Airline Flight Booking APIs: GDSs, Specialized Data Providers, OTAs, and Metasearch Engines
IATA’s recent passenger survey reports reveal interesting data about traveler preferences: International travel accounts for 64 percent of all airline traffic with Asia-Pacific, African, Latin American, and Middle Eastern regions experiencing a rise in demand. Besides that, passengers are expecting advanced booking functionalities, including bag tracking, notifications, flight status updates, and info about leg space. So, if you’re building an OTA, a booking app, or website, you should consider giving your customers access to as much useful information as possible and looking for tools that enable these integrations. If you’ve researched travel connectivity for a while, you might have seen our huge overview of travel APIs. However, in this article and an accompanying infographic, we’ll focus on sources for flight data and describe only flight distribution APIs.
How does airline distribution work?
Airlines, as well as other forms of transportation and hotels, are improving their distribution strategy by using global distribution systems (GDSs). Travel agents, online travel agencies, or booking platforms need access to airline data to distribute tickets among the travelers – and they receive it from a plethora of sources. The minimal data required for distribution and booking are:
- Inventory (available seats)
This information is collected and stored in a GDS, a third-party network with real-time access to such information. GDSs first appeared in 1978 and have been providing the opportunity to check the information about inventory and book seats for a particular flight. To aggregate this data, GDSs connect to an airline computer reservation system (CRS) on one side. On the other side, a GDS connects to a travel agent’s terminal, an OTA, app, or a website via API.
How GDS distribution works
The three leading GDSs are Sabre, Amadeus, and Travelport. Also there are smaller regional GDSs like Travelsky (China), KIU System (Latin America), Sirena-Travel (Russia), Axess and Infini from Japan, and more.
When a travel agency or a flight search app requires a GDS connection, they need a solution to connect their software with it. For this purpose, Application Programming Interface or API exists. An API is a medium between different software products, which links them without interfering with the source code. Besides flight APIs, there are car rental or hotel booking APIs that can be integrated into a website so that the visitors could connect to third-party services without switching between websites. Flight APIs works the same way: You can integrate them into your website or app for a fee and provide your users with the opportunity to book flights and access different flight data.
We can divide flight distribution APIs into three groups depending on their providers: GDSs, tech providers, and metasearch engines or OTAs. These providers have different business models and sets of features that we’ll discuss in the next sections of the article.
GDS APIs for full booking capabilities: Amadeus, Sabre, Travelport, and others
APIs provided by the GDSs usually charge for integration and per request, asking for commission for each booking that way made from the point of integration. Now, let’s look at these APIs and their functionality.
Amadeus GDS is the largest distribution system that connects users to over 700 airlines for seat and cargo reservation. It also integrates with Sabre and Travelport GDSs.
Via its GDS, Amadeus provides an application for business booking Amadeus cytric Travel & Expense, an app that allows users to search and book flights via mobile, and Amadeus Air-Rail Display for real-time booking for both rail and air travel. As the world’s largest GDS, Amadeus provides a huge number of booking APIs that are available in two sets: Enterprise and Self-service.
Enterprise APIs provide all transportation types, hotels, and ancillary services reservation, as well as the payments. This set of APIs is available for production needs. Enterprise APIs work in REST/JSON and SOAP/XML formats. The flight API allows users to:
- Find fares
- Access flight info
- Book ancillary services (including travel insurance)
- Pay for tickets
- Get utilities information
- Receive a sales report
Also these APIs have customer profiles and queue management solutions. There also are several APIs for every type of distribution, either for booking or information retrieval – suitable only for displaying flight schedules and the lowest fares. The pricing of Enterprise APIs is available on request and depends upon client’s needs.
Self-Service APIs serve for testing and production purposes. These APIs provide access to cached information on flights, schedules, fares, hotels, and points of interest at the destination. The last feature was developed recently and displays ranked data about the places of interest. Self-Service APIs use REST/JSON messaging standards.
This set offers a limited number of free requests in a testing environment. If APIs are used in the production environment, each request is charged from approximately €0.0025 to €0.030.
Pyton Flight Portal API
The Pyton Flight Portal is a part of the Amadeus IT Group. It provides two solutions, embracing both flights and leisure reservation.
