Air Transport World

It's not a seat, it's a suite! GDSs embrace the merchandising model to help airlines differentiate themselves and sell unbundled fares.(DISTRIBUTION)

SOME CALL IT "MERCHANDISING," others "retailing." Still others call it "unbundling" or "attribute selling" or "a la carte pricing" or "product differentiation." The unimpressed call it "having to pay for things that used to be included in the price of an airline ticket."

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While the lexicon arising from new modes in the selling of air travel may be confusing, the practice is growing. It is likely to grow even more now that global distribution systems are working on ways to accommodate carriers that don't simply want to sell a seat-plus-standard-set-of-services as well as those that want to showcase their investments in their cabin products, perhaps with a visual display or graphical interface. From the airlines' perspective, it is somewhat disheartening to lavish millions of dollars on individual enclosed first class compartments with separate beds, desks and state-of-the-art entertainment systems only to have the product sold in GDSs as a generic first class seat, undifferentiated from a competitor's reclining seat.

It has been more than two years since Air Canada yanked its Tango fares from the GDSs, citing the systems' inability to display its fares along with their attributes and their upsell and downsell options. Its line in the sand became codified as the so-called "Air Canada clause," which allows carriers to withhold fare content if a GDS cannot support the fare's attributes, in the last round of airline/GDS agreements.

Meanwhile, airlines are facing one of the worst crises in their history: Fuel costs that seem to have no ceiling. …

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