How do on-line reservations work


How do on-line reservations work?



Four giant airline computer systems in the United States handle nearly all the airline reservations in the country. (They're known as CRSs, for computer reservations systems, or more often now GDS for global distribution systems.) Although each airline has a "home" CRS, the systems are all interlinked so that you can, with few exceptions, buy tickets for any airline from any CRS. The dominant systems in the U.S. are Sabre (home to American and US Airways), Galileo (home to United), Worldspan (home to Delta, Northwest), and Amadeus (Continental and many European lines.) Many of the low-price start-up airlines don't participate in any of these systems but have their own Web sites where you can check flights and buy tickets. Southwest, the largest and oldest of the low-price airlines, doesn't participate, either. Southwest's web site gets car and hotel info from Galileo, but the info seems not to flow the other way. Orbitz, one of the big three online travel agencies, runs its own system which is linked directly to many of the airlines.

In theory, all the systems show the same data; in practice, however, they get a little out of sync with each other. If you're looking for seats on a sold-out flight, an airline's home system is most likely to have that last, elusive seat. If you're looking for the lowest fare to somewhere, check all four systems because a fare that's marked as sold out on one system often mysteriously reappears on another system. Some airlines have rules about flight segments that are not supposed to be sold together even though they're all available, and at least once I got a cheap US Airways ticket on Expedia, which didn't know about all the US Airways rules even though I couldn't on their own site or Travelocity which did know about them. On the other hand, many airlines have available some special deals that are only on their own Web sites and maybe a few of the online agencies. Confused? You should be. We are.

The confusion is even worse if you want to fly internationally. Official fares to most countries are set via a treaty organization called the IATA, so most computer systems list only IATA fares for international flights. It's easy to find entirely legal "consolidator" tickets sold for considerably less than the official price, however, so an online or offline agent is extremely useful for getting the best price. The airlines also can have some impressive online offers on their web sites.

Here's our distilled wisdom about buying tickets online:

* Check the online systems to see what flights are available and for an idea of the price ranges. Check more than one CRS. For tickets within the U.S. and Canada, the prices in the CRS are for the most part the real prices that people are paying. * After you have found a likely airline, check that airline's site to see whether it has any special Web-only deals. If a low-fare airline has the route, be sure to check that one too, since most low-fare airlines don't appear in CRS listings. * If your schedule is flexible, check ticket bidding sites including Hotwire ( and Priceline ( and ticket auctions such as SkyAuction ( * Particularly if you don't qualify for the lowest fare visible on the CRS, check with a travel agent to see whether he can beat the online price, and buy your tickets from the agent unless the online deal is better. Most agents get no commission on fares visible on the CRS, so you can expect an agent to charge you for ticking them. * For international tickets, do all the steps above in this list, and then check both online and with your agent for consolidator tickets. This is particularly important if you don't qualify for the lowest published fare.


Systems used by travel agents

Airline Resource FAQ

Airline Resource FAQ

⇑⇑ Airline information on-line on the Internet FAQ

2021-06-04, 714👍, 0💬