Op Ed: Jeff Klee On Measuring What Matters With NDC

Travelers don’t care how service providers get all the travel purchase options in front of them, just that they do. AmTrav CEO Jeff Klee discusses how to chart progress toward that goal, which in his mind is all that matters in NDC development.


So here we are in 2020, the year when New Distribution Capability is supposed to move from, “Yes,  it works,” to, “Look how we can do this at scale.” At AmTrav, we’re live with three NDC connections and in various stages of development with several others. But the other day, when someone asked me if I could present a case study at an industry event with a travel buyer who’s benefitted from NDC, I was hard-pressed to come up with a story that would really be compelling.

I’ve been a little obsessed with NDC over the last few years. Last year, in particular, was a roller coaster, with roughly equal doses of hope, excitement, frustration and disillusionment. As the industry marches toward an IATA goal for 2020 of 20 percent of sales among participating airlines powered by an NDC API, I can’t help but think that we were supposed to be a lot further by now. 

It’s not the end of the world to be behind schedule. The best way to accomplish all that we can is to try to accomplish even more. My concern, though, is that we’re focusing on the wrong metric. What if, by year end, 20 percent of bookings do go through an NDC API, but travelers aren’t better off? 

We have to keep reminding ourselves that our customers don’t care how we pass data back and forth. They don’t care about schemas or protocols or standards. They care about choice, savings and comfort, and they’d be happy if we could make their lives easier.

I cared a lot last year about being first with certain NDC connections. I judged GDSs by how many airlines they were live with. But what good is an NDC API that doesn’t provide new benefits and a full end-to-end solution? What good are really attractive corporate bundles if there’s no way to change a ticket when you need to? 

Jeff Klee, AmTrav
AmTrav CEO Jeff Klee

My takeaway from 2019 is that being first is good, but being good is better. And so we at AmTrav came up with a new internal metric to measure progress on our own new distribution platform. We’re going to stop counting NDC adoptions, or even labeling them, and instead focus on and measure only what matters to the end user: content and capabilities.

Our new formula, which we call our Flight 360 Scoreboard, measures our ability to deliver full content and functionality for each airline. For each one, we assign a score between 0 and 100. If all we can offer for that airline is basic low-fare shop, price and book circa 2010, we assign 0. To get a perfect score for an airline, we need, among other things, to:

• Display all their fare brands in the initial shopping results
• Identify the attributes, rules, and fees associates with each brand
• Identify when travelers (due to status) qualify automatically for extra perks
• Provide a detailed view of inflight amenities and seat types
• Show images of the aircraft
• Show seat maps and allow users to pick any seat offered, free or paid
• Offer any post-booking ancillary that is offered on the airline.com site
• Allow self-service changes pre- or post-departure
• Meet maximum response time thresholds

For each airline score, we take the weighted average based on the airline’s share of our total volume. We then add them all together to get our company’s total air shopping capability score (we’re still trying to come up with a catchy name for that). 

Our goal is to hit the 100 maximum score. Right now, we’re at 47.4. We’re tough scorers. By the same standard, we determined the score for SAP’s Concur Travel, the most popular corporate booking tool, is 15.9.

Importantly, our score doesn’t consider where the content comes from. We don’t care if it’s an NDC connection, an old-school Edifact one or something entirely different. In fact, by necessity, some of the content we score ourselves on is curated by us in Excel because there are still gaping holes in the information returned from GDSs and even some NDC connections. (The holes tend to be with things like inflight amenity details and fees for bags, changes, etc.). Our users don’t know that and don’t care. This isn’t about high tech or low tech, or new tech or old tech. We just need the content.

Of course, given where we are today, NDC APIs still hold the most promise to close our content gap. The urgency to do so continues to increase. ARC’s Mike Premo spoke recently about the “gravity pulling business travelers to airline websites.” With its omnichannel strategy, ARC is hedging against an outcome of, “What if we never get this right?” Planned business travel functionality on delta.com would do the same. Meanwhile, Concur’s TripLink continues to pick up steam, steadily if not spectacularly, while TMCs continue to mock it, seemingly unmoved by what’s happening around them, like frogs in boiling water. 

More than ever, road warriors get a better booking experience with more options if they book with an airline directly. In our industry’s quest to solve this problem, 2020 is going to be a consequential year. Let’s make sure we’re not just window dressing. Let’s make our new distribution capabilities solid, stable and speedy. And let’s make sure they come with enough “N” and “C” to make it interesting to corporate buyers. 

Let’s forget about more lipstick for a while and make this the year for less pig.

Disclosure: IATA is paying The Company Dime to write an extensive research paper on NDC.


Related
Explainer: IATA’s New Distribution Capability
Op Ed: Jeff Klee On The Industry Fiddling With NDC While Rome Burns
Op Ed: Jeff Klee On Babies, Bathwater And TMCs
United Wants To Grow Its Clutch Of Alternative Distribution Options With NDC-Compliant Corporate Bundles For Concur Users
Lufthansa Outlines NDC Benefits, And Non-NDC Detriments, For TMCs In Road Show
Applying Variable Fee On NDC Bookings, Egencia To Access Lufthansa ‘Light’ Fares
NDC’s Upshot: Altered TMCs, Evolved Air Deals

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Jeff Klee

Author: Jeff Klee

AmTrav CEO Jeff Klee is a self-described computer geek who developed and sold his first video game at the age of 13. In college, he and a buddy got a crash course in the intricacies of the airline business while planning their own backpacking trip and later decided to use that know-how to help others save money on airfares. What was first known as 1-800-Cheap-Air was founded out of a University of Michigan dorm room in 1989. When the company took off, Jeff ditched his law school plans for a far more exciting journey, combining two passions — travel and software development. CheapAir.com was born, and soon after AmTrav for Business, which together serve almost 400,000 travelers annually. Jeff grew up in Los Angeles. He still lives there with his wife, two young kids, and golden retriever, none of whom, when the Dodgers are losing, want to be anywhere near him. Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
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