Tired of airlines keeping ancillary services in their own channels, Sabre went out and got them.
To a certain extent.
Sabre Travel Network unveiled the global rollout of Air Total Pricing, a product which starting Sept. 17 will enable some 57,000 GDS subscribers to view airline ancillary services — bag fees, premium seats and lounge access — from 60-65 airlines around the world.
And, Sabre will publish a Web services application which would enable third-party partners, including online travel agencies, travel management companies and traditonal travel agencies, to do the development work to display these services for business travelers and consumers, too.
The hitch in all this is that travel agents will have no ability to transact these ancillary services for now because only a handful of airlines are even testing IATA’s Electronic Miscellaneous Documents for settlement purposes.
The idea behind Air Total Pricing, like the several-year-old Sabre Cars Total Pricing, is to equip agents with the information necessary to help their clients make sage choices about their reservations with knowledge about which optional services are available and what the total trip cost may be.
Sabre is using both manual and automated means to get the airlines’ ancillary services data into its low-fare search database.
Although the vast majority of airlines have yet to test or commit to EMDs for settlement purposes, some 26 U.S. airlines, representing 86% of Sabre’s U.S. point of sale bookings, are testing and filing ancillary services with the Airline Tariff Publishing Company, says Kyle Moore, vice president of product marketing at Sabre Travel Network.
These airlines are filing them in a published manner and not as private or negotiated fares.
The only major U.S. airline believed to be withholding publishing their ancillary services through ATPCO is Southwest Airlines, which historically has de-emphasized third-party distribution.
Sabre is taking this ancillary services feed, which may have many flaws and inaccuracies, and combining it with a manual process for accessing the ancillaries.
Moore says Sabre staff manually examined airline websites around the world and analyzed the carriers’ ancillary fees and plugged that information into algorithms used for Sabre’s low-fare search tools.
The data often aren’t very comprehensive because information about negotiated discounts or flexible rates often couldn’t be captured, Moore says.
But, Sabre combines the ATPCO feed — which gets priority — with the manually gathered data and inputs them into its database for its low-fare search tools to retrieve it for agents in a bid to make airline ancillary services more transparent, Moore says.
“It’s going to be imperfect, but we do think it is directionally very helpful and an incredible first step,” Moore says.
The development means that some 57,000 agents connected to Sabre’s MySabre and Sabre Red desktops, whether working in a green-screen or GUI environment, will be able to view airlines’ optional services.
Moore points out that agents working in a GUI desktop environment will get more granularity than agents sticking with the traditional travel agent green-screen formats.
Below are GUI and green-screen screenshots of Sabre’s ancillary services displays.
Here’s the green-screen view in Sabre Red [oh the colors -- the green-screen view in Sabre Red actually is blue]:
The displays, in theory at least, can show different total prices on the same itineraries based on who the traveler is — i.e. when bag fees get waived based on frequent flyer status.
Agents can filter the ancillaries according to their own or clients’ preferences.
Sabre’s great ancillary services grab will include the vast majority of North America’s major carriers, and airlines ranging from British Airways and Lufthansa in Europe to Singapore Airlines and Qantas in Asia-Pacific.
To get an idea of the expanse of airlines covered, take a look at Flight Fee Explorer.
Sabre’s Air Total Price sets up a curious dynamic.
Many airlines have reserved ancillary services for their own channels and some have vowed not to distribute them through GDSs, but Sabre is accessing them to make the shopping process more transparent for its travel agent and corporate subscribers and their clients.
However, there is no booking capability at this time.
But, Moore says that can change.
He says Air Total Price can support ancillary services via XML and transactions if the carriers deem to make them available.
“Those schemas are in the works,” Moore says, referring to XML. “They are ready for prime time.”
Of course, at this juncture, without industry standards for ancillary services, these largely are Sabre schema.
Moore scoffs at some airlines’ contention that Sabre can’t handle XML, noting that Sabre already handles “over 1 billion XML transactions” per week.
Asked whether Sabre would be able to handle airline merchandising down to the individual traveler, as airlines say they want to do, Moore says Sabre can do it and is a big supporter of XML as long as implementation is done in a way that doesn’t disrupt travel agents’ workflow.
“I certainly don’t believe technology is in the way” of airlines’ merchandising efforts through Sabre, Moore says.
However, the airlines and the GDSs have yet to agree to commercial terms and negotiations with the carriers will have to tackle these issues.
In the absence of standards and with only a very small numbers of airlines testing Electronic Miscellaneous Documents for settlement purposes, Sabre in the interim can settle ancillary services directly with airlines as it already has done with United and Midwest airlines, Moore says.
Sabre Air Total Price will not have optimum granularity and it will have its flaws, Moore acknowledges, given the more than 140 types of ancillary services potentially in the mix and the vast expanse of global airlines, but he sees the product as an important advance.
Air Total Price can’t display every ancillary for each airline.
“We don’t have the bandwidth,” Moore says.
But, this first release of Air Total Price is obviously not its final incarnation.
What are the next steps?
OTAs and other third parties powered by Sabre would have to use Sabre Web services and do the development work to necessary to display the ancillary services.
Meanwhile, Moore says Sabre is working on booking capabilities for ancillary services, which should be ready in “the coming weeks and months.”