When Sabre and American Airlines launch the ability this
month for travel agents to book and sell American’s premium seats using IATA's New
Distribution Capability (NDC), it will signal an advance for NDC technology in
the booking realm and a vote of confidence in the GDSs.
The collaboration is not the first between a GDS and an
airline using NDC, but this one is between the largest U.S. airline and the
largest U.S. GDS, promising to impact many more travel agents.
It also demonstrates that GDSs are integrating NDC
into their systems rather than allowing it to displace them.
“This shows that there still is a place for GDSs and that
they are going to develop the tools to be competitive and prevent [being]
bypassed,” said Bob Offutt, a senior technology analyst for Phocuswright.
This month, Sabre users will be able to book premium seats
for clients flying American, the first time the airline has allowed a GDS to
sell upgraded seats, such as ones with additional legroom or preferred aircraft
location. Sabre said that it currently offers ancillaries and branded fares
from 60 airlines, but this is its first using NDC.
Cory Garner, American’s managing director of distribution
and data commercialization, said there was more to come on this front and that
Amadeus and Travelport were both in the process of implementing NDC integration
with American’s direct-connect technology, giving travel agents far more
“There are now products on the shelf that otherwise could
never have been there,” Garner said. “And airline products have evolved over
time to be more than just fares; it’s fares and ancillary products. With these
NDC connections now rolling out, you’re
starting to see ancillary products coming onto GDS shelves that can be priced
and booked and sold within the travel agency’s normal workflow. Our
relationship with Sabre is just the beginning of that, at least for American
Offutt agreed, saying that NDC lowered the barrier to entry
into the GDS.
“What this will do will add the opportunity for a great deal
more of flexibility in the products and services the supplier supplies to the
GDS, because it isn’t constrained by the legacy messaging systems,” he said.
“It means that the GDS can allow travel agencies to sell a variety of new products
and services that they bring online fairly quickly.”
Ever since the terms “direct connect” and NDC began defining
the ways that airlines use XML to connect ancillary products to travel sellers,
the technology has often been viewed with suspicion as a way for airlines to
bypass GDSs, fears confirmed by moves like Lufthansa’s in September
implementing a fee for every GDS booking and Priceline entering into
direct-booking deals with airlines, including American and United, enabling
But according to Garner, American’s intention has always
been to use its direct-connect technology both outside and within the GDSs.
Since 2009, he said, “we have contemplated a world in which
American Airlines will use XML direct to travel agencies outside the GDS and to
the GDSs themselves,” Garner said. “American has been distributing directly to
travel agencies via XML for a long time. … Now, you are seeing the rest of that
plan coming to fruition where GDSs themselves are tapping into the power of our
Garner admitted that perhaps because of some “very public
disputes” that American had with several GDSs around the same time that NDC was
being introduced, “there was a lot of
suspicion that it was going to bypass the GDS.”
That suspicion, he said, “created a bit of a poisonous
atmosphere. The good news is we finally turned the corner here, and we’re
finally starting to make the benefits that NDC can provide available to travel
agencies through the GDSs and not just outside GDSs.”
Bob Offutt of Phocuswright anticipates more GDS agreements like the Sabre deal emerging simply because airlines are making most of their profit in ancillaries and need to be able to distribute them broadly.
Offutt anticipates more GDS agreements like the Sabre deal
emerging simply because airlines are making most of their profit in ancillaries
and need to be able to distribute them broadly. Still, he does predict that the
legacy GDS technology will eventually be replaced by XML, though how that plays
out remains unclear.
Shelly Terry, Sabre’s vice president of travel product
solutions, said directly connecting to airlines will never replace the one-stop
shop the GDS offers travel sellers.
“Being able to easily comparison shop, to be able to shop
across a multitude of potential offerings … and being able to easily quote
customers different kinds of fares as well as the ancillary products that might
be available for purchase — and to be able to do all of that in their workflow
— that’s the value we provide to the travel agent,” Terry said. “These are
travel professionals … and efficiency is absolutely critical to the value
proposition that they deliver to their customers.”