|Publication number||WO2000019351 A1|
|Publication date||6 Apr 2000|
|Filing date||29 Sep 1999|
|Priority date||29 Sep 1998|
|Publication number||PCT/1999/22659, PCT/US/1999/022659, PCT/US/1999/22659, PCT/US/99/022659, PCT/US/99/22659, PCT/US1999/022659, PCT/US1999/22659, PCT/US1999022659, PCT/US199922659, PCT/US99/022659, PCT/US99/22659, PCT/US99022659, PCT/US9922659, WO 0019351 A1, WO 0019351A1, WO 2000/019351 A1, WO 2000019351 A1, WO 2000019351A1, WO-A1-0019351, WO-A1-2000019351, WO0019351 A1, WO0019351A1, WO2000/019351A1, WO2000019351 A1, WO2000019351A1|
|Inventors||L. Robert Isaacson, Frank Katz, David Kahn|
|Applicant||Isaacson L Robert, Frank Katz, David Kahn|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (2), Non-Patent Citations (10), Referenced by (6), Classifications (3), Legal Events (6)|
|External Links: Patentscope, Espacenet|
MAKING A RESERVATION OVER THE INTERNET WHERE THE USER IS CONNECTED
TO A DESTINATION BASED TRAVEL AGENT
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
5 This application is based on and claims priority to U.S. Provisional Patent
Application Serial Number 60/102,377, filed on September 29, 1998 and U.S. Utility Application Serial Number unassigned, filed on September 28, 1999.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION 0 FIELD OF THE INVENTION
The present invention generally relates to systems and methods for providing travel reservation services and, in particular, to systems and methods which preferably incorporate the use of destination-based travel agents for providing destination-specific travel information to travelers. 5
DESCRIPTION OF THE RELATED ART The travel industry generally includes suppliers and distributors of elementary travel services. These travel services typically include transportation services, lodging accommodations, and activities coordination, such as for tours and sporting events, for 0 instance. Historically, travel industry suppliers, such as airlines, hotels, rental car agencies, and cruise lines, among others, typically have relied on internal sales departments and travel agencies as distributors for their services. Heretofore, however, travel agencies typically have been unable to provide a uniform distribution channel for the promotion and sale of travel services because such agencies are highly 5 fragmented, including thousands of "brick and mortar" offices which are, oftentimes, independently operated. This fragmentation is accentuated by the fact that there are relatively few internationally, or even nationally, recognized entities which distribute travel services.
Typically, a traditional travel agency operates as a locally-based agency 0 whereby a traveler located in the vicinity of that travel agency would contact the agency for making various travel reservations at an intended destination site. The locally-based agency then may provide recommendations, such as for activities occurring at the destination during the traveler's stay. However, from the perspective ofthe traveler, these recommendations may not be as comprehensive as desired. For example, the locally-based agency may not be aware of events occurring at the destination site that may have an impact upon the traveler's plans, and thus, the recommendations could detrimentally affect the traveler. For instance, extensive road construction taking place between the lodging site, which was recommended to the traveler by the locally-based agency, and a business meeting location could detrimentally affect the traveler's schedule.
Additionally, a locally-based agency typically is able to coordinate the reservation of air transportation for a traveler. Such reservations oftentimes are made through an electronic global distribution service (GDS) which provides real-time access to voluminous data on air fares, availability and other transportation information. Since the GDS data typically is constantly changing, with as many as one million airfare changes being made daily, for instance, a traveler traditionally has relied on travel agents at the locally-based agency to access and interpret such data. As a result, the ability of travelers to obtain the most favorable air transportation schedules and fares has been subject to the skill and experience ofthe travel agents ofthe locally- based travel agency.
In contrast to the locally-based travel agencies, online agencies, i.e., agencies which are accessible through the use ofthe Internet, have recently begun to conduct nearly wholly-automated transactions between a traveler and a remote agency. Thus far, however, such online agencies typically have tended to avoid live human assistance at their Internet sites so as to be as nearly wholly-automated as possible. Without the advent ofthe availability of human assistance, however, many of these online agencies are discovering that travelers tend to utilize the searching services offered by their web sites, while choosing to interact with a human operator at a different agency for actually booking their reservations. This reluctance to book reservations with an online agency can be attributed to numerous factors, including customer reluctance to disclose credit card information directly over a computer, customer concern as to whether they are getting the best available price for a particular reservation, and customer reluctance in trusting a computer-generated reservation confirmation, among others
Therefore, there is a need in the art for improved systems and methods which address these and other shortcomings ofthe prior art.
BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION Briefly stated, the present invention is directed to travel systems and methods for use by a traveler in making travel reservations. In a preferred embodiment, the travel system includes a plurality of destination-based travel agencies, with each of the destination-based travel agencies corresponding to a travel destination A travel subsystem also is provided which is configured to enable intercommunication between the traveler and the destination-based travel agencies so that the traveler and a specific one ofthe destination-based travel agencies corresponding to an intended travel destination ofthe traveler may intercommunicate Preferably, the travel sub-system is configured to compile destination information regarding the travel destination corresponding to each ofthe destination-based travel agencies as well as travel information regarding the traveler So configured, the travel sub-system may correlate the destination information with the travel information to form a proposed itinerary of travel reservations for the traveler In accordance with another aspect ofthe present invention, a preferred method includes (1) providing a plurality of destination-based travel agencies interconnected via a communications network, with each ofthe destination-based travel agencies corresponding to a travel destination, (2) providing a traveler with a plurality of travel reservation selections via the communications network, with each ofthe travel reservation selections corresponding to one ofthe destination-based travel agencies, and, (3) enabling the traveler to communicate via the communications network with the one ofthe destination-based travel agencies corresponding to a specific one ofthe travel reservation selections selected by the traveler. Preferably, the method includes compiling information regarding each ofthe travel reservation selections from the destination-based travel agencies corresponding to the travel reservation selections In accordance with another aspect ofthe present invention, a preferred embodiment ofthe travel system includes a computer readable medium incorporating a first code segment which provides a traveler with a plurality of travel reservation selections, with each ofthe travel reservation selections corresponding to a destination-based travel agency Preferably, a second code segment is provided which enables the traveler to communicate with the one ofthe destination-based travel agencies corresponding to a specific one ofthe travel reservation selections selected by the traveler
Other features and advantages ofthe present invention will become apparent to one of reasonable skill in the art upon examination ofthe following drawings and detailed description It is intended that all such additional objects, features, and advantages be included herein within the scope ofthe present invention, as defined by the claims
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS
The present invention will be more fully understood from the accompanying drawings of various embodiments ofthe invention which, however, should not be taken to limit the invention to the specific embodiments enumerated, but are for explanation and for better understanding only Furthermore, the drawings are not necessarily to scale, emphasis instead being placed upon clearly illustrating the principles ofthe invention In the drawings
FIG 1 is a high level schematic diagram of a prior art travel reservation methodology
FIG 2 is a high level schematic diagram representing a travel reservation methodology embodied in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 3 is a high level schematic diagram of a prior art travel reservation system depicting interaction of a representative traveler with a representative locally-based travel agency
FIG 4 is a high level schematic diagram depicting a preferred embodiment of the travel system ofthe present invention FIG 5 is a high level schematic diagram of a preferred embodiment ofthe travel system ofthe present invention
FIG 6 is a block diagram illustrating a preferred embodiment ofthe travel system server ofthe present invention FIG 7 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 8 is a screen print of a representative web site home page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 9 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 10 is a screen print of a representative destinations page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 1 1 is a screen print of a representative destination information page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention FIG 12 is a screen print of a representative activities page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 13 is a screen print of a representative basic travel information page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 14 is a block diagram illustrating a preferred embodiment ofthe travel sub-system ofthe present invention
FIG 15 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 16 is a screen print of a representative profile page utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention FIG 17 is a screen print of a representative profile (billing information) page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 18 is a screen print of a representative profile (personal interest) page utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 19 is a screen print of a representative profile (airline preference) page utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention FIG 20 is a screen print of a representative profile (accommodations information) page utilized in a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 21 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment of the present invention FIG 22 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 23 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 24 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention
FIG 25 is a screen print of a representative flight page utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 26 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment ofthe present invention FIG 27 is a screen print depicting a representative list of proposed flight information utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 28 is a screen print of a representative reservation confirmation page utilized in a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 29 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment of the present invention
FIG 30 is a flow diagram functionally demonstrating the steps performed by a preferred embodiment of the present invention
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENTS Reference will now be made in detail to the drawings wherein like reference numerals indicate like parts throughout the several views As shown in FIG 1, a typical prior art methodology 600 for providing travel reservation services includes the use of a locally-based travel agency 610 The locally-based agency typically caters to a local market 620 which interacts with the locally-based agency Typically, a traveler from the local market conducts either a face-to-face or telephonic interview with an agent of the locally-based agency, with the local agent providing information on a variety of travel services. These travel services typically are not limited to services provided in the geographic area surrounding the locally-based agency and, in fact, oftentimes are of a global nature. Thus, a typical traveler is able to make travel reservations at virtually any location, and is thereby provided with a global travel reservation product 630. However, such global products typically are offered to the traveler without specialized knowledge, such as time-sensitive knowledge, ofthe products because the agent ofthe locally-based agency does not interact with the traveler's destination on a frequent basis.
