Systems used by travel agents
What Are Systems used by travel agents?
The underlying data are the same, but the interface is different. Some data
are visible to agents, but not to these systems. A good way to work is to make
the best reservation you can on-line, then call a travel agent, tell him what
you've reserved, and see if he can do better.
* How do I get access to them?
Most of these systems are provided through web sites. Many of the sites use frames and SSL secure connections so you need a relatively recent browser such as Mozilla (http://www.mozilla.org/), Opera (http://www.operasoftware.com/), or, if you're willing to accept the security risks, Microsoft Internet Explorer (http://www.microsoft.com/ie/default) 5.0 or later.
A few systems provide their own software which invariably is a plug-in for Microsoft's Internet Explorer, again if you're willing to accept the security risks.
Travelocity: Travelocity (http://www.travelocity.com) is an online agent owned by Sabre. You need to provide a credit card number to make reservations, but they won't charge you until you tell them to. Tickets can be issued as e-tickets or, at extra cost, by mail. There is also a great deal of travel destination information of variable usefulness. Unlike most other web-based systems, it sometimes lets you hold a reservation without buying it. Also handles hotels and rental cars. A nice fare watcher feature lets you list a few routes you're interested in, and it sends you e-mail when an interesting fare becomes available. They have a Travel Deals page that often has private fares, two-for-one deals, and the like. Their flexible search option provides a fare calendar, table of what fares are available on what dates, that's better than any other site I know. Unfortunately, just because a fare is available on a date doesn't mean that any actual seats are available at that fare, so a certain number of the fares are cruel jokes, great bargains if only the airline would sell you a seat at that fare which they won't.
Some fares are marked "good buy" which means that they're only available on
Travelocity. But that doesn't mean that they're any cheaper than other fares.
All fares now include a $5/ticket service fee.
Travelocity includes a "last minute deals" feature which is a rebranded version of Site59 (http://www.site59.com), which Travelocity owns.
Expedia: Expedia (http://www.expedia.com) was Microsoft's flashy entrant into the web travel biz. In July 2001 they sold a controlling interest to USA Networks, owner of Home Shopping Network and other great cultural monuments. In August 2003, the two companies were merged under the extremely trendy name of IAC/InterActive Corp, along with hotels.com, Match.com and LendingTree. It still has that Microsoft feel, although I can hardly wait to see them start cross-selling. The site is garish, but it's reasonably easy to negotiate and to find schedules and fares. Underlying info is from Worldspan, prices now include a $5 per ticket service fee. You have to provide a credit card number to make a reservation, even if you don't want to buy immediately. Early on, when I tried to reserve, it said it the credit card link was down, no reservations possible, call a number in Florida if it's urgent. Yeah, right. (At Microsoft, quality is job 1.1.) It seems to work better now. There's also lots of promos and tie-ins, with Expedia-only special fares. You can sign up for weekly e-mail about best fares on routes you select. Your web browser must accept cookies or Expedia doesn't work.
Internet Travel Network (http://www.itn.net) is now part of American Express. It's a WWW-based flight booking system. You make reservations, using Apollo, which are then ticketed by American Express, unless you entered via another agency's web site. Several other sites on the net including several airlines have "private label" connections to ITN, but it's the same system, usually just with slightly different screen backgrounds and titles. The base ITN system uses data from Apollo, but apparently some of the private label versions use other CRS. Now that Easy Sabre is gone, this is the only system I know that can display available fare classes, an important feature for some kinds of discounts and special fares. It also displays an approximate number of seats available in each fare class, useful both for guessing whether you need to buy a cheap ticket right away, and for seeing which flights are likely to have seats available for upgrades to first class. Set your display preferences to "expert."
Worldspan (http://www.worldspan.com) is another large international CRS. They provide a Web availability and pricing system, which underlies the web sites of participating agents as well as the Delta and Northwest web sites, only available via customer sites, not on their own site. It's the system that underlies Expedia (described above) and Orbitz (described below).
Orbitz (http://www.orbitz.com), was intended to be the "killer" airline ticket web site. Founded by United, Northwest, Continental, Delta, and American, it was sold in October 2004 to Cendant, a large travel company that owns Avis rent-a-car and Ramada Inns and dozens of other familiar chains, and is now in the process of being spun off as a standalone company along with some smaller travel companies that Cendant bought along the way. At least 30 airlines including the founders are Orbitz charter affiliates, which means they give all of their web fares to Orbitz. It has a very nice lowest fare search engine. You can tell it to add alternate airport within 70 miles, and it gives you the possible routings, cheapest first. It now lets you give a range of dates, or say that you want to take a weekend trip in a particular month, and it gives you a grid showing the lowest available fare for each combination of departure and return dates. They promise unbiased fare and schedule listings, and have agreements with affiliate airlines to include all publicly available fares (a term that is harder to define than it looks) such as web specials. Their search engine does a more thorough job than others (it's written in Lisp and runs on PCs, the others are written in assembler on mainframes) so it'll often find fares and connections that are entirely valid but not shown on other systems. They also have some spiffy customer service, e.g., they can call you or send a text message to your mobile phone or PDA a few hours before flight time to tell you your gate and whether there are delays. They charge a service fee of $6 per ticket.
