One reason I started this blog was that e-commerce discussion and analysis for hotels, tour operators, online travel agencies and many other travel industry participants was much better catered for in the blogosphere than it was for airlines. A perfect example of this is the lack of any discussion I have seen to date on the recent aquisition by Sabre of EB2. Sabre haven’t really had a compelling internet booking engine offer for a while, and EB2 have been rumoured to be the market for some time. Despite EB2 being seen as having a strong offer to smaller carriers a few years ago, the fallout from the SATA contract which no doubt left both sides bloodied and wounded must have taken some serious wind our of their sails. 

But with this in mind, is does seem to be a good and timely fit for both companies.

“Sabre should have been the company to provide the tool for Frontier’s new system – but it could not be done fast enough – thus F9 went to Datalex and got the work done.”

Datalex were rumoured to be in financial trouble a few years back, but who knows where such scurrilous rumours start. These days they are really pushing their ancillary revenue strengths and the message is resonating with airlines. I recently said to a colleague that if you are addressing airline executives and the audience is falling asleep, just the mention of the words “ancillary revenue” is guaranteed to wake them up with a jolt. Why do you think I put those two words so prominently on this blog! But when it comes to the design of Datalex’s Frontier site (compared to Air Canada and Southwest), some may like the simple LCC style look and feel, but in my opinion something is lost when you don’t have the calendar display showing the lowest fare over a range of days (and on the same screen as the fares for your preferred date of travel); without having to constantly click “next day” time and time again.

I once had a major airline tell me that when shown a webpage with multiple fare families, 60% chose the cheapest flight on that day, and 99% chose the cheapest flight for their selected departure time. The message for me out of this is that anything to make it easier for the consumer to see a range of prices gives them more confidence they are getting a good deal and therefore a higher likelihood that they will purchase. The fact that the 99% in my example were not trading up to higher fare families probably says a lot about the way these fares were differentiated, and no one would deny that Air Canada have been the leader in fare family differentiation.    

When it comes to the user interface (UI) layer of the booking engine, although all the press coverage always goes to the big airlines with the big budgets, the smaller airlines are feeling the pinch. I was speaking to a smaller airline recently based in AsiaPac who was telling me that a cost effective out of the box UI just wasn’t cutting it anymore as they faced two large carriers with fully customized UI’s on most routes and their website was looking tired in comparison. XML options were canvassed, and this might be viable for a large XML website like Iberia.com, but for a small airline to take complete control over the UI is going to be a major increase in cost and complexity versus a UI with set paramaters allowing customization. I’ll be interested in coming months to write about some of the small airlines doing innovative things online, as cost effective innovation is not the exclusive domain of the large network carriers and the LCC’s.

It’s an interesting time to be working with airline e-commerce, especially as all the IT suppliers are aggressively marketing their wares, and the airlines are always looking for more functionality at a lower cost.

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