Picture this: You sign into a travel metasearch site, where it may know your zip code, gender, e-mail address and preferred alliances, and after conducting a flight query, an airline may return offers for free Wi-Fi, reduced rates for premium seats and bag fees, or perhaps an upgrade, all personalized for you.
Airlines have done a bunch to make personalized offers to their own loyalty program members through email marketing and some pledge to do likewise through direct-connects, but now they are pushing to take what they term "traveler authentication" to metasearch sites, where perhaps they can attract new customers and more efficient bookings.
The effort is all part of a new Open AXIS Group committee dubbed the Customer-Centric Meta-Search Working Group, which is being sponsored by flight and hotel metasearch company Hipmunk and has additional participation commitments from American Airlines, Air Canada, US Airways, United Airlines, Skyscanner, MindTree, Goldenware Travel Technologies and others.
"Hipmunk is the lead-sled dog on this and could get some first-mover advantage," says Jim Young, executive director of the airline XML standards group, Open AXIS.
If tasking airlines and metasearch companies with the seemingly complex task of serving up personalized airline offers to travelers seems like pie-in-the sky, then Young counters that the organization already has been working on the initiative for a few months and hopes to see a beta in place with a couple of airlines and a metasearch company by March 2012.
The way Young envisions it, metasearch companies would furnish airlines with their users' profile information -- assuming consumers okayed such data-sharing -- and then airlines would provide consumers with personalized offers for amenities or ancillary services, perhaps based on their zip codes or other data.
"Large carriers are getting carpet-bombed for search requests and they are not able to bring back anything, but the lowest fare," Young says, adding they would love to have more information about who's asking them for information so they can provide more relevant results and engage in more effective merchandising.
With such personalized merchandising, metasearch companies, such as allied members Hipmunk or Skyscanner, would benefit from increased conversions, Young says. Kayak is not part of Open AXIS and so far is not participating in the standards effort.
Asked about the initiative, John Gustafson, US Airways' managing director of e-commerce and distribution, says, "We support traveler authentication, or more simply, delivering relevant products to customers at the right time."
And, a spokeswoman for American Airlines confirmed it is "interested" in the working group and will indeed participate.
Young says the working group would create XML standards to accommodate traveler authentication for airline queries in metasearch, but that wouldn't be where the heavy lifting would take place , and would amount to perhaps 20% to 40% of the group's efforts. The XML standards would be published when completed.
However, the main focus of the working group would be on coming up with the business requirements for airlines and metasearch players to bring the proposition to life, Young adds, noting that deciding on how each airline would be able to merchandise their products would be high on the agenda.
Hipmunk, which is sponsoring the working group, "hasn't decided on any particular products that would use personalized queries and certainly hasn't decided on any timing," says Adam Goldstein, Hipmunk co-founder. "The purpose of our attendance is to help understand what's possible and then help formulate things that will make an even better experience for our users."
This personalization push will be a key future direction, Goldstein says.
"We think personalized travel search is going to be increasingly important," Goldstein says. "There's no sense in showing people options that aren't relevant to them and that we know they'd never want to take. That's been our philosophy since the beginning and why we sort by 'Agony' to provide the best options. However, it's relied entirely on business logic on our end. We look forward to potentially integrating what our users tell us they want with the APIs of our suppliers."
Sounds like traveler data could be replacing business logic as a more effective and personalized marketing tack.