As shown in FIG. 2, however, a methodology 500 preferably utilized by the present invention is adapted to cater to travelers from a global market 510. Preferably, the travelers are able to interact with travel agents located at the traveler's destination, such as at a destination-based agency 520, thereby allowing the traveler to receive specialized knowledge ofthe travel services being offered at the destination site because the destination-based travel agent interacts with the traveler's destination on a frequent basis. Thus, the traveler receives a local or destination-based travel service product 530.
As shown in greater detail in FIG. 3, a prior art travel system 640 employing the prior art methodology 600 (FIG. 1) typically provides for interaction of a traveler 1 1 with a locally-based agency 610. This interaction typically occurs at a city of origin 650 ofthe traveler. Inquiries made by the traveler to the locally-based agency are then answered based on information made available to the locally-based agency, with such information typically being made available through sources which offer time-late and oftentimes inadequate information, if such information is available at all. In response to the various inquiries ofthe traveler, the locally-based agency may then be able to make travel reservations for the traveler at various destinations 660, such as destinations A, B, and C (665, 670 and 675, respectively). Such travel reservations may include the reservation of lodging accommodations, transportation, and activities, among others. Thus, the locally-based agency may be responsible for arranging numerous travel services for the traveler while it possesses little or no specialized knowledge ofthe various services reserved. Additionally, the locally-based agency typically may be consulted by the traveler for arranging air transportation 680 between the city of origin and the various destinations, such as through the use of a GDS.
As shown in FIG. 4, a preferred embodiment ofthe travel system 10 ofthe present invention avoids many ofthe potential inadequacies inherent in the prior art locally-based travel agency reservation system by providing a network of destination- based travel agencies for interacting with a traveler 11. The travel system 10 preferably incorporates a travel sub-system 12 which provides a communications interface between the traveler and one or more destination-based travel agencies, such as destination agencies 14, 16, and 18. So provided, a traveler utilizing the travel system 10 may be provided with specialized information via the destination-based agencies so that the traveler's reservation preferences and needs may be more accurately fulfilled.
Preferably, traveler 1 1 is able to interact with the travel system 10 from numerous locations, such as the traveler's city of origin 20, among others. So provided, the traveler may be able to make various travel service reservations corresponding to various destination sites, regardless ofthe traveler's physical location. Additionally, the travel sub-system 12 preferably communicates with one or more air travel reservation services 22, such as a GDS, for providing the traveler with updated information on air transportation options. As shown in FIG. 5, traveler 1 1 preferably interacts with the travel system 10 by communicating with a travel system server 24 via a network 26, such as an Internet, PSTN, Intranet or other suitable communications network. The network 26 preferably provides intercommunication ofthe travel system server 24 with one or more destination-based agencies, such as destination-based agency 14. Preferably, intercommunication ofthe travel system server 24 and the agency 14 is facilitated by the travel sub-system 12 which is located on the server. In the embodiment depicted in FIG. 5, the travel system server also directly communicates with an air reservation system 22, such as a GDS; however, it is anticipated that communication between the server and the air reservation system 22 may take place by interconnection ofthe server and the air reservation system via the network 26. The travel sub-system 12 ofthe present invention can be implemented in hardware, software, firmware, or a combination thereof. In a preferred embodiment, however, the travel sub-system is implemented as a software package, which can be adaptable to run on different platforms and operating systems as shall be described further herein.
A preferred embodiment ofthe travel sub-system 12, which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, and execute the instructions. In the context of this document, a "computer-readable medium" can be any means that can contain, store, communicate, propagate or transport the program for use by or in connection with the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device. The computer readable medium can be, for example, but not limited to, an electronic, magnetic, optical, electro-magnetic, infrared, or semi-conductor system, apparatus, device, or propagation medium. More specific examples (a nonexhaustive list) ofthe computer- readable medium would include the following: an electrical connection (electronic) having one or more wires, a portable computer diskette (magnetic), a random access memory (RAM) (magnetic), a read-only memory (ROM) (magnetic), an erasable, programmable, read-only memory (EPROM or Flash memory) (magnetic), an optical fiber (optical), and a portable compact disk read-only memory (CDROM) (optical). Note that the computer-readable medium could even be paper or another suitable medium upon which the program is printed, as the program can be electronically captured, via for instance, optical scanning ofthe paper or other medium, then compiled, interpreted, or otherwise processed in a suitable manner, if necessary, and then stored in a computer memory.
