Meta-booking engines: alliances aim to be the gateway to airlines

From the passenger’s point of view, airline alliances are just a vague marketing concept without much operational reality. But some are beginning to take a prominent place in the customer journey. Swan song or revolution of the concept?

The future of alliances has been discussed recently and it is clear that airlines today prefer more opportunistic and efficient partnerships. An analysis whose accuracy was demonstrated a few days later by the reflection of Kenya Airways on whether or not to leave Skyteam.

The airline alliance is only a concept for the passenger

After all, if the alliance also has a marketing vocation, it only does its job badly. For the customer, knowing that he is flying on a airline that is a member of a 2O-member alliance means very little. Sometimes this translates into codeshare, which is most often suffered and not experienced as a choice or an opportunity. There are some compulsive travelers and mileage runners who know how to use alliances to maximize the miles they earn, but we are talking about a very small part of the population.

At TravelGuys, we have always believed that in order to make sense for the passenger, and even to make the benefits of the alliance more tangible for the companies,the alliance should be the gateway for the customer. In other words, the passenger would not decide to fly on Air France or Lufthansa or British Airways but would go to the website of his alliance, and would look for the best options within a booking engine common to all airlines. Illusory?

Not sure that this will pleasethe airlines who like to have a direct relationship with the customer and want the exclusivity of the black gold of tomorrow: the customer data!

However, there is a downside: the big airlines that we spontaneously think of have more to lose than the smaller ones that would benefit from being valued at this single entry point.

Well, it is becoming a reality.

Skyteam, OneWorld and Star Alliance now have their own meta-booking engine

We were talking about OneWorld’s 20th anniversary last week and the announcements that accompanied it. Remember the announcement of the interoperability between the mobile applications of the member airlines through the implementation of a common digital platform

And this common digital platform has materialized on the new OneWorld website.

From the home page you can search the entire OneWorld network.

Magical, isn’t it? Except that in reality it doesn’t work.

Youthfulness defect? Product launched without all companies having given access to their booking engine? We’ll see.

Too bad. Let’s go to Star Alliance which has just announced exactly the same thing!

The meta booking engine is present on the home page.

But it does provide results.

And while it had gone completely unnoticed….same at Skyteam.

And there too it gives results.

Why such a turnaround? Why only today?

Because as I said above, alliances are in search of legitimacy and must demonstrate their value to airlines. And the best way to demonstrate this to airlines is by becoming a key entry point for the end customer.

Alliances vs. airlines in the customer knowledge war?

Also because in a world where customer data is so precious it is the best way to get it. The alliances do not know the passengersThis will surely be fixed, as it is not yet the case. This will surely be fixed, because it is not yet the case. In the case of Star Alliance, the system works thanks to a partnership with Skyscanner which sends the customer to the website of the airline concerned, so the Alliance does not collect any data on passengers. The same goes for Skyteam where the customer is sent to the airline’s website without the alliance taking any personal information. But I don’t doubt that this will change one day if the airlines don’t put the brakes on. It is however logical that the alliance wants to progress in the field of customer knowledge, an area where it is totally blind today.

Can an alliance exist between OTAs and airlines?

But one may wonder if it is not too late and if such a strategy makes sense now that online travel agencies (OTAs) and other price comparison sites have preempted most of the general publicand that the regular passenger will still have for a long time the reflex to go directly on the website of his airline.

It will be necessary to have customers develop an alliance reflex that does not exist today. I think that today the typical profile of the user of such meta-engines is the loyal passenger who is not attached to a particular airline, knowing that one of the principles of alliances is the reciprocal recognition of loyalty programs. A small but lucrative target.

The opposite example is to be found in the hotel industry, but the industry took the turn a long time ago. One site for multiple brands. But not everything is comparable. If it is easier to book on or on the Club Accorhotels website than on the hotel chains, it is also because It is at this level that the loyalty program common to the chains is managed and that Marriott or AccorHotels own the hotel chains where the airline alliance is only a fiction.

Marriott website allows reservations at 29 hotel chains

And as long as loyalty programs are owned by the airlines and not the alliances (which is not likely to change) it will still be complicated for alliances to exist between OTAs and airlines. Unless there is strong marketing and the implementation of own benefits that would be superimposed on those offered by the airlines. It’s not easy.

Or the possibility for the alliance to compose itineraries between member airlines outside the codeshares set up by the airlines? Difficult to consider.

Great initiatives that needed to be put in place. Too bad it may be too late.

Photo : oneworld by Tupungato via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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