New Travelport platform enables ancillary fee comparisons

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Travelport's new Merchandising Platform, unveiled at a conference in Dublin last week, enables comparison shopping of airlines' ancillary services, along with fares and availability, on a single screen, eliminating the need for agents to visit airline websites to book ancillaries.

The Merchandising Platform gathers ATPCo data (the traditional source of information about fares and availability), marries it with XML-sourced data about ancillary services and fees and displays the aggregate content from both on the agent's desktop.

Travelport is launching the aggregated shopping and ancillary services capability now. Later this year, it will launch what it describes as "rich content and branding," a vehicle for giving airlines a way to communicate the value of their products to the travel agency community via multimedia.

Airlines have long complained that traditional GDSs are limited to displaying fares and availability, preventing carriers from displaying the many new ancillary services that they are offering.
Travelport's Merchandising Platform "disarms many of the objections the airlines had," said Bob Offutt, senior technology analyst for PhoCusWright, who attended the Dublin conference. Offutt said the platform will enable airlines to customize airfares based on a traveler's frequent flyer number.

Airlines, fare types and ancillaries that are already shoppable on this new platform include KLM Economy Comfort seating and prepaid seating on British Airways. Agents can also book ancillary services through Alitalia, Air New Zealand and Aegean. Air Canada's ancillaries and its fare families are also available, both to Canadian agents using Agencia, and now to U.S. agents via the Travelport Universal Desktop (U.S. agents must have an Air Canada Access Code and Passcode). Earlier this month, Travelport launched Aggregated Shopping with EasyJet, which means Travelport agencies can now sell all EasyJet fares and ancillaries.

Derek Sharp, managing director of global distribution and sales for Travelport, said the platform enables airlines to "go to market with all of their products in the right place at the right time, in every channel."

Sabre and Amadeus have previously enabled comparison shopping of some ancillary services for some airlines. Sabre currently offers the most product in the U.S. market through its Sabre Red platform. The biggest U.S. carrier in its lineup is US Airways, with its Choice Seats. Amadeus has enabled shopping and booking ancillaries for several carriers in Europe but none in the U.S. yet.

Booking ancillaries in the GDS is as much a commercial decision as it is a technology issue. Airlines have been paying segment fees to GDSs for bookings that go through the GDSs, but they do not pay fees for sales of ancillary products and services.

Travelport executives said that two airlines are paying commissions, but they did not name the airlines and did not go into details about levels of compensation, Offutt said.

Priceline, meanwhile, is walking away from those segment fees by implementing direct connects with United and American. Priceline makes its money on hotels, not airline tickets, but its deals with United and American still are seen as the camel's nose under the tent.

Some analysts speculate that Priceline is getting some kind of compensation from airlines, though neither the airlines nor Priceline would discuss their arrangements.

However, Offutt said, agencies might be absorbing more of the technology costs in this emerging model than they have in the past, just to ensure that they remain a distribution channel for airlines.

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