FAQ: What is a Global Distribution System?


The term GDS, or Global Distribution System, is one often used in the travel industry especially when it concerns flight bookings. But as this system is only available to professional travel consultants, the general public is largely unaware of its use and functions.

Understanding what a GDS is and how it works could help agents understand their flight search results better.

“What is a GDS and how does it work?”

A global distribution system (GDS) is a computerised network system that enables transactions between travel agencies and travel industry providers. GDSs are mostly used to sell airline tickets, although it is also possible to make hotel reservations and car hire bookings through this type of system.

A GDS system makes use of real-time inventory, which means that agents are able to book and confirm seat availability on aircrafts immediately irrespective of time and place.

As this system is global, it means agents around the world using the same GDS has access to the same flights. Therefore flights can’t be confirmed before payment has been received.

This differs from a computer reservation system, which is what service providers use to manage availability and sell their product, in that a global distribution system is owned and operated by a single company yet they sell travel products from multiple suppliers. This allows users to search and compare results from multiple service providers and find the cheapest option.

Currently there are three major Global Distribution Systems being used by travel consultants, namely Amadeus, Galileo and Sabre.

Global Distribution Systems hold no inventory, they simply plug into each vendor’s computer reservation system to check availability and display results with pricing. It is up to each vendor (e.g. airline) to sign agreements with the various GDSs to allow them access to their computer reservation system. This does not however mean that a GDS will be able to access and sell all the fares a vendor has loaded onto their computer reservation system. Occasionally airlines will run specials which are only accessible through their own channels – e.g. their website and call centre. The fares available to all via a GDS are referred to as published fares.

Some smaller, newer or pure low-cost airlines might not have any existing agreements with GDSs or might only have agreements with selected GDSs. A good example of this is FlySafair, who only recently signed an agreement with Galileo. Unfortunately when adding all the GDS fees, their flights aren’t nearly as competitive. This why we at FlightSiteAgent still make FlySafair bookings through our logins directly on their website on your behalf.

Signing an agreement with a GDS is a great way for airlines to promote their products to travel agents as the GDS allows agents to search, compare and book options from multiple airlines.

So far though, we haven’t discussed the key difference between a GDS and an online system like FlightSiteAgent as concerns the travel agent. FlightSiteAgent is unique in that it pulls inventory from a GDS and presents it to agents in a user-friendly format from, much like any online travel agency, but the added features and great deals enables users to mark up the fares and sell them on to clients.

The key difference lies in the level of control you have over bookings made. A GDS will grant an agent complete control over that booking, allowing them to manage things like seat and meal selections depending on the airline.

Unfortunately not everyone can gain access to a GDS as the cost is usually significant. There is also a whole host of requirements you have to meet including having several years’ experience and certain licences. Luckily FlightSiteAgents don’t have to be concerned with this as we hold all the necessary licenses on your behalf and ticket.

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