Sabre Preps 'Total Pricing' To Include Fees In Airfare Shopping - Business Travel News

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Sabre Preps 'Total Pricing' To Include Fees In Airfare Shopping

July 14, 2010 - 02:20 PM ET

By Jay Boehmer

Sabre this month and next will launch in installments its "Air Total Pricing" system for air transactions, which it said would enable travel agents and other bookers to see the true cost of an airline itinerary, inclusive of any applicable add-on fees—from baggage fees to seat assignments—before booking a flight.

Sabre said the developments aim to solve many of the comparison-shopping problems that have frustrated travel buyers, but the booking and fulfillment portion of the equation isn't likely to be solved until later this year.

While price, schedule and citypair remain dominant air shopping criteria, the proliferation of ancillary fees has clouded the experience, said Sabre vice president of marketing Kyle Moore, much as taxes, fees or other add-ons prompted similar "Total Pricing" initiatives for rental car and hotel, released by Sabre in the past decade.

The first installment of total air pricing is slated for later this month, giving agents the option to access information in the booking path on "which ancillaries airlines offer on the flights and how much they cost," Moore said. "It will give much more clarity in the way that a traditional agent shops, in the ancillaries that are available."

By the end of August, Sabre expects to make that functionality slightly more robust, enabling travelers to "express their needs to the agent, who then will be able to use the system to ask for the lowest fares, inclusive of those ancillaries for that itinerary," Moore said. That way, a traveler can see if airline X is still the lowest available fare if he or she were to check a bag or upgrade to an exit row.

Still to come, Moore said, is a capability that would allow the system to automatically pull from profiles to see if a traveler is a top-tier frequent flyer member and therefore exempt from such charges as bag fees. "Our intent is to allow it to be pulled from the profile," Moore said. "That won't be the case on day one, but that's absolutely the intent."

In addition to bringing the new Air Total Pricing features in front of travel agents, Sabre said it would enable the new functionality via XML, which Moore said would allow third-party booking tools and online travel agencies to adopt the new capabilities. "That is not to say that they will be immediately consumed by those points of sale," Moore cautioned, noting the investment and interface changes those parties would have to make.

"Whether it's GetThere, Expedia or Travelocity, all of those guys have to wrestle with, Do I pay some money to change my interface today, not knowing that data will be there, or do I wait until I know that data will be there?" Moore said. "I don't believe that as this thing is introduced next month that it will be resident in a large number of online travel agency environments. We are working with some, but I don’t believe it will be out there en masse. It will be out there en masse to the traditional travel agency environment."

Moore said solving issues related to ancillary airline fees is, for Sabre, more of "a technology question" than a content question, as some have surmised, and Sabre therefore would not have to modify air contracts to enable shopping, booking and fulfilling ancillary fees.

"Our view would be that our contracts already govern this content and that we would simply need to figure out the appropriate technological way to introduce it to our booking path." Moore added, "Just because the airlines have unbundled their products doesn't mean we have to."

Though Sabre's Total Pricing initiative would solve some problems for travel buyers when it comes to comparison shopping, Moore said Sabre is on pace to deliver the next, and more complicated, step of enabling booking, payment, settlement and fulfillment through the global distribution system channel by year-end, a similar timeframe shared by other GDSs. "We're rapidly moving down the path of enabling all of the payment and fulfillment of all of the ancillaries as well," Moore said. "ARC and all of the BSPs around the world are moving toward 4Q 2010 timeframes for introduction of EMD settlement. We intend to get our EMD capabilities out there to the agency community in roughly the same timeline."

Moore added, "The booking capabilities are moving down toward a fourth-quarter delivery as well, and that would be across multiple ancillary types. We absolutely expect that to happen in the travel agency channel beginning this year."

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