FIG. 6 illustrates a typical computer or processor-based system 400 which may be utilized by the travel system 10 and which, in turn, may utilize the travel sub-system 12. As shown in FIG. 6, a computer system 501 generally comprises a processor 502 and a memory 503 with an operating system 504. Herein, the memory 503 may be any combination of volatile and nonvolatile memory elements, such as random access memory, read only memory, or the like The processor 502 accepts instructions and data from memory 503 over a local interface, such as a bus(es) 308 The system also includes an input device(s) 506 and an output device(s) 507 Examples of input devices may include, but are not limited to a serial port, a scanner, or a local access network connection Examples of output devices may include, but are not limited to, a video display, a Universal Serial Bus, or a printer port Generally, the travel subsystem may run any of a number of different platforms and operating systems, including, but not limited to, Windows NT™, Unix™, or Sun Solaris™ operating systems The travel sub-system 12, the functions of which shall be described hereinafter, resides in memory 503 and is executed by the processor 502
The flow chart of FIG 7 shows the architecture, functionality, and operation of a preferred implementation ofthe travel sub-system 12 In this regard, each block of the flow chart represents a module segment or portion of code which comprises one or more executable instructions for implementing the specified logical function or functions It should also be noted that in some alternative implementations, the functions noted in the various blocks may occur out ofthe order depicted in FIG 7 For example, two blocks shown in succession in FIG 7 may in fact be executed substantially concurrently, or the blocks may sometimes be executed in the reverse order depending upon the functionality involved
In the embodiment depicted in FIG 7, a traveler is provided with access to the travel system as depicted in block 30, such as by accessing an Internet web site hosted by the travel system server 24 Typically, such a web site may be accessed by travelers through the use of an Internet connection and a browser program which typically resides in the traveler's computer system Browser programs, also called "web browsers," are client applications that enable a user to navigate the Internet and view web sites on the display screen ofthe traveler's computer A representative home page that may be displayed to the traveler once the web site ofthe travel system has been accessed is depicted in FIG 8 The representative home page depicted in FIG 8 provides the traveler with access to various information which may be displayed on various pages ofthe web site, for instance. Access to these other pages may be provided in a conventional manner, such as through the use of icons, i.e. tabs 32-52, which when actuated, such as by "double-clicking," advance the traveler through the web site to the page or pages corresponding to the actuated tab. Imbedded textual links, such as text links 54 and 56, also may be utilized to provide access to other pages ofthe web site. Additionally, the web site may provide a communications link between the traveler and an agent of the travel system and/or of a destination-based travel agency. Such a communications link preferably is provided through the use of a text-based dialog box 58 and/or an audio link 60, described in detail hereinafter. Through use ofthe web site, the traveler may choose to research various travel service options, including destination and activity information relating to a potential trip, among others, such as depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 9. For example, if the traveler desires information pertaining to a particular destination, the traveler may double-click on tab 42 (FIGs. 8 and 9), after which, the traveler may be advanced to a destination list screen. At the destination screen, such as destination page 62 depicted in the representative screen print of FIG. 10, the traveler may be presented with a list of destinations, such as list 64. The traveler may then select a destination as depicted in block 66 (FIG. 9).
Upon making a destination selection, such as by highlighting destination 68, e.g., "Albuquerque, NM," and then actuating icon 70, e.g., the "Go to the selected city" icon, the traveler preferably is presented with destination-specific information regarding the selected destination, such as through the use of a specific destination page 72 depicted in the representative screen print of FIG. 11. Additionally, links to other information and travel system services may be provided through the use of icons, such as icons 74-86, for instance.
