American Airlines is going live with its New Distribution Capability offers with global distribution system Sabre on April 3, marking the point of no return for its removal of 40 percent of its airfares from traditional retail channels.
The announcement on Wednesday of Sabre’s upcoming integration will be a blow to BCD Travel, the large global corporate travel agency that earlier this week warned that “NDC isn’t quite there yet – and won’t be by April 1.” It’s also likely to disappoint the American Society of Travel Advisors, which had called for a nine-month postponement.
Starting on April 3, Sabre said connected travel buyers, agencies and developer partner customers will be able to shop, book and service American Airlines’ New Distribution Capability content, including paid seats, through Sabre’s Offer and Order APIs, the agency point-of-sale tool, Sabre Red 360, and its GetThere booking tool, the Texas-based technology company said.
Fares include the carrier’s Main Select and Flagship Business Plus, ancillary products and the lowest fares available in these channels. Sabre also said customers will have access to more descriptive information on American’s flight offers as well as seat selection enabled in the booking path.
With Amadeus and Travelport already primed, Sabre’s inclusion means the world’s biggest airline isn’t backing down. Experts now warn there will be now challenges as some business travelers may be locked out from the new fares.
There are concerns not all corporate travel agencies, or online booking tools that a company employee uses to access company approved flights, are fully connected to American Airlines New Distribution Capability content.
American is expected to shift most of its cheapest fares to direct channels, including its own website — which may mean “price sensitive” companies will prefer to book this way.
Tracking software Traxo predicts a higher rate of out-of-system bookings in 2023. It argues increased choice and personalized offers from New Distribution Capability solutions are proving ever more tempting for business travelers to book via off-platform, direct channels.
“The impending American Airline deadline poses real risks for the corporate travel sector as a material percentage of AA’s New Distribution Capability rates are anticipated to only be bookable directly via the airline or other NDC-ready travel intermediaries, both of which are typically outside of approved corporate channels,” said Andres Fabris, Traxo CEO and founder.
BCD said it had been working diligently to prepare its clients’ travel programs for this switch, but said the reality is that no one can offer a seamless customer solution by the April deadline.
“Ultimately corporate travellers don’t really care that the right content isn’t there, they will book whatever is available in the tool that their company is pushing them to use,” Steve Domin, CEO and co-founder of airfare aggregator Duffel. “Corporate travel managers and chief financial officers might feel a little differently about this obviously, as they’ll want to control spend, and not having access to any negotiated fares they have is going to hurt.”
Steve Reynolds, CEO of auditing and rebooking platform TripBam, believes the next four to eight weeks will be challenging.
“Some (employees) aren’t all that really cost sensitive, so are they really going to care? I’m paying $500 for a round-trip, I guess that’s just what the price is. Am I really going to search hard to find something a lot cheaper? Probably not,” he said.
“However you will have some that are price sensitive that will see on AA.com that it’s cheaper. It’s hard for a travel manager to say ‘no, don’t book it, I want you to book through your online booking tool.”
Meanwhile, rivals Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are expected to gain, whatever the outcome. If American Airlines’ clients aren’t happy with the outcome, they may well prefer to work with rival carriers. Yet if the transition is smooth, other airlines may well decide to accelerate their own transition, knowing that agencies and booking tools have the infrastructure to cope.
“While it is still early days for New Distribution Capability bookings, making this rich New Distribution Capability content from the world’s largest airline available in Sabre channels is an important step towards the maturing and scaling of NDC distribution,” said Kathy Morgan, vice president, NDC and airline supply, Sabre Travel Solutions.
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