Pyton Flight Portal API/XML is a solution focused on low-cost carriers. It provides direct connections to 100+ low-cost airlines worldwide. The functions of the API are:
- One way and round trip support
- Various types of payments (credit and debit card, virtual payment)
- Ancillary services booking (luggage, speed-boarding and airport check-in)
- Fares and seat selection
- Low-costs flights cached data
Pyton Leisure Portal API/XML is also available as a white label with integration to a website, call center, or a travel agency module. This API is available as a custom solution. This module has the following functionality:
- Flight booking on regular airlines, low-cost airlines, and charters
- Accommodation reservation (hotels, villas, cottages, apartments, and hostels)
- Transfers and car rental of different types and classes
- Event tickets booking
- Package tours booking
Unlike Amadeus API, it provides no travel insurance bookings and has no scheduling functionality.
Sabre GDS gives access to 400 airlines. It provides a B2B solution via Sabre Red 360, an online travel platform for agencies, providers, and developers that allows customers to access the whole set of services to book. In 2015, Sabre bought Abacus, the leading GDS in Asia, with headquarters in Singapore. It is now owned by Sabre and eleven Asian airlines. The GDS has the largest access to data from airlines, including Chinese and low-cost, and hotels in Asia-Pacific region.
Sabre is the second largest GDS and has an API set similar to Amadeus’ without offering insurance and airport transfers. Sabre APIs use SOAP/REST messaging formats. The APIs enable data retrieval and booking. They cover:
- Flight schedules and availability
- Queue activity
- PRN records
- Mileage count
- Flight details
- Ancillary booking
- Low-fare history
- Low-fare forecast (available in a beta version)
- Passenger details
- Seat map
The price of Sabre API is available on request.
Travelport is an international platform that unites three GDSs: Galileo, Apollo, and Worldspan. As Amadeus and Sabre, it provides the data on flights, trains, hotel, cruises, and car rental. Worldspan also distributes travel information and tour packages.
Since 2012 Travelport has cooperated with AXESS International Network, a leading Japanese GDS network, created and owned by Japanese Airlines (JAL), which uses Travelport API for flight distribution. Recently the companies announced the launch of a new joint venture company that’s expected to be formed by the June 1, 2019.
Travelport provides access to all its GDSs via a single Travelport Universal API. This API uses XML messaging format. It books flights from American, European, African, Asian, and Middle Eastern airlines. The Travelport Universal API booking functionality of covers:
- Flights (branded fares and schedules)
- Connected routes (air and rail)
- Ancillary services booking
Ancillary services available for booking differ depending on airlines. but include baggage, meals, and travel insurance. Travelport charges an annual fee for Universal API use. The fee is available on request.
Mystifly is an Asian GDS with data aggregated from over 750 airlines, including over 200 low-cost carriers. It operates in 80 countries across Asia, Australia, Africa, Middle East, and North and South America.
Mystifly offers MyFareBox OnePointAPI integration that connects to several GDSs and distributes flight data in XML messaging format. The main focus of Mystifly API is the low-cost carrier data. The functionality of this API covers:
- Fares (ATPCO, IATA, LCC Carriers, Web, and private fares)
- Fares variation (student, labor, military, and marine fares)
- Ancillary booking (baggage and meals)
- Low-cost carrier fares
- Flight schedules
KIU is a GDS targeted at Latin America. It provides both CRS and GDS solutions, hosted on cloud. KIU is IATA’s strategic partner, certified by SITA. It distributes flight information and allows for selling ancillaries, also connecting to the Sabre and Amadeus reservation systems. KIU also provides an airport check-in platform. The functionality of this API covers:
- Flight inventory
- Seat inventory (availability, amount, class, specific segment)
- Fares (by date and currency)
- Taxes and fees (by country, airport, airlines)
- Frequent flyer numbers
Sirena-Travel is a Russian GDS that connect to CRSs of over 50 international and Russian airlines. It’s connected to local reservation systems Sirena-2000, Sirena-2.3, and international SITA Gabriel, Sabre, and Amadeus. Sirena-Travel aggregates the data on schedules, flight availability, and fares. Besides flight reservation, it offers leisure booking, like tickets to sports events or concerts, railway tickets, insurance and Motor Third Party Liability Insurance (MTPL). Its API provides the capability to:
- Search for one-way flights
- Search for two-way flights
- Search for flights by city or airport
- Search by departure time, airline, class, for direct and multicity flights
- Flight search results filtered by price, air carrier, flight duration, number of changes
- Rate terms
- Air ticket orders by ticket number, passenger name, air carrier
- Frequent Flyer Program (FFP) cards
TravelSky is a Chinese GDS, connected to 137 regional and international airlines through SITA networks. TravelSky provides the data to support commercial airlines (schedules and fares), and also offers Airport Passenger Processing (APP) services. The list of provided data includes:
- Flight schedules
- Flight availability
- Segment information (number of stops, aircraft equipment code, meal codes)
- Passenger list
- Airport information
Infini Air Connectivity is a product by Japanese Infini GDS that provides flight schedules, Passenger Name Records servicing, and availability information. The company operates only in Japan and works in partnership with Sabre. The system provides the following data:
- Flight availability
- Seat availability
- Fare information
- Passenger name records
- Receipt confirmation
Tech service provider APIs for flight booking: ATPCO, Orysis Infotech, eTravos, HitchHiker, and more
Unlike GDSs, tech service providers usually charge for each API request and technical support. Many travel tech providers have solutions with specific and unique flight data not found in common GDSs. Let’s have a look at the most popular examples.
