Seldom does a company issue a press release and then refuse all comment about it, but this was the case today with Priceline's announcement that it had reached a milestone in its 6-month-old deployment of American Airlines Direct Connect.
The milestone? Priceline says it is now booking "more than 1,000" tickets per day using AA Direct Connect, which comes through subcontractor Farelogix.
While Priceline's global distribution partners, including Sabre, having been blasting AA Direct Connect as an inefficient fragmentation tool and untested technology, Priceline quietly began to take American Airlines' bookings through via direct-connect in the fourth quarter of 2010.
And, those "more than 1,000" tickets being transacted per day now are a lot of tickets. (And the number may be considerably more 1,000 daily.)
On an annualized basis, those 1,000 tickets per day would add up to 365,000 tickets per year, which would be around 6% of the 5.9 million airline tickets that Priceline.com sold in 2010.
It is interesting to note that all of those 5.9 million airline tickets were sold by Priceline.com. None of the Priceline Group's international subsidiaries, including Booking.com, Agoda and TravelJigsaw, sell flights.
As stated, Priceline refused to provide further comment about its press release.
But, according to sources, Priceline is in the process of transitioning all of its American Airlines ticket sales -- including retail, opaque and vacation package sales -- away from the GDS and into AA Direct Connect.
And, American Airlines' annual ticket sales through Priceline approach one million tickets, the source says.
That means when Priceline has fully transitioned to AA Direct Connect, then this controversial technology could account for nearly 17% of Priceline's air ticket sales, including retail, packages and Name Your Own Price.
That's an impressive volume, signifying scalability, and it's coming through an XML technology that some argued hadn't worked the kinks out yet.
So why did Priceline issue a press release and then clam up about it?
One theory given credence is that the two parties had an agreement calling for a public statement once a certain level of ticketing through the direct-connect had been reached.
American Airlines, after all, is trying to get other travel agencies to sign up and it's anxious to prove that direct-connect is viable and efficient.
Another notion making the rounds is that Priceline wanted to trumpet what now looks like a watershed event given Sabre's court statement implying American Airlines had been forced to agree to use AA Direct Connect.
In its June 1 federal complaint against American Airlines, Sabre stated:
Priceline, one of the largest OTAs in the country, has accepted AA’s tie of AA Direct Connect to access and book AA’s Complete Fare Information—despite having a preference for using the GDS systems to access and book AA fares. Priceline indicated to Sabre that AA Direct Connect is inefficient and that Priceline would prefer not to use it. But Priceline nevertheless was forced to use AA Direct Connect in order to get access to critical AA fare information.
Ryan Mikolasik, a spokesman for American Airlines, labels as "baseless" the implication that the airline forced Priceline into using AA Direct Connect.
American Airlines has indicated that its full content may not be available through the GDSs in the future because of the uncertain resolution GDS negotiations later this summer, and that agencies should use direct-connect if they want to ensure access to that content, Mikolasik says.
Another theory about the reasoning behind Priceline's announcement is that its direct-connect volumes might be considered a material change to its business. On the other hand, if that were the case, there likely would have to be a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, as well. As of now, there has been no such filing.
Whether or not Priceline's use of AA Direct Connect constitutes a material change to Priceline's business at this juncture could probably be debated.
But, this much is clear: That two-sentence Priceline press release, as the headline indicated, indeed amounts to a "ticketing milestone."