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(12) United States Patent ao) Patent No.: us 6,839,679 Bi
Lynch et al. (45) Date of Patent: *Jan. 4,2005
(54) AUTOMATED TRAVEL PRICING SYSTEM
(75) Inventors: Michael F. Lynch, Dallas, TX (US);
Jonathan A. Turner, Piano, TX (US)
(73) Assignee: Electronic Data Systems Corporation,
Piano, TX (US)
( * ) Notice: This patent issued on a continued prosecution application filed under 37 CFR 1.53(d), and is subject to the twenty year patent term provisions of 35 U.S.C. 154(a)(2).
Subject to any disclaimer, the term of this patent is extended or adjusted under 35 U.S.C. 154(b) by 885 days.
(21) Appl. No.: 08/618,005
(22) Filed: Mar. 18, 1996
(51) Int. CI.7 G06F 17/60
(52) U.S. CI 705/5
(58) Field of Search 709/9, 6; 705/5,
(56) References Cited
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FOREIGN PATENT DOCUMENTS
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Mary Brisson, "Covia E-Mail Offers Shortcut for Agencies", Business Travel News, p. 1, dated Nov. 2, 1992. Danna K. Henderson, "Computer Reservations System Plunge into the PC Era. (Personal Computers)", Air Transport World, v. 25, n. 8, p 47(6) dated Aug. 1988. Database IAC Newsletter on Dialog, Worldwide Videotex Update, v.9, No. 7, entitled "VIAAnnounces 1990 Awards", dated Jul. 1990.
* cited by examiner
Primary Examiner—-James W. Myhre
(74) Attorney, Agent, or Firm—Baker Botts, L.L.P.
An automated pricing system (10) is provided. The system (10) obtains inventory information, specifying the rates and/or availability of a plurality of travel arrangements, from one or more computer reservation systems (24). The inventory information is stored in a database (14) along with one or more portfolios of information (relating to a travel agency and each business entity customer of the travel agency) that can be used to discount the listed rates of the travel arrangements. In response to a specific travel itinerary from a customer, the system (10) automatically retrieves the inventory and/or discount information from the database (14) and determines the lowest-priced, available travel arrangements conforming to the itinerary. Consequently, a travel agent using the system (10) does not have to spend time manually determining the lowest-priced travel arrangements.
18 Claims, 2 Drawing Sheets
U.S. Patent Jan. 4,2005 Sheet 2 of 2
AUTOMATED TRAVEL PRICING SYSTEM
This application is related to co-pending Application Ser. No. 08/609,034, entitled Automated Travel Planning System, and co-pending application Ser. No. 08/610,107, entitled Automated System for Identifying Alternate LowCost Travel Arrangements, both filed on Feb. 29,1996. This application is also related to U.S. Pat. No. 5,839,114, entitled Automated System for Selecting an Initial Computer Reservation System, which issued on Nov. 17, 1998, from application Ser. No. 08/609,040, filed on Feb. 29, 1996.
TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates generally to the field of travel reservation services, and more particularly, to an automated travel pricing system and method of operation.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
In many cases, a customer who has a general itinerary for travel will ask a travel agency to find the lowest-priced travel arrangements that conform to the itinerary.
Previously, the process of determining the lowest-priced travel arrangements could only be performed manually by a travel agent, and therefore was extremely time-consuming and inefficient. More specifically, a travel agent was required to access one or more computer reservation systems to obtain inventory information (e.g., availability and/or rates) about all travel arrangements that conformed to the itinerary. If the travel arrangements were work-related, the agent then had to account for any discounts available through the individual customer's employer. Although existing computer reservation systems maintained such employer discount information, the travel agent had to input specialized codes into a computer reservation system to retrieve the information so that the listed rate of the travel arrangements could be discounted accordingly. Afterwards, the travel agent was required to also consider any promotional discounts that were available to the travel agency, such as, for example, space-banked seats, which would also lower the price of a particular travel arrangement. When all applicable discounts had been applied to all available travel arrangements conforming to the itinerary, the travel agent was required to manually compare the discounted rates to identify the lowest-priced arrangements. Since the travel agent could not serve other customers during the above-mentioned steps, the agent's productivity decreased. To make matters worse, this prior process of determining lowest-priced travel arrangements was often repeated at the time of ticketing to ensure that the price originally quoted to the customer was correct.
Furthermore, even though a travel agent could become more efficient in the process with experience, it could not be guaranteed that the process would always produce the lowest-priced travel arrangement. In other words, because so much of the prior process required input and/or calculation by a travel agent, the accuracy of the process was extremely susceptible to human error.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, a need has arisen for a system which automatically determines the lowest-priced, available travel arrangements conforming to a travel itinerary submitted by a customer.
In accordance with the preferred embodiment of the present invention, an automated pricing system is provided.
The system obtains inventory information, specifying the rates and/or availability of a plurality of travel arrangements, from one or more computer reservation systems. The inventory information is stored in a database along with one or
5 more portfolios of information (relating to a travel agency and each business entity customer of the travel agency) that can be used to discount the listed rates of the travel arrangements. In response to a specific travel itinerary from a customer, the system automatically retrieves the inventory
10 and/or discount information from the database and determines the lowest-priced, available travel arrangements conforming to the itinerary.
An important technical advantage of the present invention is that a lowest-priced, available travel arrangement is
15 automatically determined so that a travel agent does not have to spend time manually deriving the same.
Another important technical advantage of the present invention is that discounts available to the traveler are automatically considered by the system. Consequently, a
20 travel agent using the system is not required to be knowledgeable of and apply the specialized codes that would otherwise be necessary to identify a lowest-priced travel arrangement.
25 Yet another important technical advantage of the present invention is that the opportunity for human error in determining a lowest-priced travel arrangement is substantially reduced or eliminated.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
For a better understanding of the present invention, reference may be made to the accompanying drawings, in which:
FIG. 1 is a top level, block diagram of an automated travel 35 pricing system, in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a simplified diagram of a computer-based system that can be used to implement the automated travel pricing system shown in FIG. 1;
FIG. 3 is a flow diagram that illustrates a method of operating an automated travel pricing system to obtain inventory information from one or more computer reservation systems, in accordance with the preferred embodiment 45 of the present invention; and
FIG. 4 is a flow diagram that illustrates a method of operating an automated travel pricing system to determine a lowest-priced travel arrangement, in accordance with the preferred embodiment of the present invention.
50 DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
The preferred embodiment of the present invention and its advantages are best understood by referring to FIGS. 1-4 of
55 the drawings, like numerals being used for like and corresponding parts of the various drawings.
In accordance with the preferred embodiment of the present invention, an automated travel pricing system is preferably used to identify the lowest-priced, available
60 travel arrangements conforming to any given travel itinerary received from a customer. The automated travel pricing system accesses one or more computer reservation systems in order to obtain inventory information regarding, for example, the availability and listed rates of various travel
65 arrangements such as airline flights, hotel accommodations, and rental cars. The automated travel pricing system also stores other information, such as, for example, travel dis