Sabre readying overhaul of reservation system

Putting millions of dollars behind a belief that airlines will increasingly need to outsource their IT functions, Sabre Holdings Corp. announced plans Tuesday for a major overhaul of the technology that powers its computerized reservation system.

Sabre hosts the reservations systems for more than 50 airlines, including AMR Corp.’s American Airlines Inc., U.S. Airways Group Inc. and Southwest Airlines Co. Starting next year, according to Sabre officials, the Fort Worth, Texas-based travel technology giant will streamline the way it processes passenger records, expand its electronic ticketing capabilities and start to allow multiple forms of payment to be used on a single transaction.

Joe Saliba, Sabre’s acting president for outsourcing and software solutions, said the company expects to invest between US$15 million and $20 million annually during the next two years to add that functionality – with the goal of reaping hundreds of millions in profit by handling more of the data processing load for airlines.

Amadeus Global Travel Distribution S.A. in Madrid, another company that operates one of the big reservation systems, said earlier this year that it was teaming up with U.K.-based British Airways PLC to set up a London-based IT development center that would offer international outsourcing services. Saliba said Sabre is now aiming at the same target, especially in the European and Asian markets where the company lacks the kind of presence it has in North America.

Included in the development plan is a new passenger records system that’s aimed at simplifying a “spaghetti” approach in which different records are created depending on how whether travelers buy their tickets online, from a travel agent or through another channel.

The promised electronic ticketing upgrades will let travelers booking through Sabre take multiple-leg flights without needing a paper ticket, Saliba said. Today’s announcement follows one last month in which Sabre said it will make many of its software tools for airlines available over the Internet, including programs that support flight scheduling, yield management and maintenance applications.