Travel engine sites let feds book tickets themselves

Travel engine sites let feds book tickets themselves

At government conference, vendors demo apps that they say are driving travel planning to PDAs

By Susan M. Menke

GCN Staff

Vendors of self-booking travel engines demonstrated their wares for federal travel managers at a conference last month in Alexandria, Va.

These online programs are turning federal road warriors loose on some of the Web's most complex transactions, travel agents said.

Travel booking is 'all driving down to the personal digital assistant,' one speaker said. But agents in the audience cautioned that unfamiliarity with the intricacies of ticketing could lead to botched reservations, duplicate tickets, high transaction costs and other travel trouble.

Many agencies, including the Defense and Transportation departments, are working on electronic travel management systems with browser interfaces.

The conference, for members of the Society of Government Travel Professionals, featured four of a burgeoning number of Web engines for air, hotel, train and car reservations:

• from TRX Inc. of Oelwein, Iowa
• from GetThere Inc. of Menlo Park, Calif.
• Sabre Business Travel Solutions from Sabre Inc. of Southlake, Texas
• Worldspan Trip Manager for Government from Worldspan LP of Atlanta.

An agency can set its own log-in policies and travel rules on a Web engine, said Fedtrip's Inga Patrick, whose company currently provides a self-booking engine for the Federal Aviation Administration.

All aboard

Trip templates simplify following an agency's procedures for similar trips, she said. Ticketing, although confirmed online, must still be done by a travel agent.

'An education process has to occur,' she said in response to an audience member's comment that turning the boss' bookings over to him might lead to 37 duplicate reservations with a transaction fee for each.

The amenities of self-booking, besides comprehensive searches of what's available within 30 seconds to three minutes, include preference profiles for frequent travelers and seating plans of aircraft, Patrick said.

'You can change and add to an itinerary even after it's ticketed,' she said.

Self-booking transaction fees run about $4 to $6 per individual record, the companies said.

GetThere's Gerry Epstein said her company's engine, used by American Express and Northwest Airlines, does 25,000 unassisted transactions per day and can be configured to an agency's specific requirements using 800 software toggles.

Each field office could tailor its site to hang off the agency's umbrella site, she said.

All of the agency's field office data would be rolled up globally at the end of the day.

The GetThere software can book as many as nine people simultaneously and can handle up to 15 legs of an itinerary, she said.

Many of the new travel sites on the Web can arrange for split ticketing, such as two weeks of government travel broken up by a weekend of personal travel.

Aways up

Some speakers claimed 99 percent or 100 percent uptime for their sites, plus archiving of agency travel records and hyperlinks to military or civilian policy sites.

Some said the only user training necessary was several days' instruction for a central administrator.

Sabre's Matt Beck said his site guarantees user satisfaction and would push an agency's airfare prices down 15 percent.

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