Enhancing Traveller Choice: The Role of Virtual Interlining in Itinerary Selection

A Canadian traveller “Alex” plans to book a one-way trip from Halifax, Canada to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He logs into the website of his favourite online travel agent (OTA), where he finds three options: i) a direct flight between the two cities, cost: $2,600, ii) a flight with two stops between Halifax and Phnom Penh, cost: $1,400, iii) a flight with three stops between Halifax and Phnom Penh, cost: $1,160.

Each option has its pros and cons. With option 1, Alex only needs to book one ticket. Plus, there are no layovers. However, the ticket is very expensive, which means that the enhanced convenience of a direct flight comes at a steep cost. Options 2 and 3 are cheaper. However, Alex will have to purchase separate tickets for each leg. He will also have to “self-connect” multiple times.

Now, Alex has clear priorities. He doesn’t mind self-connecting and bearing its inconveniences (more on this later), as long as he gets affordable travel options and can enjoy a budget travel experience.

Here’s where OTAs can cater to Alex’s needs and the needs of other travellers like him.

The key is to leverage a virtual interlining (VI) solution.

Consumer Travel Trends: Budget Travel and Self-connections

A recent Forbes survey discovered that 40% of American travellers plan to travel more in 2024 than they did in 2023. This is great news for all travel industry participants, including OTAs. But there’s also some cause for caution. Only 39% of respondents said that their 2024 travel budgets will be higher than their 2023 budgets. Furthermore, nearly half of them are likely to adjust their travel plans in response to inflation, say, by driving instead of flying.

These numbers highlight two key facts:

  1. People do want to travel in 2024 and beyond.
  2. They also want to spend less on travel.

One way for these “budget travellers” to reduce their travel - particularly flying - costs is to make self-connections.

Self-connecting Travel: Challenges for Passengers and Opportunities for OTAs

The number of self-connecting passengers has increased in recent years: from 55 million passengers in 2016 to 179 million in 2022. These passengers gladly accept the inconveniences of self-connected travel, including additional security checkpoints and passport controls, and to recheck and re-claim baggage at layover points. The reason for this acceptance is that oftentimes, self-connection offers upsides greater than their inconveniences. N

In a recent survey conducted by OAG, Gen Zs and Millennials (aged 18-32) are eager to save money via self-connecting. From the study, as the savings increase, travellers are more willing to accept longer layover times. For example, OAG reported that 55% of surveyed millennials were willing to wait more than four hours for a connection to save $200 on their trip.

With more travellers willing to connect, we have noticed self-connecting travellers' key concerns are:

  • What is the minimum time between flight transfers?
  • When and where should I check-in?
  • How serious are the self-transfer risks of delays and missed connections?

Here’s where OTAs have an opportunity to bridge the gap by making self-connecting travel easier. And they can do this by simplifying the booking process, offering affordable itineraries, and providing connected, personalized travel experiences to budget travellers.


Answer: by leveraging Trip Ninja’s SmartFlights VI solution.

SmartFlights VI  uses machine learning to improve the search and composition of any of an OTA's existing content sources (i.e. any combination of GDS, LCC or NDC content) to establish new routes and generate more flight options, even if the airlines don’t have interlining agreements. It then generates personalized itineraries tailored to individual traveller preferences set by the OTA, including budget, number of stops, % probability of misconnection and other risk metrics, and so on.

OTAs can offer these itineraries to budget and self-connected travellers, empowering them to access more options around airlines, routes, flight times and providing them the flexibility to choose an itinerary that best fits their budget and preferences. With the help of Trip Ninja's team, OTAs can also use their site to effectively answer the key traveller concerns and provide customer service that suits them. In helping and supporting these travellers, OTAs can increase their conversions, and ultimately, boost their revenues and profitability.

All over the world, airports are stepping in to facilitate seamless, low-friction self-connections. OTAs can do the same - with virtual interlining. By leveraging a VI solution like Trip Ninja, OTAs can provide more - and more affordable - flight options and personalized itineraries to budget and self-connected passengers. They can also manage many self-transfer risks and thus ease these passengers’ concerns. All in all, VI enables OTAs to facilitate smooth self-connection journeys and in doing so, increase their own revenues and profits.

Trip Ninja’s VI solution enables OTAs to offer personalized, affordable itineraries and tap into more opportunities for revenue maximization. To discover how, book a demo now.

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