Trip.com (http://www.trip.com) has been merged into Cheap Tickets.
Cheap Tickets (http://www.cheaptickets.com) originally sold mostly cheap tickets to Hawaii, but is now a general purpose online agent. I gather that unlike most other web sites, the live agents at their 800 number have access to fares not on the web site and often not available through other sites. Owned by Cendant, being spun off in the same travel company as Orbitz, although the sites remain separate.
AmadeusLink (http://www.amadeus.net/), was started in 1987 by four European airlines and in 1995 absorbed System One which started a long time ago as Eastern Airlines' reservation system. They offer extensive schedule and availability info, along with rental car, hotel, and destination info. For bookings, you need to use a subscribing travel agency, such as one of the agent systems that link to Amadeus such as TripWeb and Travelweb, below. The AmadeusLink booking systems all link into the same site, so other than some of the graphics, the function they provide is identical.
TripWeb (http://www.tripweb.com) is run by a Florida travel agency and offers search and bookings through Amadeus, with free ticket delivery. Underneath it's ITN, but it uses Amadeus for underlying data.
Mobissimo (http://www.mobissimo.com/) is an experimental meta-search that searches lots of other web sites for a pair of cities and dates and shows you what fares it found, with links to the other sites so you can followup.
Kayak (http://www.kayak.com) is a meta-search that looks at lots of airline and agent web sites and produces a combined listing with links you can click through to the various sites to buy. It works well, but as with all combo sites, there are usually interesting sites they don't search so you still have to look for yourself. AOL has a deal with Kayak so they're featured on AOL.
Sidestep (http://www.sidestep.com) also searches multiple airline web sites to find the lowest fares, along with promotions like weekend fares and extra frequent flyer miles. Their original version is an add-in to Internet Explorer that you download and install so it only runs on Windows with Internet Explorer. (Considering the well known security disaster that is IE, this is a significant drawback.) Now you can also visit their web site and use it like any other search system. It's gotten wonderful reviews but when I've tried to use it I haven't been very impressed with what it found, no better than fare searches at Travelocity, often worse than Orbitz. When you install the IE add-in, it splatters your browser, desktop, toolbar, and start menu with icons which is really annoying.
Yahoo's Farechase (http://farechase.yahoo.com/) is yet another meta-search. It has the slick interface you'd expect from Yahoo, results similar to but perhaps not quite as complete as Kayak.
* Other general sites
OneTravel (http://www.onetravel.com) offers booking and ticketing. (They recently absorbed FLIFO.) A "fare beater" feature searches negotiated and "white label" fares. Similar data to Travelocity, less flashy, but less buggy, too. Data from Amadeus. In some quick tests, Travelocity found fares that they didn't and vice versa, with Travelocity's lower.
Travelweb (http://www.travelweb.com) has a lot of travel info, graphics that look like they were drawn with a crayon (it's an aesthetic effect, I guess), and airline reservations via Expedia.
Destina (http://www.destina.ca) was introduced as a one-stop travel service for Canada, although it was owned by Air Canada. They recently integrated it more tightly with Air Canada's own web site, and at this point it appears to sell only AC tickets, making one wonder why they bothered. They say it'll do more later in the year.
* Fare searches and comparisons
ITA Software (http://matrix.itasoftware.com/cvg/dispatch) builds the search engine used by Orbitz and an increasing number of airline sites, and you can use a copy of the latest version of their search system. No booking, you have to take what you find and book elsewhere.
Qixo (http://www.qixo.com) searches two dozen airline sites and returns a combined list of the lowest fares found for route. If you book through them, there's a $20 booking fee, but of course once you know the airline and times, there's nothing keeping you from booking up the same flights on another site.
Cheap Flights USA (http://www.CheapFlights.com) and Cheap Flights UK (http://www.CheapFlights.co.uk) offers a nice search engine for low cost tickets from the US and UK, many of which don't appear in the major search engines. Not a travel agency, they link to other agents and airlines where they presumably collect a referral fee (which is fine, it doesn't affect the price of the ticket.)
