TORONTO — Air Canada is going all-in with New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) – and the airline wants to make sure its valued travel advisor partners are onboard.
Fare content already available via Air Canada’s NDC technology includes the carrier’s domestic Basic fares, and starting June 14, 2023, best available seat inventory and discounted ancillary pricing will become available via NDC as well.
Also on June 14, Air Canada will introduce a new NDC coupon incentive, to support travel agency transition to NDC – and away from GDS EDIFACT channels. The coupon incentive will apply to eligible NDC bookings made directly with an Air Canada NDC API connection or via select NDC certified technology partners.
Along with the carrot, there’s also a stick.
A new Distribution Cost Recovery (DCR) fee, pegged at $20 – $30, will be introduced June 14 as well, to address the high expense of legacy models, says the airline. The DCR will apply to all tickets issued globally via GDS EDIFACT channels. The DCR does not apply to bookings made via any of Air Canada’s NDC connection options including NDC-sourced content in a GDS solution, as well as through Air Canada’s other direct booking channels such as aircanada.com, aircanada.com/agents, Air Canada for Business, and the Air Canada mobile app, or group bookings.
Mark Nasr, Air Canada’s SVP Products, Marketing & eCommerce, says the DCR will be integrated into the fare and paid by the customer.
Nasr was joined by Keith Wallis, Sr. Director, Distribution & Payments, and Lisa Pierce, VP Global Sales & ACV, at an Air Canada press conference yesterday, aimed at laying out the why’s, how’s and when’s of the airline’s NDC strategy, especially as it relates to Air Canada’s travel agent partners.
Says Pierce: “A big part of our plan is to educate front-line agents on NDC. We know a lot of people might not even know what NDC is. We know change is difficult. There will be bumps along the way. But there is no perfect time, and we have to start somewhere.”
AIRLINES, GDSs & THE EVOLUTION TO NDC
Airlines have been developing NDC technology for years, and many have already made great strides with it. One of Air Canada’s Star Alliance partners, Lufthansa, announced back in 2018 that its cheapest fares would only be available via NDC.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when airlines developed the first Computer Reservation Systems (CRSs) and then opened those systems up to travel agencies, the technology was a wonder.
And more than half a century later, that CRS / GDS technology, though much refined over the decades, is still powering the lion’s share of travel agency bookings.
But airlines have been pushing back on GDS segment fees for years.
Not only that, but whereas airline fares were once fairly standard in the early years of mass market travel, they’re now incredibly complex, with a wide range of fare classes, not to mention an ever-growing list of ancillary fees.
Airlines also have robust loyalty programs – Aeroplan, in Air Canada’s case – with special offers for members that need to be easily booked through travel agents as well.
“THE GAP IS GROWING”
The GDSs have been working with airlines on modernizing booking solutions, but in recent years, NDC has been gaining traction as an alternative booking capability that will give travel agencies access to all the new fare and product content that airlines are selling. The airlines want agents to be able to easily sell all of their content, and argue that NDC is the only way to feasibly do it.
Air Canada says its NDC program will provide a competitive alternative to legacy distribution, giving agents access to Air Canada inventory, fares, ancillary services, ticketing, and digital products.
In addition to a more efficient shopping experience for retail fare products, Air Canada’s NDC route will also eliminate select debit memos, according to the team.
Continuous pricing, as well as the addition of Flight Pass, is planned for 2023. Upgraded service and support levels include dedicated business and IT teams, 24/7 monitoring and near real-time system status. Additional servicing automation options and order change notifications are also slated for this year.
With so many airlines already fully embracing NDC, the gap is widening between old tech and new tech. “The cost of inaction is probably greater” to airlines and travel agencies that don’t move forward, than the cost of getting onboard with NDC, said Air Canada’s Wallis yesterday. “The gap is growing, and we need to make the move now,” he added.
4 WAYS TO ACCESS AIR CANADA’S NDC CONTENT
There are four ways travel agencies can access Air Canada’s NDC content, each designed to suit different agency business models.
- BUILD – Agencies can integrate an Air Canada NDC API into their agency, offering content flexibility and 24/7 monitoring and support
- BUY – Working with tech partners, agencies can get access to a wide rate of functionality and tech options
- FREE – Using Air Canada Connex, the airline’s free web-based tool, agents can get direct (and free) access from their desktop
- GDS – There’s also a GDS-based solution. Earlier this month, Air Canada and Amadeus announced the expansion of their long-standing partnership. Air Canada will enable access to its full range of New Distribution Capability (NDC)-sourced content through the Amadeus Travel Platform by leveraging Altéa NDC, Amadeus’ IT solution that enables airlines to provide enhanced travel retail experiences by distributing personalized and tailored offers.
Nasr and the team also confirmed that NDC content will be available through Softvoyage as well, and when asked about SABRE, confirmed that talks are taking place with other distribution platforms as well.
“WE KNOW HOW COMPLEX THE ECOSYSTEM IS”
While airlines are eager to move ahead with NDC and a much broader offering of their airfare content, travel agencies have made huge investments in their GDS, and agents know the GDS booking protocols like the back of their hand. The transition to a new way of booking airfares won’t be a short one, and it won’t be painless, as the Air Canada team acknowledges.
Pierce said the airline has been in discussions about NDC with many of Air Canada’s retail agency partners since last fall. The news announced today, with a runway of close to two months before June 14, is designed to give agencies time to adjust, she added. “We know how complex the ecosystem is,” said Pierce. “We want this to be seamless for agencies, but we know it’s going to take time.”
Nasr added: “We’re confident the destination we’ll arrive at is positive for the trade, but there’s a journey to get there.”
Part of Air Canada’s NDC plan includes plenty of resources for its travel agency partners.
There’s an NDC hub at aircanada.com/ndc with up-to-date program information. Agents can take part in webinars and other training sessions, or connect with questions via email.
Air Canada has also been conducting extensive NDC discussions and Q&A sessions with its travel advisor committee, to get a sense of agents’ concerns. “We know getting the information ahead of time helps our partners,” said Pierce. “Air Canada has been enabling NDC for over a decade and we’re excited to see some pioneering agencies already adopting NDC. We know the distribution journey hasn’t always been smooth, but we know this is a win-win.”
Some of Air Canada’s key agency partners that have already begun implementing NDC connectivity, include Flight Centre, Maritime Travel and Skylink Voyages.
More information is at aircanada.com/ndc.