ATPCO is one of the oldest airline technology providers and the main distributor of fare data. Its Routehappy API is connected to Amadeus, Sabre and Travelsky GDSs and 8 airlines directly. The API uses JSON format. It covers:
- Boarding priority
- Leg searches
- Ancillary booking (baggage, meals, entertainment)
- Flight amenities (layout, entertainment, Wi-Fi, food and beverages)
- Seat width and legroom
- Universal Product Attributes: aircraft photos, videos, virtual tours
Orysis Infotech Flight GDS and XML API Integration Service
Orysis Infotech connects several hundred airlines with travel agencies and travel managers as a solution for travel agents, tour operators, and travel management companies. Their Flight GDS and XML API Integration Service provides connection to data from Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. The Airline API uses SOAP/XML messaging format and features the following:
- Access to the list of GDS flights
- Ability to see the trip details (flight name and number, arrival and departure data, number of stops if the flight is not direct)
- Use filter search
- Select seats
- See fare details (fees, taxes, rates)
- Access baggage information
- Check PNR status
eTravos Flight booking API
eTravos is India’s largest cloud Travel Technology Platform that works with clients from India, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. eTravos offers two types of APIs: flight booking and GDS connection.
Flight booking API provides connection to 11 NDC adopters, over 750 airlines, including full-service carriers (FSC) and 225 low-cost carriers. The API’s features are:
- Multi-destination bookings
- Fare calendar
- Personalized and anonymous fare information (private, public, and corporate)
- Family booking
- Booking cancellation
- Ancillary services booking (baggage and meal preference)
Also eTravos offers separate GDS API integration. These APIs serve to connect with Amadeus, Sabre, and Travelport. Depending on the GDS connected, reservation functionality can include tour and cruise booking. The solution integrates with web and mobile apps, Desktop Agency application integration, and an online-booking tool – Flight Booking Engine (FBE) with corporate booking support.
The HitchHiker Flight API
The HitchHiker Flight API is a SaaS-solution with WebService interface that integrates with user’s software and sales system. HitchHiker Flight API is connected to Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre, Sirena, Worldspan, and has direct connection to 120 airlines, including low-cost carriers. This API covers:
- Flight booking and cancellation
- Payments, booking validation and refund
- Group bookings
- 18 fare types (student, labor, military, etc.)
- Ancillary services
The API doesn’t cover scheduling information. The solution can be customized according to client’s needs with customer support.
Tech service providers’ APIs for flight information: SITA, Innovata, OAG, and more
- Airport services
- Flight tracking and schedules
- NDC distribution
- Beacon service
- Baggage tracking
- Boarding priority
- Wait time in airports
- Flight schedules
- Routing connection
- Airline and airport IATA codes
Flight schedules and status APIs by OAG provide data that covers flight status, schedules, weather, and airport delays. While Flight Schedules API provides schedules for connected flights and allows for including or excluding low-cost airlines, Flight Status API has a more extended functionality. It displays:
- Global flight statuses
- Airport delay
FlightStats is a global flight tracker that offers two FlightStats API solutions for flight tracking. Both products are customized to UX and business needs of a user’s software. The APIs support JSON, JSONP, XML, and SOAP formats and receive messages in 8 languages.
