Beginning in November, the Airline Tariff Publishing Co. plans to dramatically increase the frequency of its fare updates domestically and internationally.
ATPCO, the primary fare-data collector and distributor for the travel industry, sent a notice to subscribers that it plans to transmit domestic fare feeds 15 times per day in the U.S. and Canada, a 400% increase over the current three feeds, and to blast international feeds on an hourly basis.
The increased frequency means that GDSs and other subscribers to the ATPCO feeds will get their fare updates more quickly. Airlines, in turn, will be able to react more quickly to competitors’ fare sales, correct erroneous or mistaken fares more adeptly and reduce instances, if they choose, of fare disparities between direct and indirect channels.
"Data-loading updates will be transparent for travel agents," said Herve Prezet, senior manager of product management distribution for Amadeus. "This will contribute to their confidence in having the most up-to-date content available."
In theory, this means that when a consumer calls a travel agent about a fare found online, there will be a greater chance that the agency will have the same fare available through its GDS if the discrepancy is related to relatively cumbersome three-times-per-day GDS updates.
An ATPCO source said factors driving the change included airlines and GDSs wanting "the most comprehensive data available" and the fact that Navitaire-hosted airlines — low-cost carriers JetBlue, AirTran, Spirit, WestJet and Porter in the U.S. and Canada, for instance — can distribute their fare updates "instantaneously."
"Due to the introduction of alternative distribution methodologies, where some fares are being distributed instantaneously, ATPCO’s continued ability to provide a complete repository of fare data in a timely fashion is [currently] in doubt," the ATPCO source said. "Accordingly, we believe that competitive forces in the market require us to increase the frequency of the distribution of our subscriptions database."
Airlines generally can update fares in their call centers and at airport ticket counters whenever they want. But for distributing fare updates to GDSs, travel agents, online agencies, metasearch sites and corporate channels, most rely on ATPCO.
Even some airlines whose reservations systems are hosted by GDSs or whose websites are powered by ITA Software may require the ATPCO feeds to update their own websites.
The airlines using a Navitaire platform, i.e., Open Skies or New Skies, for reservations or distribution, have had the ability to distribute "instant updates" for almost a decade, said Susan Adelman, director of marketing for the Minneapolis company, a subsidiary of Accenture. These low-cost carriers do much of their sales through direct channels but also participate in the GDSs, Adelman said.
"It is one more tool in their toolbox to enhance that relationship with their customer and be more responsive," Adelman said of the instant updates.
Rick Seaney, the co-founder and CEO of metasearch site FareCompare, said he welcomed the increased fare feeds because they would enable airlines to correct mistakes and "put things out into the market much more quickly."
But, he said the more frequent feeds would represent a technology issue for some airlines, GDSs and other distributors, because to take advantage of the updates they would have to undertake development work to accommodate them in the midst of a recession.
In that regard, the ATPCO source noted that subscribers will not be required to sign on to the increased feeds; they also have a "do nothing" option, meaning they can "continue to provide and receive data on the current schedule."
ATPCO’s decision to move to 15 domestic fare updates per day doesn’t mean that all distributors will update their systems at that pace.
Jill Brenner, a spokeswoman for Travelport GDS, which operates Apollo, Galileo and Worldspan, said: "Travelport intends to take ATPCO’s hourly feeds, but we are still determining how frequently the loads will be across our three platforms."