do, but rather who stands to gain or lose from making it work. Who wants to tell me that I am likely to gain status and therefore should hold off on paying for a bag? Certainly not the airline: they’d be happy to have me pay upfront for a service I won’t need (about a year ago I wrote to you in private about Delta trying to sell me an unnecessary visa). A corporate travel manager most likely wants to help me save on bag fees. A travel agent? Maybe, depending on the relationship they have with me. An online travel agent? Perhaps, if they think it brings me to them and away from a competitor. If the users of the software see value in reasoning about future status prospects, there’s a chance it might get implemented.
I also don’t buy the argument about a potential liability if a system gives information about future status prospects. It’s easy to explain this clearly in writing, and if investment companies are covered by a standard disclaimer on forward looking statements, then I’m sure the legal challenge can be met.
Ron – I should have pointed out that the way Farelogix has designed this system is for use by a travel agent. This is primarily meant for corporate agencies dealing with those most-valued of travelers. So it’s a companion piece that agents can use to combine with their own knowledge to add value. But I like the flow of this enough that I think it’s the way buying a ticket should go for consumers directly, in general.
If we’re talking about you flying on Air New Zealand and earning United miles, there is no way for United to know about that. Even if you share your United number with Air NZ, it doesn’t get back to UA until after it’s flown. So you need someone who knows what you’ve already booked. That would require a third party, maybe an online travel agent, to have a system that would track your trips separately. Then it would have to override the information that United sends back from what it knows about you. I don’t imagine United wants that to happen in an automated system.
You can put as many disclaimers as you want to make it legal, but that doesn’t make it consumer-friendly. Just ask anyone who has ever arranged for a mortgage. Every time I’ve refinanced, the package of disclosures grow bigger and bigger. That’s what has happened with air travel today as well. Nobody reads the small print because there’s too much of it. So I’d personally rather see a system that doesn’t have to rely on that kind of thing.
I don’t care what United wants to happen. Whoever is buying my ticket, I want them to do what’s best for me, and if it’s an automated agent then I want to bake in as much knowledge as needed in order to allow it to make the best recommendation or decision (just like I want a human agent to be knowledgable).
I agree that disclosures have gone too far. It’s partly due to regulation, and partly due to not investing enough effort in making them user-friendly. My wife recently received the following email:
“Frontier Airlines has recently made a schedule change that affects a portion of your itinerary. Please review your new flight information: [link] Instructions for accepting your new itinerary, rejecting it or discussing available options with a Frontier reservations agent are provided on the review page.”
She couldn’t figure out what it was about so she sent it to me, and after looking at the itinerary for maybe 10 minutes I finally noticed that one of her flight numbers had changed. Not the schedule and not even the aircraft type, just the flight number. Why does Frontier even bother? The email explains:
“The U.S. Department of Transportation requires that we notify you within 48 hours of any change to your itinerary. As a result, you may receive multiple notifications from us prior to your scheduled departure date. Please review the details of each email carefully.”
I’m sure that DOT wouldn’t object to a more user-friendly wording, say for example “We have recently had to change your flight number from xxx to yyy; all other details of the itinerary are unaffected. Please visit the following link to confirm that you have been made aware of the change, or for instructions for rejecting it or discussing available options with a Frontier reservations agent.” I’d bet the reason airlines don’t provide such useful emails is that this would increase the number of templates they need (I’m guessing by a factor of 5 to 10), and they probably don’t deem the effort worthwhile. Legalese trumps usability, and this sort of stuff happens all over the place.
What we really need is a set of landmark lawsuits where companies (not necessarily in the air travel business) will pay dearly for not taking account of human factors in their communications. This might get them to start paying attention.
How is the speed? How well can you filter and narrow down the results you really want? I was first exposed to farelogix about 10 years ago and their system (which set on top of SABRE) came back with some pretty wild search results.
is the shift from the legacy GDSs to a direct connect solution (Farelogix or other) taking shape since then ? How is the market reacting to this ? What would make an agent sell via a direct connection rather than a GDS ? How are they getting paid/commissioned ?
To what extent does the interline fit in this new distribution model ?
Your feedback is welcome.
Borhen – It has caught on to some extent, but it hasn’t spread like wildfire as many had hoped. One of the big reasons is what I wrote about a couple weeks ago: http://crankyflier.com/2016/12/22/us-airways-may-be-gone-but-it-just-won-an-industry-changing-court-case-over-sabre/
Commissions and fees are something that need to be negotiated between the airline and the agency/corporate. It’s up to the airline to help make it worth the agency’s effort to switch.
As for interline, there are ways to make it happen. It’s just a matter of time.