eing one of the industry's smaller
carriers, US Airways never developed much of a reputation as a
marketing innovator. It can't take credit for hubbing, the GDS, the
Super Saver, yield management, frequent flyer benefits, e-ticketing
or sliced bread.
But on a cloudy afternoon last week, US Airways more than made
up for all that by becoming the launch customer for a new Sabre
program that puts so-called "Web fares" where they belong: into an
integrated display on the travel agent's GDS screen.
If this practice catches on, and we have some reason to expect
that it will, then this industry will turn a corner and we can turn
our back on the very phrase "Web fare."
If an airline puts all its inventory and pricing options into its
travel agents' GDS, there is no such thing as a Web fare. We go
back to having, simply, an array of fares, some low, some not so
So if this is the beginning of the end for the "Web-only fare,"
we're all for it. The Web fare is an anomaly born of the idea that
airlines can reduce their costs by modifying their customers'
behavior; i.e., driving them to self-service bookings on the
Unfortunately, the method chosen by the airlines to drive
customers to the Web was the promise of the lowest possible fare, a
tactic that robbed the Internet of much of its revenue potential.
It also alienated travel agents and threatened the GDSs.
For some time now, the GDS operators have been looking for ways
to respond to that threat, so that airlines would feel better about
putting their lowest fares back into the agency/GDS channel.
To their credit, US Airways and Sabre came up with a simple
market-based solution that deals realistically with everybody's
• Sabre agents get seamless access to Web fares and a guarantee
that the airline will pay the same commission (if any) for Web
bookings via Sabre that it pays to agents using the Web or other
GDSs. The airline also guarantees that clients booking these fares
through Sabre will receive the same amenities as other
• Sabre gets a three-year commitment from the airline that it
will participate in the system at the Direct Connect Availability
• The airline gets a 10% reduction of the GDS booking fee.
The downside for agents is the likelihood that Sabre will scale
back its incentive payments to agents. Depending on the size of the
cutback, it may be a price many agents are willing to pay.
But unlike American's cumbersome and one-sided EveryFare plan,
nobody in this deal walks off with all the booty, leaving others
standing around the table with their pockets hanging out.
And best of all, the government didn't have to tell anybody to