Travel Booking Engines: Types, Functionality, and Integrations

Image for post
Image for post

A booking engine fuels the distribution of travel products online. Without this software component, you can neither sell nor buy airline tickets or hotel reservations through the Internet.

Trip-related companies employ different types of booking engines to run core processes instead of human personnel. Let’s explore what they actually can do and how their functions and tasks vary across travel businesses.

Internet booking engine: its key functionality and main integrations

Image for post
Image for post
How a travel booking engine works.

By customer interfaces we mean a travel provider’s website, mobile application, or chatbot that links with a booking engine via an API layer, enabling consumers to search and book flights, hotel rooms, holiday packages, insurance, and other travel products.

The key systems on the suppliers’ side are:

A booking engine connects to these systems through travel APIs to search products relevant to a customer’s query, check their availability, get prices, and, finally, make a booking — or, in other words, inform the system that a particular product is reserved for a particular date by a particular customer. After the system confirms the reservation, the booking is considered complete. Finally, the IBE generates a confirmation document with reservation details and emails it to a customer.

Key features

Travel content mapping. When booking engines extract information from multiple channels (which is usually the case), they inevitably face the problem of duplication in search results. It happens because of data inconsistency across different suppliers — GDSs, bed banks, consolidators, hotels, etc. So, the same room or other inventory may be listed under several different names. To resolve this issue, booking engines have to process inventory lists with built-in or external mapping tools.

Dynamic packaging. It allows a customer to combine different travel products — flights, rooms, car rentals, attractions — within the same booking flow.

Integrations with payment gateways. A booking engine doesn’t process reservation payments. To enable secure, online transactions during the booking process, it integrates with multiple payment gateways. Upon selection of a travel item from the returned search results, the IBE redirects a customer to a payment gateway.

Multi-language support. Considering that many travel businesses sell their services globally or, at least, across several countries, they need to accept and process queries in different languages.

Booking management. It includes the ability to modify reservations like changing dates, adding extra products after booking, and making cancellations.

Core differences

  • Customized business rules. Among other things, business rules define where exactly a booking engine makes its search and how it prioritizes results displayed for a consumer.
  • Pricing rules. Usually, they are set and tweaked by a revenue manager or other expert who decides on service fees charged on top of net prices.
  • Suppliers a booking engine works with. Each of them has its own business logic and specifics that influence the internal workflow.
  • Additional functionality and customizations. As there is no limit to perfection, any average booking engine has to be fine-tuned to meet the needs of a particular company.

Since booking engines are not created equal, in the next sections, we’ll explore how IBEs vary based on

  • business model (B2C, B2B, and B2E),
  • type of a travel company (direct supplier or reseller), and
  • specifics of products offered (flights, hotels, car rentals, etc.).

IBE business models: B2C, B2B and B2E

Image for post
Image for post
Sales channels in travel product distribution.

B2C booking engines for OTAs and leisure travelers

  • mobile-friendly UI,
  • integrated shopping cart,
  • promotion of travel products based on a passenger’s search and booking history, and
  • notifications sent to the client upon the booking confirmation.

B2B booking engines for wholesalers and OTAs

  • flexible mark-up and commission settings,
  • ability to make bookings without instant payments, within a credit limit, and
  • generating PDF documents for booking confirmation with a reseller’s logo.

B2B clients — smaller agencies — reach GDSs using credentials of the IBE’s owner (host agency), and this way save on the expensive contracts. They also don’t need to spend money on the ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) or IATA accreditation authorizing companies to issue flight tickets. The host agency will do it on the client’s behalf.

Corporate or B2E booking engines for TMCs and business travelers

Multi-channel booking engines

No matter the business model, IBEs for direct travel suppliers (airlines and hotels) will differ from those for travel middlemen — consolidators, OTAs, DMCs, and other third-party distributors.

Booking engines for direct suppliers

Air / flight booking engines

  • connects to bed banks, hotels, GDSs and other travel suppliers to combine flights with third-party products;
  • allows passengers to choose seats;
  • offers ancillaries during the booking process;
  • customizes a booking flow and deals based on a client’s data; and
  • supports frequent flyer programs.

The crucial feature to seek in a flight booking engine and the whole airline IT system is NDC connectivity. It enables carriers to deliver rich content about their products and sell flights and ancillaries directly to multiple travel companies, omitting mediation of GDSs. Here’s the list of providers with NDC-enabled IBEs for airlines.

  • ISO Software Systems developed its SKYfly Sell booking engine in accordance with IATA NDC 4 level and ONE Order standards.
  • InteRES presents a PSS-agnostic Airline Retail Engine that also enables airlines to uncover the potential of NDC and ONE Order.
  • Pribas’s AirBroker Airline Distribution Platform, based on One Order concepts, includes a booking component to sell flights, ancillaries and third-party products.
  • Airlines Technology (AT) pairs its B2B booking engine with a PSS adapter that converts all offers generated by the PSS into NDC-compliant standards. The booking engine integrates with OTAs, TMCs, and other IATA and non-IATA resellers, creating a direct distribution network.
Image for post
Image for post
A PSS adapter and B2B booking engine by Airlines Technology (AT) enable airlines to tap their legacy software into the NDC ecosystem.

Hotel booking engines

The main purpose of the hotel IBE is to capture and process direct online reservations, coming from a hotel’s website. Other important functions of the hotel booking engine are:

  • integrating and syncing with the hotel’s social media pages;
  • cross-selling (promoting extra services) at the time of booking;
  • managing discount and promo codes;
  • displaying best available rates against prices available on OTAs; and
  • sending emails — confirmation, pre-arrival, and post-departure.

