Two years ago, Howard Klepser figured it was in his agency`s best interest to develop a corporate self-booking tool that could search fares in the CRS and on the Internet.
“It was obvious the airlines were developing corporate-oriented, Web fare programs,” said Klepser, owner of Innovative Travel in St. Louis, an agency with $50 million in annual sales.
“We wanted to be able to go to our clients and tell them we could find the best fare.”
The return on Klepser`s investment in technology is Fare Weasel, which simultaneously searches the CRS, consumer Web sites and airline Web sites for domestic fare requests.
“We`ve invested a pile of money, and we`ve financed all of the development quarter-by-quarter over the past two years,” Klepser said. “If we didn`t spend the money, where were we going to be? Where does our place in the distribution system reside?”
He said the type of search and booking technology his company has developed cannot be purchased.
According to Klepser, Fare Weasel can consider as many as 1,500 fares during a search, narrowing that number to a more digestible selection through a process called database leveling.
Upon completion of a search, which lasts about two minutes, the traveler can sort the results according to their chosen criteria—lowest fare, closest to specified departure time or airline.
If the company has a negotiated rate that might be applied to the search request, that option also will be listed, Klepser said. If a traveler chooses a fare found on a Web site, he or she is sent an e-mail that lists any unique restrictions and asks for a reconfirmation of the ticket purchase.
In addition, if a traveler chooses a Web fare when he or she also has the option of choosing a negotiated rate, Klepser said Fare Weasel does an automated comparison based on travel-policy specifications loaded into the system.
For example, a firm might require a traveler to use the negotiated rate unless the Web fare is $75 cheaper. If the Web fare is only $25 cheaper, the traveler will not be allowed to buy it.
When an approved Web fare is chosen, the request is routed to Innovative Travel. An agent then visits the appropriate site and executes the booking.
Innovative Travel employs a group of agents dedicated to Fare Weasel bookings from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays.
Some clients have asked to book during nonoffice hours, but Klepser said he isn`t willing to involve the overnight help desk in the quality-control process. So when clients make a purchase request overnight, the request resides in the system until an agent can complete the booking the next day.
Because Fare Weasel is integrated with Innovative Travel`s data system, Klepser noted, even if the client purchases a fare found on a consumer Web site, there will be a record in the agency`s profile database.
Therefore, when a business traveler calls an agent to make itinerary changes from the road, he said, the agent will be able to assist him no matter what type of fare he bought on Fare Weasel.
Klepser said 18 clients are using Fare Weasel, and six more are implementing the system.
Paula Holt, travel manager with St. Louis-based CCA Global—parent company of several retail carpet stores—said about half the company`s bookings are executed via Fare Weasel.
Holt added she particularly likes the Weasel Watch feature, which enables her to enter a date and desired fare. During a three-week period, the system searches for the fare, and if it is found, the user is alerted by e-mail.
Holt said the feature is handy when the firm sends a group of travelers to a meeting and wants to hold down costs. Shelly Garris, travel manager for St. Louis-based Fleischmann`s Yeast, said Fare Weasel is user-friendly.
“I like that we have the Southwest [Airlines] option,” Garris said. “Before, we had to call Innovative or visit Southwest.com, but Fare Weasel saves a lot of time, having it all right there.”
Klepser said Innovative Travel charges $5 for bookings on Fare Weasel and $10 for traditional bookings. Clients are not charged an implementation or maintenance fee.