Discount Travel Firm Seeks To Expand Use of E-Tickets

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Cheap Tickets Inc., a Honolulu-based discount travel company, last week introduced an electronic-ticketing option for trips with multiple legs and carriers.

"The e-tickets are great if you're flying on a single carrier and buying a published fare, but once you get multiple carriers and nonpublished fares, it becomes real tricky," said Ron McElfresh, Cheap Tickets' vice president of online services and product management.

Lack of Standards a Challenge

To add the capability, Cheap Tickets built a customized electronic-ticketing system with its technology partner, Sabre Inc. in Fort Worth, Texas. This was challenging because air carriers have yet to adopt common standards for the tickets, and airlines often don't offer electronic tickets for special fares, according to McElfresh.

He said Cheap Tickets spent five months designing the new system and expects it to pay for itself after six months. Electronic tickets will let the travel company avoid printing and express-mail costs, in addition to letting the company sell a ticket right up until the day of a flight. Until now, Cheap Tickets was only able to issue tickets for flights that were five or more days away.

A Noteworthy Effort

While other online travel agencies have previously issued electronic tickets, Cheap Tickets' effort to do so across multiple carriers is worth noting, said Henry Harteveldt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass.

"The airline industry is showing signs that it understands that it needs to develop some standards in this area," Harteveldt said. "So hopefully, this issue will be resolved soon enough."

The OpenTravel Alliance announced in September that it's close to creating an XML standard for electronic tickets that would make it easier for air carriers and travel suppliers to exchange ticketing information with one another.

Cheap Tickets has sold more than 1 million tickets this year through its four call centers. McElfresh said he expects 30% of the tickets sold next year to be electronic.

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