Senior Manager Airline Customer Strategy and Marketing, Travelport
Interlining is one of the most basic partnerships that exists in the aviation industry — but equally one of the most lucrative. Ten percent of all flight bookings involve interlining, and it is said to be worth US$52 billion annually, according to IATA. This also generates $3.3b incremental revenue from selling ancillaries across interline journeys. But for agencies, retailing these itineraries can be complex.
Here we’re explaining how expanding our new Rich Content and Branding solution will help to simplify retailing these journeys, creating more value for both agencies and airlines.
For airlines Interlining allows airlines to reach destinations that they would otherwise not be able to serve alone. This encourages cooperation in the industry, and allows airlines to expand operations without significant investment. There are more than 8,000 airports with scheduled carrier service in the world (according to IATA), so there are potentially 64 million possible airport pairs someone could search for. It would be impossible to service this with direct flights. Thanks to interlining, and airlines’ use of hubs, it’s possible for someone to fly from almost any airport to any other with no more than four flights.
Needless to say, in the current climate this is more important than ever to the industry. With demand for international travel remaining low, airlines are faced with equally low load factors — meaning they can’t fill planes independently, and are relying on other airlines to help get more people on board. This is key to keeping flights commercially viable while we await a definitive solution to the pandemic.
For agencies The advantage to agencies is that they can book a through flight, connecting from one airline to another, without the hassle of making multiple bookings. This simplifies their workflow, saving time, and on the whole making the booking process smoother and more satisfactory. Plus, the more destinations that airlines can reach, the better the retailing possibilities for agents.
For travelers And there are huge benefits for the customer too. While travelers may not know about interlining, they’ve almost certainly taken a journey where it forms part of their itinerary. As I mentioned, these partnerships simplify the traveler journey, particularly check-in and baggage transfer. Plus, having flights from different airlines connected together adds many more options, sometimes even at cheaper prices or better flight times. This is vital right now, with many airlines cutting frequency or making changes to their routes.
All of the above shows how valuable interlining is to the travel industry. So, we’ve been looking at ways to make retailing these journeys simpler, and to help our customers to maximize their associated fare and upsell revenue.
By expanding our Branded Fares and Ancillaries solution to include interline itineraries, we’re giving agents and travelers more information about the full range of booking options available to them. This means branded content will no longer be limited to code share and connecting flights, where all flight sectors within the same pricing unit use the same airline flight prefix. This brings interline journeys in line with the way other itineraries are presented on the booking platform, offering significant advantages to both airlines and agents.
Driving airline revenue
Our airline customers already use our Rich Content and Branding tool to communicate their offers using images, product descriptions, branding and sales messages. Now, when an agency books an interline itinerary, these valuable elements of branding will also be presented to them. This will allow airlines to communicate on various aspects of the journey, for example, whether a passenger could earn air miles on a particular fare, whether a bag was included, or if WiFi would be available on board.
While the current circumstances make forecasting hard, we fully expect this new functionality to result in a lift in brand displays and incremental revenue generated through agents, by enabling them to upsell interline fares. These are metrics that we report to airlines to increase flexibility and transparency, which will further support industry recovery. As with code share and connecting flights, there are some nuances to the new functionality, but this is similar across other platforms and fare types.
Enabling agency upsell
When agents booking an interline itinerary cannot see each airlines’ individual branding, this makes visualizing what they are selling much more difficult, and reduces the scope for upselling. Given that our agency customers make over 10 million interline bookings per year, this creates a huge missed opportunity, and right now, the industry needs to embrace all potential revenue-enhancing actions.
By enabling branding for interline itineraries, travel agents will be able to see branded fares and ancillary details for interline flights at the beginning of the user journey. Another bonus is that the change is automatic for current users of the platform, and every API and Agent UI that already incorporates branded fares will also start to see the benefit of the change.
But don’t just take my word for it. Speaking about the new functionality, one of our agency customers, located in Poland, said the following: “We have a lot of customers wanting to purchase tickets from decentral locations in Poland such as Krakow and Wraclaw, and flying to the US, to for example Washington or Los Angeles. The cheapest and ‘shortest’ connecting flights — there are no direct flights — often involve multiple airlines such as LOT Polish Airlines connecting to United Airlines. As most base level airline fares within Europe and the US are now ‘no checked bag fares’ it means that the majority of offers on our search screen will only suit those passengers wanting to travel with hand luggage only. Now with the extension of Travelport’s Branded Fares program to cover interline itineraries, it means we can supply other types of fares, including those with checked bags included, more flexible and more comfortable options, to other passenger groups.”
Given the value that interlining has to the aviation and travel industries — as well as adding simplicity to the traveler journey — we’re prioritizing making retailing these itineraries simpler, and more user-friendly. We’re really pleased to share this innovation with our agency and airline customers, and will continue to find ways to tap into the opportunities that exist in retailing interlining journeys.