How are travel advisors managing American Airlines' NDC? Takeaways from week one

As expected, American began its new NDC strategy by withholding basic economy fares from the legacy GDS. But the carrier has also removed many higher-end fares. 

In addition, NDC servicing shortcomings within Sabre are causing some agencies to book away from American or to at least steer clear of the carrier’s NDC-supported fares. 

American had telegraphed that basic economy fares would be removed from legacy GDS platforms when the airline implemented its NDC plan. 

But in an analysis early this week, travel advisor Brett Snyder, who pens the Cranky Flier blog, found that the carrier for the most part has also removed its lower-priced first-class fare buckets from legacy GDS platforms and appears to have blocked many refundable fare offerings in the legacy channel. 

One example, provided by Terry Conrad, a corporate travel consultant for Texas-based DCM Elite Travel Planners, illustrates and backs up Snyder’s findings. A one-way flight search from New York LaGuardia to Chicago O’Hare returned NDC results beginning with $159 for basic economy. Refundable economy tickets were available via NDC for $229. First-class tickets were available for $305. 

Within the traditional GDS for that same trip, basic economy seats weren’t offered, and the cheapest standard economy fare at the time was $179. Refundable economy tickets started at $465. First-class tickets started at $484. 

American’s initial choices about which fares are NDC-only could already be undergoing adjustment, since the airline is able to tweak its offerings at any time. 

Still, Snyder’s analysis provides insight to the types of changes American made as it began its NDC transition on April 3. Snyder conducted the analysis mostly by looking at each nonstop that the carrier flies out of its Phoenix hub, with travel dates fixed for September. He also reviewed a selection of routes from O’Hare, where American and United both have hubs, to verify that Phoenix pattern more or less held true.

Along with withholding basic economy in the legacy GDS, he detected a pattern that American was withholding its lowest-level economy fare buckets in cases when NDC tickets were priced below a certain threshold. Roughly, Snyder said that threshold was $170 for flights of under 1,000 miles and $220 for longer flights. 

For refundable economy fares, Snyder found that the lowest prices in the traditional GDS channel were higher on every route than via NDC. Differences were often several hundred dollars. The pattern was similar for first-class seats from Phoenix. 

In an interview, Snyder said he is confused by American’s approach. He thought the carrier might make low fares more available in the legacy GDS on particularly competitive routes. But, at least initially, American didn’t appear to be doing so.

“It’s sloppy, first of all,” he said. “You think of competitive dynamics, where they benefit by making lower fares more available. They didn’t account for any of it.”

Advisors say Sabre has very limited capability

Prices aside, Snyder said his Cranky Concierge, a Sabre-connected agency, is largely steering clear of American NDC bookings for now due to lack of servicing functionality and encouraging clients to book elsewhere. 

Ahead of the rollout, Sabre said it would have servicing, exchange and seat selection enabled from the get-go for single-passenger bookings, though servicing capability would be delayed until June or July on multi-passenger bookings. 

Snyder said that despite what Sabre says, he hasn’t been able to obtain seat assignments on single-passenger bookings and while seat assignments can be obtained on individual bookings, they don’t show up in passenger name records. 

Travel Weekly sought a request for comment from Sabre on Friday afternoon. 

Conrad said that Elite Travel Planners, which is Sabre-connected, also isn’t working yet with American NDC content due to shortcomings in servicing capability. She noted that the company is supportive of an NDC transition for the industry and that it has trained agents for the transition to the best of its ability, considering what she described as the limited information provided by American and Sabre. 

Conrad delineated a number of servicing shortcomings on American NDC content within Sabre.

For example, she said, only one change can made per booking, after which changes must be made either online or via phone. 

Another problem, she said, is that Elite Travel Planners has not received guidance on managing schedule changes and reaccommodating travelers within Sabre. Doing so manually, she said, is not practical, since the agency manages hundreds of schedule changes per week. 

“We are currently not booking on NDC until we get the solutions that we need in order to manage the booking,” Conrad said. “We are advising our agents that if they want to book their clients on web fares, they can do it online.”

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