What You Didn’t Know About Low Fare Finders…
“Your low fare finder is the best initiative provided by any low cost airline. No doubt others will now follow your excellent example.”
- April 2003, www.jet2.com customer comment
The AirKiosk system Low Fare Finder has become a benchmark for the treatment of consumers by airlines, GDSs and online travel sites. The AirKiosk system Low Fare Finder is fast, accurate, and presented to consumers in a user friendly calendar format.
First introduced by jet2.com in April 2003, it received high praise from visitors to the UK airline’s site [click here to read jet2.com visitor comments]. SAS Snowflake, which implemented the AirKiosk system Low Fare Finder as the first step in its online booking process [www.flysnowflake.com], was selected by Internet travel shoppers, in a survey by Aftonbladet travel magazine [www.aftonbladet.se], as the best site (for speed, number of clicks, ease of use) compared to the sites of Ryan Air, Lufthansa, KLM and others.
Others Are Trying to Follow
Understanding that online travel shoppers prefer simple and quick access to the best fares available to any destination, many websites have started to offer a similar type of calendar-format fare display. For many unsuspecting online shoppers there is no immediately discernable difference between the Low Fare Finder on AirKiosk system-powered websites and on other sites. But the difference is big!
The Airkiosk system Low Fare Finder displays the lowest fare for a selected destination and month(s) based on realtime seat availability for the desired number of travelers. Once a customer has selected the lowest fare for both ways in a journey, she can immediately book seats at those fares. There are not the frequent surprises, disappointments or silly messages found on other sites, such as:
“This destination is very popular, and the last seat in the offered fare has JUST been sold.”
“The word got out, so we can show you NOTHING.”
The problem is that most online travel sites are not able to accurately display the lowest available fare.
Most online travel sites are connected to one of the four major GDSs (Global Distribution Systems), Sabre, Worldspan, Galileo and Amadeus. The GDSs are descended from the old concept of one central data repository holding the information of all airlines. The information available in the GDS systems is maintained (updated) by airlines, at a frequency primarily determined by the size and power of each participating airline.
The updating of flight and fare availability is a cumbersome process and requires the involvement of other companies besides the GDSs and airlines. And within the GDS network, not all airlines are equal. There are at least three tiers of airlines: First are airlines hosted in the same data center as the GDS database. These airlines have the greatest advantages of GDS distribution and the fastest ability to update their information. Second, there are airlines not hosted by the GDS companies but important enough to be given a realtime link to the GDS, providing better accuracy in flight and fare availability information. At the bottom are other airlines. They are provided a slower store-and-forward method of communicating the seats and fares they really have available, versus the seats and fares displayed in the GDS systems.
When a website’s online booking is powered by one of the GDSs, it is has some challenges trying to respond to a low-fare search:
- size of the fares database; too big to be searched in realtime
- accuracy of the fares database; latency time between the moment an airline changes fares and the moment the fares database is updated.
- accuracy of seat availability:
- first-tier airlines are best equipped to display last-seat availability, but care is taken not to kill the performance of the GDS legacy mainframe systems, which were not built for Internet traffic volumes
- second-tier airlines could theoretically display realtime seat availability, but their systems are even smaller than the systems of the first-tier airlines, and the communications costs, especially if they are using the SITA network can be huge
- third-tier airlines are the real “suckers.” They are used by the GDS companies, and the upper-tier airlines, to justify “one-stop-shopping” promotions to travel agents and online consumers, but get the worst service in terms of information accuracy.
What Do Travel Sites Connected to the GDS Systems Do?
- They search the GDS schedule database for the requested destinations and dates
- For most airlines, they check the seat availability for these flights< based on GDS flight status data (remember, the flight inventory database is not part of the GDS system)
- They search for the lowest fares by reading fares loaded in “fast access storage” of the GDS computers, such as memory or cache (not the actual fares database).
While the resulting low-fare display may look like an AirKiosk system Low Fare Calendar, the GDS-powered response is not based on inventory availablity of the fares displayed. When a customer tries to book a seat, the next response could well be: “Sorry, this fare is no longer available.”
As more airlines, particularly low-cost carriers, decide not to be represented in the GDS systems (or not to offer their lowest fares through the GDSs), savvy travel consumers are learning where the true lowest fares are, and where they can actually be booked!
We are pleased that the AirKiosk system Low Fare Finder is motivating online travel sites to pursue similar functionality. We are sure that this, and other advanced functions available only to AirKiosk system airlines, will lead to a new travel distribution model, in which all airlines have an equal opportunity to compete for travelers based on the merits of their service and value, and not based on the information bias of the GDS model, in which realtime participation is not allowed to all airlines.