The Ultimate Travel Booking Website

30 July 2008 at 23:52 | Posted in Airlines, Budget Airlines, Innovations, Online Booking, Online Travel Booking, Travel | Leave a comment
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[Category: Innovations. If you are new to my blog please read the “About itimes3” page first]

If you have ever tried to book a somewhat complex travel itinerary online, say six or seven cities within a fairly tight schedule, and you also wanted to have a choice of all available airlines (including budget airlines) and see all available flights and prices, *and* don’t pay more than you have to, you know how time consuming this can be.

A short while ago I did this, wanting to book a trip from¬†Sydney to Thailand to Singapore to Hong Kong to Indonesia to Malaysia to Thailand and back to Sydney. It took me the better part of a day. Why? First I had to find out all the airlines that operate on all the sectors I wanted to fly. Using “popular” sites such as Expedia, Zuji and the like is not an option as they work with a limited selection of airlines and tend to be more expensive than if using airline websites directly. Amadeus.net can help find some prices but it also operates only with some of the bigger airlines, not all of them. Budget airlines in particular are almost never featured on the major travel booking sites. So you go and google for all the airlines in the region, which takes awhile. Particularly budget airlines, new ones come up all the time and may offer new destinations, cheaper flights, etc.

After an hour or two you have a list of all the websites of all the airlines that fly each of the sectors you want, and a bit of an idea what the reputation of these airlines is (the smaller ones I tend to google for reputation, to see how many wrecks they had in recent times, just to be on the safe side ūüėČ –¬†but it takes more time).

Then you have to go and find the best flights for each sector you want. The required time of arrival and/or departure. The price difference between the various flights available. The availability of seats on each flight. Any caveats and hidden extras (such as below-standard baggage allowances, which a number of budget airlines use). Running all the prices in local currency through oanda.com to have an idea what you’re actually going to pay. This takes, in my experience, another two to three hours if you want all the details on six or seven sectors.

Then, when you have all the information you want, you have a look at it all and make your decisions. Then you go back in and book each flight – usually on the airline’s own website, which not only offers the best price in most cases, but also extras such as direct selection of your preferred seat etc. However this once again takes half an hour or so, stepping through the various screens on each site, entering the credit card details, and waiting for confirmation etc.

Finally, you have to check and print out each of the e-tickets, which takes another 10 minutes or so (only when travelling in Brazil last year did I have my e-tickets txt-ed to my cellphone, but then Brazil is surprisingly more modern than many people think).

So after the above experiences, I was wondering why nobody has yet come up with the Ultimate Travel Booking Website, which I believe should look like this (or something very similar; details to be finetuned, this is an initial “draft sketch” of the proposed site):

  • Website asks for size of itinerary: one country only; one continent only; or multiple continents: select which country or continent(s).
  • Website shows map of selected area (one country, one continent, multiple continents or whole world), below a box as follows:
  • Box shows “Details of first sector” or similar asking user to check boxes of required flight details:
    – date of flight
    – economy, business or first class (or no preference)
    – include or exclude budget airlines
    – preferred departure time (precise time to be entered; or am or pm preference, has to be this date; or flexible with dates)
    – list airlines based on lowest cost first, or list airlines based on flights available as close as possible to requested time
    – only show flights with available seats in preferred class, or list all flights regardless of availability
    – only show direct flights or show all flights
  • After completing above box of details, user draws, using the mouse, a line from one city to another, representing the first sector of the itinerary.
  • Once the line has been drawn, the system extracts the relevant data from its database which contains all flight data for all commercial flights in the world (including budget airlines), and presents it on screen, for the user to select the preferred flight for that sector. IMPORTANT: the user has the option to “tentatively select” so changes can be made later. Each airline will have a rating based on user input (using up to five stars, or a system using percentages such as on eBay for example) – this will give an initial indication of user experiences with an airline. If the airline has less than say 25 ratings, it will show as “unrated”, so the user knows it may be good to google for details on this airline prior to making a booking decision.
  • Once the preferred flight has been selected, user has option to finish or to continue building the itinerary.
  • Alternatively, the user can draw lines to other cities which will immediately and rapidly bring up the details for the new choice.
  • Upon the choice to continue, the above procedure repeats, positioning a new “Details of second sector” box for the user to fill out. This box inserts itself below the first box, but above the map.
  • After filling out the second box, the user draws the second line (from the city first arrived in to the next city).
  • And so forth.
  • At the end of the process, the user is redirected, sector by sector, to the websites of the airlines for payment (or this would be handled by the system, which could present a single invoice).

The main ideas being:

  • The user fills out an on-screen box (web page) with details for each sector, which forms the basis for the searches conducted thereafter.
  • Once the on-screen box has been completed, the system is highly flexible. It allows the user to “experiment” drawing lines between different cities at will and immediately brings up the relevant data, so the user has an overview of all available options to any city nearly immediately. This¬†type of system would allow¬†for flexible and fast travel planning, including researching alternative options. This is, to my knowledge, not available anywhere on the Internet today.
  • The user has flexibility to make changes in one box, which then “ripple through” to other boxes (the system keeps track of changes across the itinerary).
  • The user gets charged the same price as the airlines charge (to avoid the user only using the system for information, then booking at the airline website).

The business model would be that the airlines agree to pay the site operator a small amount, such as two dollars per sector booked, for example, which they agree to deduct off their own website’s ticket price (so for example if Qantas charges $100 for a sector on their website, they agree to sell that sector for $98 to the site operator, which charges the customer $100 for it, and keeps $2). The cost to develop the website would be the main expense. After¬†the site¬†is online, costs would be mainly with chasing up airlines to provide their databases to the website in time, plus general support and administration. This can be automated to a large degree. Airlines would be inclined to agree to the $2 charge because¬†this type of¬†website would quickly become a major player in the online travel sales game. Different people would use the site: those looking for a bargain, and those looking for the best possible connection. For this reason, all airlines will be interested in participating.

The site could generate additional revenue by offering hotel deals, car rental, etc. ideally also using the same model, e.g. the customer can select from hotels and car rental outlets in arrival cities based on a price or availability. The site could make deals with the likes of wotif.com for the hotels for example, and once again gain a modest but fully automatic commission from each deal.

For people looking at booking first class travel, the site could also offer private jet and share jet options, earning commission from this type of booking.

Additional features could be added to the site, such as organising of conferences and getting all delegates tickets and hotels booked through the system, local entertainment and restaurant bookings, and even migration features including linking to information about local rental accommodation, car dealerships, employment websites etc. in arrival cities. This would obviously be done using database feeds from these operators, so the site would not need to worry about content, only design the initial user interface/presentation for it.

I have many detailed ideas about this website opportunity however in the interest of (relative) brevity I shall leave it at this.

If you like this idea and you work in a type of industry where this is relevant, I would be happy to discuss in more detail, answer questions or assist in other ways. For details and contact information please see the “About itimes3” page.

George Spark

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