FlightStats Flex APIs provides real-time flight data including:
- Historical flight status
- Airlines and airports
- Flight Information Display System connection
- Flight ratings
FlightStats Trip Data APIs provide push services for monitoring flight information and sending trip alerts to travelers and travel agents, as well as flight status.
And, FlightStats has one more product, Travel Waiver Services, which automates refund of ticket cost if the problem was caused by strikes, natural disasters, or extreme weather.
OpenFlights Airports Database API
OpenFlights API displays schedules of airports, ferry terminals, and railway stations all over the world. These APIs use an XML format and display airfares, flight status and historical data, and allow for flight tracking. The list of features includes:
- Airport ID and location
- IATA and ICAO codes for airlines, airports and planes
- Aircraft equipment
- Number of flight stops
FlightGlobal APIs aggregate data from 900 airlines and more than 140 low-cost carriers, providing information on:
- Flight status data
Metasearch and OTA APIs for smaller booking providers: Skyscanner, momondo, Kiwi and Travelfusion
APIs by metasearch engines and OTAs usually provide basic flight data, like schedules and prices already aggregated by them. When you want to use one of these APIs, you don’t have to pay the fee as a rule; instead, you have to become a partner.
The most popular fare finder engine provides its own Skyscanner APIs for cheapest flight search and price comparison. Skyscanner API appears in two versions: browsing of flight prices data and live flight prices data.
Browse Flight Prices API shows the following cached information from their suppliers:
- Cheapest prices
- Outbound and inbound flights
- Dates in a calendar format
Notice that this API doesn’t update the content live. If you need live data, use Live Flight Prices API, which updates the information mentioned above and retrieves it for price comparison for particular dates and itineraries.
To use Skyscanner API, enroll in their affiliate program and get access to the free set of APIs. Skyscanner API is subscription-free and has no query-driven payments. Later, the provider charges users with a commission based on traffic.
Travelfusion is a booking platform for flight and rail reservation, and car rental booking. It offers Direct Connect XML APIs with connection to over 150 low-cost carriers. This API serves for desktop solutions for OTAs and travel agents, giving access to the following content:
- Branded fares
- Supported card types
- Multilingual terms & conditions
- Multilingual email confirmation
- Card verification
- Flight extras
- Speedy boarding
- Booking cancelation and change
- Frequent flyer number
- Seat preferences and options
- Luggage requirements
Recently Travelfusion launched Fast API for pre-packaged vacations, flight, and hotel booking. This API is easier to integrate and aims at widgets, mobile services, and web platforms. The price of integration depends upon the purpose and business type and is available on request.
Czech OTA Kiwi powered the set of APIs with a direct connection to approximately 150 carriers. These APIs enable low-cost flight processing, flight data aggregation, itinerary setting, and finding and saving the cheapest routes. One more important feature of the Kiwi API is payment processing. Also this API provides an option to include baggage info in the booking. To use the Kiwi API, just join the affiliate program. The full list of Kiwi’s data includes:
- Fare classes
- Aircraft equipment
- Bag limit and prices
- Currency and currency rate
- Return duration
- Length of stopover
- Multicity flights
momondo is a global search site for the lowest prices in flight, hotel, and car rental. It has a non-public momondo API that integrates third-parties with the platform. The API for flight reservation provides information on:
- Prices and currency
- Anywhere search
To access this API, you have to become a part of their Affiliate Network programs.
Final word: What to consider before flight booking API integration?
As you have seen, most of the travel APIs are relatively similar: They technical features resemble each other, connect to the same GDSs, have the same functions, and use the same principles of data distribution. How should you pick the perfect APIs for your service? There are three factors to consider:
Scope of functionality. Do you need only schedules and fares, or do you want to give your users an extended booking opportunity? Or maybe you want to enable your users to purchase travel insurance?
Region. If you are targeting Europe, consider APIs that integrate with Amadeus GDS; if you want to reach Latin America, consider KIU GDS integration, and so on.
Business model. As a rule, direct GDS APIs charge per request – not the cheapest option. Choosing a tech provider that charges for the first connection or even gives you access to the database right away is much more preferable. And last but not least, pay attention to airlines your API connects to. If you are going to include low-cost carriers, make sure that your API integrates with them.
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash