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The three things you need to do to start selling flights online

The three things you need to do to start selling flights online
Tim Rogers
Tim Rogers
15 September 2021

If you want to start selling flights online through a website or app, there are three steps you'll need to take to get started:

  1. Become an accredited travel agency - or partner with one
  2. Connect to airlines' systems so you can search and book
  3. Get ready to manage your customers' bookings

In this blog post, we'll take you through each of those steps in a bit more detail.

We'll finish by explaining how you can get everything you need in one place with Duffel, so you can get up and running and start selling flights in days or weeks, rather than months.

Become an accredited travel agency - or partner with one

Airlines don't allow just anyone to sell tickets on their behalf. You'll need to be an accredited travel agency - or you'll need to partner up with one.

In the US, accreditation is handled by ARC (Airlines Reporting Corporation). In the rest of the world, it's handled by IATA (International Air Transport Association).

Unfortunately, becoming an accredited travel agency isn't just a case of filling in a quick online form. You'll need to:

  • Prove your business's financial viability with audited company accounts
  • Provide a bond or bank guarantee of around $50,000
  • Pay application and setup fees of over $1,000

Once you've submitted your application, you won't be able to start selling flights straight away. You'll have to wait around 90 days for your accreditation to be processed.

Once you've become accredited, that's not the end of the road. You'll have to build a relationship with each individual airline one-by-one to obtain ticketing authority - this can easily take months per airline. You'll also have to renew your accreditation every year, bringing more fees and even more admin.

If you don't want to go through all of these steps just to sell your first ticket, you can partner with an existing accredited travel agency known as a "consolidator" or "host agency". Popular consolidators include Centrav and AERTiCKET. You'll usually have to pay setup costs, and then a charge for each ticket you issue, plus extra for changes and cancellations.

You can learn more about becoming ARC/IATA accredited in our blog post from earlier this year.

Connect to airlines' systems so you can search and book

If you want to start selling flights from your website or app, you'll need to integrate with a flights API so you can get search results and process bookings. In other words, you'll need a way to connect to airlines' reservation systems.

You won't want to connect to airlines one by one, so most travel sellers use technology providers called "aggregators" who connect to many carriers and bring them together into a single platform.

The most common aggregators are the "global distribution systems" (GDSs): Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport.

These tools, first launched in the 1970s and 1980s, are very powerful and offer a huge range of airlines, but you'll need a detailed understanding of the technicalities of the travel industry to be able to use them.

They are also not known for being fast to integrate or developer-friendly - especially if you want to go beyond a very simple flight booking experience, for example offering extra bags or seat selection.

But the GDSs alone aren't enough in 2021. If you want to offer a full range of airlines and the best prices, you'll need to supplement the GDSs with:

  • a low-cost carriers (LCC) specialist like  Travelfusion or Pyton
  • an NDC aggregator like AirGateway or Verteil to get the best prices for some full service carriers (FSCs)

Get ready to manage your customers' bookings

Taking new bookings is easy to automate through APIs. But things get tricky when a customer wants to swap their flights or an airline makes a last-minute schedule change.

When you hear the phrase "travel agent", it probably makes you think back to the 1990s. You might be surprised to hear that expert travel agents are still absolutely essential - even in 2021! You'll need a travel agent's expertise to be able to manage your customers' bookings and get them where they want to go.

To be able to handle bookings in line with airlines' rules and avoid airlines' fines (known as "agency debit memos" or ADMs) - or even worse, passengers turning up at the airport and not being able to fly - you'll need to know what you're doing!

Travel agents know the difference between an RBD and an MCT, and can tell you that American Airlines only allows a refund for a schedule change of 4 hours or more.

To be ready to go, you'll need to hire a travel expert for your team on day one, with knowledge of airlines' policies and the tools you'll be using.

Where Duffel fits in

Duffel is the fastest and easiest way to start selling flights online. When you sign up to Duffel and integrate with our API, you tick off all of the steps above in one go. With Duffel, you get:

  • An accredited travel agency at your fingertips: Duffel is an accredited travel agency in 5 countries - and growing. We let you piggy-back on our accreditation and airline relationships to sell flights from day one.
  • Access to 25+ airlines' systems through a single, developer-friendly API: Duffel is connected to more than 25 major airlines. You can sell flights from all of them through a single integration with one simple, well-documented JSON API. We use NDC and direct connections to low-cost carriers to get the best prices.
  • Travel agent expertise: Duffel's "Travel Ops" team - a crack squad of expert travel agents - is available to you 24/7. We help you take care of your bookings and take on the burden of complying with airlines' rules.

Signing up for Duffel is completely free. You won't pay a cent until you start selling flights to your customers. Once you start selling, you'll pay just $1 per order - you can see our pricing in full here.

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