Air Canada on Wednesday unveiled its NDC strategy. Travel agencies will have access to NDC content in four ways, and Edifact bookings in the GDSs will carry a surcharge starting June 14 of around $20 to $30.

The carrier is incentivizing travel agencies to book via an Air Canada NDC API or with select technology partners with a $2 payment per flight coupon.

During a media event, Air Canada executives said the carrier had worked closely with its travel agency partners in developing its NDC program, and their feedback was important in its creation.

“Transformation sounds great, but there’s a lot of different ways to undertake transformation. And sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes it’s smooth,” said Mark Nasr, senior vice president of products, marketing and e-commerce for Air Canada. “Our No. 1 goal with this transformation is to do it in a way that is smooth and not unnecessarily disruptive for the trade and for our joint customers.”

American Airlines made headlines earlier this month when it began its own NDC strategy, removing a number of fares from GDS Edifact channels despite a request from ASTA to hold off on the plan until the end of the year.

“Different airlines have different strategies for different reasons,” Nasr said. “I wouldn’t dare comment on any one in particular, but a critical kind of lens that we took to our entire program is to ensure that we undertake it in a way that does not result in disruption for the trade community.”

Travel agencies will have access to Air Canada’s NDC content in four places: through its Air Canada NDC API, through technology providers, via the Air Canada Connex desktop system and within the Amadeus GDS, starting June 14. Air Canada said it is in talks with other technology partners, including the other GDSs.

The $2 incentive on bookings made via the Air Canada NDC API or through technology partners will roll out in Canada on June 14, and the incentive will remain in place for at least 18 months, said Keith Wallis, senior director of distribution and payments for Air Canada. Wallis said the carrier is planning to offer the incentive in countries beyond Canada, including the U.S., with dates to be announced.

In addition to the coupon, a Distribution Cost Recovery (DCR) charge will also go into effect on June 14 on all tickets issued globally via GDS Edifact channels. It will not be applied to bookings made via any NDC connection options, including NDC content in the GDS, Air Canada said. While the DCR’s cost will vary based on several factors, it will average $20 to $30 per ticket.

Wallis said Air Canada has been using NDC technology for years, but its previous uses weren’t a fit for travel agents. Under the new program, advisors will have access to the most comprehensive Air Canada content, he said. It opens up some content that has only been available via direct channels, like promotional codes, Air Canada for Business offers, domestic basic fares and best available seat inventory. 

The end goal, Nasr said, is to put the same technology in agents’ hands that Air Canada has.

“If we’re really going to elevate the customer experience, it’s not just about delivering better tools and better products and services directly at Air Canada,” he said. “A critical part of it is ensuring that the trade community is empowered with all the same information, access to benefits and tools that our own internal employees have.”

Air Canada named a number of agencies that have begun implementing NDC connectivity, and have been working with the carrier on the program: Priceline, Flight Centre, Fareportal, Flighthub, Hopper, Maritime Travel, Skylink Voyages and Travix.

Nasr pointed to a number of things that Air Canada cannot support, or cannot support well, through the trade because of legacy technology that “hasn’t materially changed since the 1980s.” For instance, the ability to book and service Flight Pass reservations within the GDS is limited, and promotional codes cannot be supported via GDS.

Wallis said Flight Pass reservations will be available via NDC later this summer. Also coming to NDC channels is access to Air Canada’s continuous pricing.

“Here’s the fundamental bottom line here: We are already too far in terms of the gap between the capabilities that agencies have today, and the capabilities we want travel agencies to have,” Nasr said. “And that gap is only going to grow in the future much more substantially if we don’t do something about it now, because we are at the tipping point of a series of new methodologies in revenue management and pricing.”

Wallis said Air Canada is investing in new support resources for travel agencies using NDC as well as a clear escalation procedure when they encounter issues, 24/7 monitoring of the system and near real-time system status reports via a dedicated web page.

“What you see here is a first step,” Wallis said. “There is a long list of plans about new content and innovative new products that we want to bring to market enabled by NDC technology. We’re taking a very cautious and deliberate approach here.”  


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