Following some delays, United Airlines expects to start beta testing its direct integration of Concur's TripLink with select corporate clients by July. A Concur official said United would be the first airline to go live with supplier-direct TripLink integration, joining other suppliers like major hotel operators that are already in action.
United announced plans to participate in TripLink in July 2014, initially targeting an early 2015 launch. Yet, the target slid as the airline prioritized the development of its new website, which went live last fall.
"Having the new United.com in place was really foundational to being able to do development with TripLink, between having some of the same IT resources and also not wanting to design to an old platform," United managing director of distribution Amos Khim said.
Now, he added, "We're moving along."
Late last year, United worked through back-end integration and development testing "that tie United.com with Concur," said Khim, who added it has gone well. Next comes front-end development and client testing before wider availability.
"We've already identified five corporate customers that will participate in a beta test, which we are charting for late second quarter," noted Khim. He said the participants "are from a cross section of different industries, so it will allow us to test these different user cases out there."
Khim said a "small but vocal set of customers" remains interested in using Concur TripLink integration. That was the case when United signed on for the program and remains so today, he said.
Through TripLink, corporate travelers can book directly with suppliers to access corporate-negotiated benefits and funnel transaction data into agency systems for post-booking activities, including policy checks, reporting, traveler tracking, agency servicing and expense management. In cases when direct supplier integration is not supported, TripLink also supports booking data that travelers forward in itinerary confirmations.
"There are multiple legs of the triangle," said Khim. "It's Concur, the customer and then the agency. We've been working with the agency partners, and each of them has some different innovative ideas on how to incorporate that TripLink data into the agency systems."
The look and feel of the booking experience for travelers will be in line with the United.com experience, said Khim, though TripLink customers may notice "subtle" differences.
When initiating a booking, travelers would be identified and matched to their companies via frequent-flyer identification and asked to indicate whether a booking is for business. If so, United would present negotiated corporate fares and, once booked, transfer data to the appropriate corporate channel.
"Once the beta test comes out, we're going to get feedback to see what works and see what they like," said Khim. "Some of them have already seen some actual flows, test screens and things like that, and we've had positive feedback."
United is on track to be the first airline to go live, and should be followed by others already committed to the program, including Air Canada and Lufthansa, Concur executive vice president of supplier and travel management company services Mike Koetting said.
Last year, Koetting discussed the TripLink program in detail with The Beat. During an interview at Concur's Fusion customer conference this month, published by Business Travel News, he said 13 TMCs "are live, participating and integrated with TripLink." Such agencies would be able to accept and handle booking data submitted via suppliers like United.
TripLink already integrates with other suppliers and intermediaries, including Airbnb, Avis, HotelTonight and Omni Hotels. The program also has secured commitments from AccorHotels, Booking.com, Enterprise, Etihad Airways, National Car Rental, Sixt and others.
Koetting said the majority of TripLink data comes by way of itinerary confirmations that travelers forward. "As suppliers come onboard, the number of supplier bookings increases fairly dramatically, albeit from a very low base," he said. "IHG has been out there now for two years; Marriott just came on board; Starwood a year ago."
__JoAnn DeLuna contributed to this report