Brought into production late last month, Air Canada's new application programming interface allows the carrier to sell its Flight Pass program, customize fares for particular customers and offer corporate clients discounted ancillary services. The airline during the next few months plans to switch the "dozen to dozen and a half" users of its existing API to the new one, which is based on Open Axis standards, according to Air Canada senior director of product distribution Graham Wareham.
Users include Travelport, which recently signed a multi-year deal to access Air Canada's complete range of fares, inventory and optional services. Others connected to the ac2u API include undisclosed travel agencies using the direct channel to access corporate clients' negotiated fares, according to Wareham. Connected booking tools include Concur Cliqbook, TRX ResX, KDS Corporate and Farelogix's nascent Sprk agent tool.
"Our old API wasn't very robust or fast," Wareham acknowledged. "Our velocity of change is quite quick with our product and web offerings, and we were always struggling to have our API keep up. Our new API hosted by Farelogix is a much nimbler platform that connects directly into our host system. It encompasses web services for all our products and functions. There is nothing we do on aircanada.com that we cannot do through the API."
Wareham added that Air Canada's corporate customers to this point could not negotiate contracts that accounted for ancillary services. "We'll start looking to see what the market appetite is for that," he said. "Some of the ancillary services we sell have more relevance for the corporate customer, and some they probably don't care about. Now that the technology isn't holding us back, we can make sense out of what the market needs."
Customized offerings to individual travelers could come as tailored base fares and/or discounts on lounge access, seat assignments or other ancillary services. As part of an "authenticated" shopping approach, Wareham explained, an offer to a customer can be "based on the dynamic relationship they have with us." If, for example, the airline lost a bag on the previous trip, it may want to extend a special offer to make up for it.
The API accommodates codeshare flights on all Air Canada partners. Interlining, however, still is a few months off. "That is certainly one of the things that we have put an aggressive timeline on ourselves," Wareham said. "Star [Alliance] partners are interested in coming on board and trying to solve that as well."
Convincing Agencies, Building Volume
Discussing a common concern among agencies that direct connections to multiple suppliers would require multiple technology solutions, Wareham said, "In our opinion, once you use the Open Axis standard to connect, there should only be testing."
He acknowledged that TMCs losing GDS incentives "is certainly a concern of theirs, and a valid concern. That has been part of their business model for a long time. We recognize that and it is part of the conversation." He offered no details.
Though online travel agencies also are target users for Air Canada's API, Wareham, citing "turmoil" in North American travel distribution, said he doesn't expect much short-term progress.
Overall, Air Canada has set for itself API transaction volume goals, but Wareham did not share them. "Some users have had very high transaction volumes," he noted, "and we also have some that have joined and never sent a transaction through it."
Expanded Travelport Agreement
An extended and expanded deal with Travelport could help Air Canada work toward its goals. No longer encompassing only the Canadian point of sale, the "multi-year" agreement is global and provides Travelport subscribers "access to all fares, seat availability, fare families and optional services."
Travelport also plans to introduce in Canada during the first of half of this year an "enhanced" version of the Agencia travel agency desktop, which connects to Air Canada via the API.
According to Wareham, the deal took eight months to finalize and, for the Agencia component, includes a list "20 or 30 items that needed rectifying and were built into the agreement, so they will be fixed." Some prominent deficiencies highlighted by users and addressed with the new API are "integrated traveler profiles and links to back-office and other services that Travelport offers," he explained. "It is much more integrated into the GDS platform."
According to Travelport vice president of airline services Jean Collier, the company is working with Air Canada to "make sure we appropriately and religiously test out the functionality through the API, which does have some additional features."
Noting the constant evolution of Air Canada's products and services, Collier added that "the beauty of connecting through technology like the API is that as soon as [a new product attribute] is available, we can put it out onto Agencia or our other applications."
When asked if close cooperation with Air Canada has led to a Canadian marketshare shift in Travelport's favor, Collier said, "We tried to focus on getting our existing subscribers comfortable in using Agencia. Getting agents to move to another environment is quite tough. They are very happy with the green screen and the cryptic commands. This is a new way of doing business for them."