Credit card data is not the best source for airline sourcing projects. I’ve said this for a long time, but was recently challenged (nicely) by Jacques Lionnet at AirPlus to take a fresh look at AIM, the AirPlus Information Manager (AIM) tool.
Bottom line: The AIM tool captures excellent airline data and is easy to use, but it has a few shortcomings that prevent it from delivering ready-to-source air spend reports. These flaws (described below) should be easy to eliminate, and I suspect AirPlus will do so soon.
Matthew Talbot, Product Marketing Manager at AirPlus International, and I spent nearly two hours talking about how payment cards acquire data, typical data limitations and best-practice sourcing project requirements. We tested how the AIM tool would handle a standard airline sourcing data request, and how travel managers can benefit from tools like this.
Here’s what I learned:
A corporate account uses an AirPlus-issued UATP lodge account (aka ghost, or central-billed) to pay for its airline purchases. For every airline reservation made by the corporate customer, AirPlus gets three data records:
* The reservation data from the corporate travel agency, which may contain Descriptive Billing Information (DBI) data, such as cost center or personnel ID
* The GDS record (very similar to the travel agency record; doesn’t have the DBI data)
* The issuing airline’s record, getting all Level 3 (the most detailed) data fields; doesn’t have the DBI fields)
AirPlus then merges these records to create a single source of truth. The result is a very robust set of data elements that are available for analysis at either the coupon (aka, flight segment, or leg) level or the ticket level.
The reporting tool’s user interface is clean and simple to use. No fancy dashboards, just simple tables and graphs – it has kind of a minimalist feel compared to other data reporting tools.
So what’s not to like about this tool? It has these shortcomings, which are relevant to any airline sourcing project:
1. The ticket-level report does not report Booking Class (e.g., F, Y,J, B, etc.). You can see the Booking Class for each coupon, but no analyst is going to wade through that level of detail. A major flaw, but an easy fix.
2. The Point Of Sale data depends on how the lodge account is set up. Negotiators need to know from which country the ticket was sold, and so a customer will need to have separate UATP lodge accounts for each country where it issues tickets. An important issue, but a minor inconvenience easily handled at the time of implementation.
3. O&Ds are reported in directional format, but airline sourcing projects need the O&D data in non-directional format, so LAXORD, not ORDLAX. A minor flaw and an easy fix.
4. O&Ds are reported based on the furthest point from the origination airport, rather than broken by lay-over hours. Either is acceptable in the industry, but my preference is for basing O&Ds on lay-over hours.
5. Segment counts are not all at the One-Way Equivalent level. For example, if the trip has 3 legs (e.g., LAX>ORD, transfer from ORD>JFK, return non-stop from JFK>LAX), you get 3 segments reported, but it should be 2 – one-way segment out, one-way equivalent segment back. A moderate flaw and a moderately easy fix.
Overall, I was impressed by this tool, but cannot yet endorse it for airline sourcing project work. As soon as the tool overcomes these issues, I’ll gladly give it two thumbs up.Scott Gillespie is the author of Gillespie's Guide to Travel Procurement.