There are many providers of hotel software offering a booking engine as a separate module that can be integrated into an existing PMS or website, including:

  • Beds24 (best fit for small-to-mid-size hotels, B&Bs, hostels),
  • SiteMinder (for hotels of different sizes, from small hostels to giant hotel chains),
  • InnQuest (for hotels from five to 5000 rooms),
  • Clock (for medium-sized and large properties and hotel groups),
  • HotelRunner (for small hotels. hostels, villas, B&Bs), and
  • NetAffinity (for independent hoteliers).

Booking engines for travel resellers

Similar to IBEs for suppliers, engines designed for middlemen can use one of three business models (B2C, B2B, B2E) or combine them, applying different settings and offering different conditions for users from each category.

Depending on the products provided, IBEs for travel companies fall into the following categories:

  • flight booking engines communicating with GDSs, air consolidators, low-cost carriers (LCCs) and other air providers via flight APIs;
  • hotel booking engines using different hotel APIs to reach GDSs, bed banks, global travel marketplaces, and hotel extranets for directly negotiated contracts with hotels;
  • car booking engines linking to different car rental APIs;
  • transfer booking engines with access to bus and rail booking APIs;
  • cruise booking engines integrated with river and ocean cruise lines as well as with cruise consolidators;
  • activities / sightseeing booking engines working with tour and attraction providers; and
  • compound booking engines, combining several products.

Most OTAs and tour operators employ compound booking engines, enabling their customers to buy the entire trip in one place. But small agencies can start with one module — say, air booking — and then add hotels, cars, and other components as the business grows.

Building complex booking engines from the ground up can take months and years. However, travel companies may significantly cut time to market for their online projects by using existing solutions, customizable for specific requirements. Here’s what AltexSoft and other travel software providers can offer to OTAs, tour operators, and other resellers right now.

Image for post
Image for post
Ready-to-use booking engines and travel platforms from leading travel solution providers.

Travel search and booking platform by AltexSoft

The booking platform comes with a website featuring navigation elements, a drop-down calendar, and a text-based chatbot. Its minimalist design can be adjusted for a particular brand and its specific requirements.

BlazeBE booking engine by IT4T Solutions

IRIX booking engine by DCS+

Image for post
Image for post
IRIX integrations and supported business models.

Clients can integrate the booking engine with their own websites, third-party white label solutions or branded DCS+ software for tour operators, DMCs, TMCs, OTAs, professional conference organizers (PCOs), and other travel businesses. The company also offers a content mapping tool that integrates with IRIS or a client’s booking engine.

Booking engine modules by KEYforTravel

Booking engine modules by Odysseus Solutions

Image for post
Image for post
Odysseus offers their clients to combine different travel products via an optional packaging engine.

Travel portals by TraveloPro

Custom solutions: if none of the options is perfect enough

Our long-standing client, a US-based OTA selling flights, hotels, vacations, and other travel products worldwide, had issues with its old booking engine. The module had a clunky interface and was technically outdated which made the entire booking process somewhat cumbersome. AltexSoft completely redesigned the IBE’s frontend and backend. Among other things, we integrated the booking engine with Amadeus GDS and added the Amadeus Master Pricer feature, enabling website users to see predicted fares while searching for flights.

Another OTA headquartered in the USA asked us to revamp their flight search module which was the core of their online business. Our experts upgraded key search algorithms, which boosted the efficiency of the engine. It was estimated that the quality of results grew by 70 percent while the quantity increased by 60 percent.

A large OTA needed to implement flight search, flight status, and flight information widgets on their website. After studying the architecture and functionality of the existing platform, the AltexSoft team designed dynamic elements fitting into the original style of the website. Our engineers also built the backend of the solution, having integrated widgets with several data sources containing information on routes, airlines, ratings, and flight status.

Enhancing regular booking with data-driven tools

Our data scientists processed millions of search results from Fareboom’s booking engine to study fluctuation in airfare prices over the past several years. Based on revealed patterns, they built a predictive algorithm, that is constantly improved through machine learning. The smart predictor significantly increased the OTA’s website conversion.

IBE for new adopters: how to go online

Use a white label solution. White label solutions are ready-to-use travel booking platforms that can be customized to reflect the unique look and feel of a particular brand. They fit the needs of small companies with no resources for building complex systems and legacy travel businesses feeling the urgent need to bring their business online as quickly as possible. The major drawbacks center around a dependence on the white label solution provider regarding adding new features or integrations.

Integrate your existing website with a SaaS booking engine. Companies who already run a website and use specific software systems have an option to integrate software-as-a-service booking engine solutions into their interfaces in the form of widgets. As a rule, SaaS software providers carry out maintenance and deliver support services. The downside is that your options will be restricted to features and integrations of the selected booking engine.

Integrate your existing website with content aggregator APIs. Rather than connecting with each travel supplier separately, you may use travel APIs aggregating content from hundreds of sources. For example, Direct Connect XML API by TravelFusion gives you access to content from 240+ airlines via a single touch point. “In this scenario, you use TravelFusion’s booking engine,” Andrey Chebotarev explains. “But you need help from tech experts to provide integration with your system and design a part of a booking engine module that will be built into your website.”

Develop a unique booking engine on top of a ready-made solution with basic functionality. If you seek the highest level of flexibility and customization, we recommend that you build your project on top of an existing minimalistic program module and connect it with the particular travel providers, omitting excess integrations. This way you’ll reach the golden mean between uniqueness and practicability.

Originally published at AltexSoft tech blog “Travel Booking Engines: Types, Functionality, and Integrations

Written by

Being a Technology & Solution Consulting company, AltexSoft co-builds technology products to help companies accelerate growth.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store