IRVING, Texas — An American Airlines initiative to reward travel agencies that book through a New Distribution Capability (NDC)-enabled connection to the airline already has a few takers.

But the $2-per-segment incentive program, which American announced at its NDC Summit here late last month, also elicited skepticism from some agents who attended the conference.

Rose Stratford, executive vice president of global supplier relations for Atlanta-based BCD Travel, said the incentive wouldn't be enough to motivate her company to develop an NDC connection to American, since the company would still have to fare shop through the GDSs.

American announced the incentive program as it unveiled an enhancement to its NDC capabilities. The company achieved IATA's Level 3 NDC certification this month, the highest that is awarded, and is now offering NDC-supported product bundles within corporate booking sites. American can also now use NDC-enabled connections to provide "waivers and favors" capabilities within a corporate booking site or a travel agency's booking tool, and it is offering enhanced data services, known as duty of care data, to its NDC-enabled partners.

American vice president of sales and distribution strategy Cory Garner emphasized during the NDC Summit that participation in the incentive program is optional, and he said that American has no plans to implement a GDS surcharge as Lufthansa did two years ago and British Airways and Iberia will do in November. To participate in the program, an agency would have to connect to American through its own certified NDC-enabled solution or through one that was developed by a third party, such as a travel aggregator.

"We're going to work with everybody who wants to do this at whatever speed they want to do it, third parties included," Garner said.

He added that if GDSs can develop the proper technology, American would pay the incentive for NDC-supported GDS bookings.

HRG and Frosch have already said they will integrate with the American NDC connection. So have the aggregators AirGateway and Travelfusion as well as Concur.

During a panel at the summit, Sridhar Balaji, executive vice president of engineering at Frosch, urged agencies to forge ahead with NDC implementation.

"Don't spend all your time with strategy getting buried in where you want to go," he said. "Just start."

But as a group, agents at the summit weren't fully sold on NDC or the American incentive program.

In a survey at the end of the general session, 35 respondents said that they have already begun implementing NDC, 33 said they were convinced that they should and 32 said they weren't convinced.

Philip Davies, president of the Santa Monica, Calif.-based US1 Travel, said a factor that he would have to consider is whether using an NDC connection for American bookings would lead his company to fall short of its annual incentive performance threshold with Sabre.

"That would be a concern," Davies said.

Garner told conference attendees that American is willing to hold direct discussions with agencies about per-segment booking fees higher than $2.

Meanwhile, Travelport said that it expects to have Level 3 NDC certification by the end of the year. Speaking during the summit, Travelport global head of product and marketing Ian Heywood said that the GDS would have a rudimentary point of sale for NDC-enabled product offerings by early 2018, with improvements to continue through the end of the year.

Incorporating NDC into Travelport wasn't especially complex, Heywood said. What was complex was making sure that portal can function with both ATPCO and API interfaces, since even airlines that are NDC-friendly use a mixture of both.

David Doctor, vice president of provider offer management for Amadeus Travel Channels, said Amadeus has had the ability to integrate XML connections for years, starting in 2007 with low-cost carriers. NDC itself is an XML-based standard.

"We have an intention to work with [American Airlines] and work with their connectivity, obviously," he said, without specifying a timeline for implementation. "What we want to do going forward is work with it in such a way that it works with the needs of the travel agents, because we believe that you need to be working also with the specific requirements of each one of the travel agents."

Sabre also told NDC Summit attendees that they are working to improve NDC-enabled functionality.

Jamie Biesiada contributed to this report.


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