Sky Scanner (http://www.skyscanner.net) offers an excellent search engine for cheap flights within the UK and Europe. Don't miss their month views with little bar charts of daily fares.
Flight Atlas (http://www.flightatlas.com/) offers cute animated maps showing what routes are available among European airports, with links to the airlines serving them. (To me it looks like of like a game of Battleship.)
SimplyQuick (http://travel.simplyquick.com/discount-airfares/) is an independent guide to who's cheapest online for discount airfares, based on a large survey of the top 8 online booking services, and providing a search tailored city by city (US only). They also rate online travel agents and travel service web sites. They're in New Zealand, but most of the info is for US travellers.
Cheap0 (http://cheap0.com) has comprehensive info on European discount airlines including a map that shows where they all go, and frequent blog style news items on new and changed service.
Discounted international tickets: Apple Fares (http://www.applefares.com) has an excellent search engine for low-cost European airlines. You can search both for specific dates and destinations and for more general questions like weekend trips from London to Spain two weeks from now.
AirTreks (http://www.airtreks.com) has a spiffy web site that helps construct
and price multi-stop and round-the-world international travel. They're a
travel agency, the site estimates the price, exact prices and tickets come
from live agents at the agency. (That's what you want, no computer can
navigate the swamp of international routes and fares very well.)
Farepoint (http://www.farepoint.co.uk/) provides a large database of fares via UK travel agents. The site links to some of the agents who offer their service.
Flights.com (http://www.flights.com) (formerly called TISS) is an online database in Germany with current airfares provided by a group of consolidators. They offer departures from a lot of different countries, now including the U.S. They claim the prices they offer are the best available. For routes within the US they act as a front end to flifo. One reader reports a bad experience with their US agent, rebooking his reservation in a way that lost the discount fare he'd reserved, although he'd had good results with their UK agent.
Air Fare (http://www.air-fare.com) tracks lowest fares among major U.S. cities, with daily updates of significantly lower fares. Worldspan-based Res and ticketing also available.
Deal Checker (http://www.dealchecker.co.uk) compares fares and hotel prices from major UK web sites.
* Real-time flight status and information
The extremely cool service from TheTrip (http://www.trip.com/) (scroll down to Flight Tracker on their home page) gives you a real-time position map and ETA for most domestic flights. Choice of plain text or way beyond cool animated Java relief maps, and you can tell it to send e-mail when the plane arrives, or an hour or two before. If you haven't already got your ticket, they offer ITN for info and ticketing.
Expedia (http://www.expedia.com/pub/agent.dll?qscr=flin) now has real-time flight ops including times and gates for major US airlines.
The Track A Flight (http://www.trackaflight.com/) service (formerly Flyte Trax, same organization as flytecomm.com) also provides real-time position map and ETA for most domestic flights, by flight number, or departing or arriving airports. It's as nice as TheTrip.
Flight Arrivals (http://www.flightarrivals.com/) offers impressively complete arrival info for most US airports. (It even has info for the teensy Ithaca NY airport.) No maps, but lots of data.
* Itinerary Lookup
Each of the GDS has a web site where you can look up the details of the record for a reservation if you have the locator code, generally a sequence of six letters or digits, and the passenger's last name. A single trip can have information on more than one system. For example, if you make a United Airlines reservation on Travelocity, the main Travelocity record is on Sabre, but there's a copy on United's home system Galileo, as well. Each system has a different locator code, and it can be hard to find the codes for other than the original system. Virtually There sometimes shows the locator for other system records as the Confirmation field, although you have to figure out or guess which system it's on.
Every travel agent except Orbitz uses one of the GDS to make its reservations so the master record for each trip is available through one of the systems. The online systems usually show the locator code on one of the confirmation screens, and any airline or local travel agent will tell your the locator for your reservation if you ask. Since Orbitz uses its direct connect technology to make reservations directly with many airlines, the master record is on Orbitz itself and as far as I can tell you can't tell the airline's locator until you get your boarding pass.
Virtually There (https://www.virtuallythere.com) can show records from Sabre inclding reservations on Travelocity, American Airlines, and US Airways.
Check My Trip (https://www.checkmytrip.com) can show records from Amadeus, including reservations on Continental and many European airlines.
My Trip and More (http://www.mytripandmore.com/) can show records from Worldspan, including reservations on Delta and Northwest.
View Trip (https://www.viewtrip.com/en-us/ViewTrip.asp) can show records from Galileo, including reservations on United.
Some of these systems will also show rental car and hotel info if they're included in the same records.
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