ARC's new Carrier Ancillary Matrix, a tool that details which airlines offer which ancillary products on which GDSs, is a win for agents, carriers and GDSs alike, analysts said last week.

The free tool, available on ARC's website, was designed with the agency channel in mind.

"I think it's great," said Bob Offutt, senior technology analyst with Phocuswright. "The fragmentation of ... ancillary services, has made comparative shopping almost impossible. ... This gives you a good chance to see which airline is distributing which content through which GDS."

To the best of Offutt's knowledge, as well as ARC's, no other entity has assembled a listing of ancillaries by GDS availability in one place the way ARC's Matrix does.

Shelly Younger, manager of settlement services at ARC, said each GDS does offer its own summary of which products airlines are selling via its system, but that summary is limited to that single GDS.

"There's nothing out there that we've been able to find that consolidates that information," Younger said.

According to Younger, Matrix was created after ARC heard requests from agents for a single place to visit to find which ancillaries they have access to via GDS.

Chuck Fischer, ARC's managing director of carrier services, quoted agents saying, "I just want this at-a-glance view of what's available to me to sell to my customers."

Fischer added, "So that was the need that we were responding to and trying to address."

ARC's Matrix is designed in table format. The left-hand side lists carriers, while ancillaries are listed along the top. The columns below each ancillary option are populated by which, if any, GDSs offer that particular ancillary for sale.

For example, an agent looking to purchase lounge access for clients on Alitalia Airlines could either follow the "lounge access" column down until they hit Alitalia's row, or navigate across Alitalia's row until they hit the "lounge access" column. There, they would see they can purchase that ancillary on five GDSs (Amadeus, Sabre, Apollo, Galileo and Worldspan).

There are 11 categories of ancillaries detailed on Matrix: baggage, fare families, in-flight entertainment, lounge access, meals, medical, pets, seats, unaccompanied minors, sports equipment and additional services. In the case of additional services, more information is included next to the GDS listing (such as in the case of Air Berlin, which offers options for beverages on three GDSs and firearms on another).

"There are obviously other ancillaries out there, but most of those are not available to travel agencies yet," Younger said.

The Matrix document, a five-page PDF, was designed so agents could see at a glance the information ARC has condensed into it, Younger said. She pointed out that the document could be useful to both smaller agencies that might only use one GDS as well as to larger agencies with multiple GDS contracts. It is also designed to be printed out, and because it's a PDF, the document is searchable, so specific requests can be found quickly.

Information in Matrix comes from each GDS as well as from the carriers themselves. Right now, Younger said ARC plans on updating the document quarterly. While she said it is hard to estimate exactly how many changes will be made, one GDS has emailed her three updates since the document's recent launch, which points to at least a few changes each quarter.

Jeannine Hankinson, managing director of agency services, said ARC is always on the lookout for occasions to provide resources such as Matrix.

"We're looking at different opportunities where we can be the central repository for different information," she said, enabling agents and other parties, including carriers, to see ARC's data. "The more that we can provide information, the clarity and the transparency and the consistency of data and resources, to both the carriers and the agencies, we feel that it's better for the community as a whole."

Younger estimated that the initial Matrix document took about 40 to 50 hours to create, and the group is now looking for feedback from the agent community to see if it can be improved in any way.

Fischer said he hopes it will become a useful sales tool for agents and called it a "win-win" for all parties involved.

Henry Harteveldt, an analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, agreed, calling Matrix "a helpful tactical tool for travel agents."

"GDSs are working to improve their ancillary-product sales capabilities," Harteveldt said. "Airlines constantly introduce new optional products, though they may not sell their entire catalog via the GDSs. The result is a fluid, and potentially confusing, sales environment for agents. ARC's Matrix tool will be one way for agents to keep informed about what's sellable using their GDSs, agents' preferred distribution channel. All parties benefit."

Airlines, he said, can sell more products through agents who are better informed. Agencies, too, will benefit from selling more products efficiently through their GDS, and GDSs will log more ancillary sales through their systems.

Harteveldt did point out one downside to Matrix: "ARC faces the unenviable burden to keep the Matrix chart current."

While ARC plans to update it quarterly now, and that process is manual, Younger said she hopes to automate it eventually. That could be accomplished by asking either GDSs or carriers to send ARC some type of file that could be automatically set up to feed into Matrix.

The Carrier Ancillary Matrix can be found on arccorp.com under the "resources" section of the "support" tab.

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