While airlines talk about how much they need personalized shopping, and while debate rages over IATA’s Resolution 787, which, among other things, would help make such authenticated shopping a reality, Sabre is already bringing that capability to market with a product it calls Custom Offers.
Already available to its travel agency clients, Custom Offers passes clients’ loyalty club numbers to suppliers, enabling the supplier to customize offers for those clients.
Its launch partner, however, is not an airline but a hotel company, Starwood Hotels and Resorts.
In addition, it does have an airline partner in the works: United Airlines.
Sabre has been passing shoppers’ frequent flyer information to airlines for “many years,” said Shelly Terry, Sabre Travel Network’s vice president for supplier merchandising.
Airlines have been using that information to put their elite loyalty club members and full-fare passengers into preferred seats — generally seats with a more desirable location, such as the front of the plane.
Airlines block these seats for such travelers because these customers tend to book closer in than economy-minded travelers buying cheaper tickets farther out.
“Up to this point, [the airlines] haven’t used that information to differentiate price,” Terry said.
Custom Offers takes the practice one step further, giving airlines the ability to use frequent flyer numbers to offer travelers a price determined by the data the airline already has on them as frequent flyer members.
Suppliers can also use the Sabre data to design custom offers around the trip the customer is planning.
“This is a further evolution of our capability in air merchandising,” Terry said. “At the same time, we are also launching Custom Offers in the hotel space, as well, so we can enable personalized targeted offers based on traveler criteria.”
Sabre has had the capability to enable a custom offer for airline ancillary products for several months, Terry said.
Custom Offers means airlines will now be able to offer their premium flyers a better location in the cabin or, if the frequent flyer has top status, a seat with more legroom.
Some frequent flyers might qualify for a 50% discount on a seat with more legroom, while those with more elite status might get that same seat for free.
The airlines, Terry said, “can do what they want based on their personalization rules.”
She said that Sabre is working with United, which does waive the fee for its Economy Plus seats for top-tier frequent flyers.
“We are modifying our seat map capability, installing XML seat map capability, and then will follow with XML pricing for booking and payment,” she said.
Work with United is well under way and should be available to travel agencies later this year.
Sabre has the capability to use both or either the legacy Edifact programming language and/or the more modern XML scripts to exchange this data with suppliers.
Terry said Sabre has enabled Custom Offers to handle sales of ancillaries that airlines have filed in ATPCo’s optional services, a capability the GDS has had for a couple of years.
Sabre supports nine ancillary services, including baggage, ground transportation, in-flight entertainment, lounges, meals, medical, pets, seat assignment and unaccompanied travelers. And it is adding more, she said.
That means that Sabre can support differentiated pricing, either through an XML connection with the airline or by accessing an ancillary product in ATPCo’s database.
Terry said the technology for hotels in Custom Offers is a little different from that used for airlines. Sabre has built an offer-management system for hotels in which they essentially set up a campaign with rules under which they would send out an offer.
That feature could be tailored for airlines as well, she said.
Agents see all the products and services that they see today, but Custom Offers means that in addition to that, they can get additional choices based on the hotel’s campaign rules: for example, a special offer targeting clients who are shopping for a hotel in a particular destination or who are looking at certain rates.
The hotel can then combine this information with the data it already has about the customer from the hotel’s loyalty club and make an offer that might be free WiFi, a discounted spa offer or discounted tickets to a local attraction.
Terry said there was a key difference between Custom Offers and what is outlined in IATA’s proposed New Distribution Capability (NDC), an XML standard that would support this sort of personalized shopping.
Unlike NDC, she said, Sabre’s Custom Offers is delivering only a frequent flyer number and information about what the customer is shopping for. The airline is using that data in conjunction with information it already has on its own customer.
Terry said that as outlined for the Transportation Department in IATA’s Resolution 787, NDC would require shoppers to reveal details about themselves to get a price quote.
IATA has stated that providing such information would be optional, but a Sabre official said that, as written now, Resolution 787 does not guarantee the anonymous shopping that travelers have now, and that they will still get with Custom Offers.
“I don’t have to tell you my age, my marital status, all that other information, which isn’t relevant,” Terry said, alluding to data points that could be part of NDC.
Terry said that Starwood was the launch partner because it wanted to engage in Custom Offers early on, and the two companies have been working together for about a year.
Custom Offers went into beta testing last year, and Sabre is now talking with several other hoteliers, as well.
Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.