Through the web site, the traveler also may choose to research particular activities of interest. Access to such information preferably is provided by the traveler actuating tab 44 (FIGs. 8 and 9), for instance, after which, the traveler may be advanced to an activity list screen 88, such as depicted in the representative screen print of FIG. 12. At screen 88, the traveler may be presented with a list of activities, such as list 90. The traveler may then select an activity (block 92 of FIG. 9), such as by highlighting activity 94 (FIG 12), e g , "(Anything) " The system may then query as to whether there are any destinations which offer the selected activity, as depicted in block 96 (FIG 9) If no such destinations exist in the system database, a message 98, such as a "No destination with the activity" message may be displayed to the traveler If, however, at least one destination with the selected activity exists, the system may proceed to block 100 where a list, such as list 64, of destinations which offer the selected activity may be provided The traveler may then select a destination (block 102), such as by actuating icon 70 (FIG 12), e g , the "Go to the selected city" icon, after which, the traveler is presented with information, such as information regarding activities at the selected destination as depicted in the representative screen print of FIG 1 1 , described hereinbefore
Referring back to FIG 7, after the traveler has accessed the travel system and has utilized the system to conduct travel research, for instance, the system may proceed to block 1 10 where the system may prompt the traveler to provide basic travel information, such as depicted in the representative screen print of FIG 13 Such information may include information regarding departure and return dates (112 and 1 14, respectively), departure and destination airports (not shown), and the number of travelers (1 16) Additionally, the traveler may be prompted to provide a request for travel service recommendations, such as recommendations regarding flights, lodging and activities (118) The traveler's responses may be indicated by toggling a graphical switch or by actuating an icon, among others As described in detail hereinafter, this information may be utilized by the system to compile resident profile (RP) for the traveler
By use ofthe edit text box 120, the traveler may enter questions or comments regarding their trip, with the entered information being provided to an agent, such as a destination based agent, for instance The agent may then respond with various suggestions which are specifically tailored to meet the needs ofthe traveler For example, such responses may be communicated to the traveler along with a proposed itinerary, as discussed in detail hereinafter Additionally, the traveler may be presented with an icon 122, such as an "Add Activities" icon, which, when actuated by the traveler, may present the traveler with a variety of activities which the traveler may wish to add to their trip. Preferably, the activities presented to the traveler are selected from a database, i.e., an inventory database, for instance, which is compiled by the destination-based franchisee corresponding to the destination ofthe traveler. Preferably, the activities presented also must correspond to selections previously made by the traveler, such as selections relating to preferences, pricing, etc. The traveler then may add one or more ofthe presented activities to his trip.
After the traveler has provided the basic travel information requested, a query preferably is be made as to whether the traveler is a registered system member (block 130). If it is determined that the traveler is a system member, the process preferably proceeds to block 140, where specific "member only" features ofthe travel system may be enabled. As used herein, the term "system member" is utilized to denote a traveler who has previously accessed the travel system and who has previously provided the system with information; however, membership determinations may be based on numerous other criteria depending on the particular application. In some embodiments, a membership determination need not be accomplished. The system then preferably proceeds to block 150, where the traveler may be prompted to provide additional information, such as additional travel information, and/or personal or "profile" information (described in detail hereinafter), for example.
After block 150, the system preferably proceeds to block 160 where the traveler's information is evaluated. A proposed itinerary (PI) then is generated and is communicated to the traveler for review. Then, such as depicted in block 170, a query is made as to whether the traveler requires any changes to be made to the PI. If it is determined that no changes to the PI are required and, further, that the traveler accepts the PI, such as depicted in block 180, the system may proceed to finalize the transaction (block 190). If, however, the traveler requires changes to the PI, the system preferably proceeds to block 200, where intercommunication, such as by use of an online chat feature, between the destination-based agency and the traveler may be initiated.
Intercommunication between destination-based agency and the traveler may be initiated at or between virtually an step or steps of he flow chart depicted in FIG. 7, such as when the traveler accesses the travel system, when the traveler does not accept a PI, or when the traveler chooses a destination, among others. Such intercommunication, enables the traveler to query the destination-based agency in regard to various aspects of an intended trip, while allowing the destination-based agency to query the traveler as to various aspects ofthe traveler's intended trip. So provided, the traveler may experience a more user-friendly environment while attempting to navigate the numerous decisions which may be involved in the making of travel reservations in an online environment, while the destination-based agency has the opportunity to recommend or "push" travel products and services to the traveler. After the traveler has communicated with the destination-based agency, the system may proceed back to block 160 where the traveler's information is evaluated and a PI based upon this information is generated. The system may then proceed, as described hereinbefore, until a transaction is either finalized or until the traveler chooses to depart from the travel system.
As described briefly hereinbefore, the travel system ofthe present invention preferably utilizes traveler-specific information as well as destination-specific information in order to generate a PI for a traveler. Reference will now be made in detail to these various aspects ofthe present invention. As depicted in FIG. 14, a preferred embodiment ofthe travel sub-system 12 utilized in the travel system ofthe present invention incorporates a franchisee database (Fd) 210 and a resident profile database (RPd) 220. Preferably, the Fd 210 includes destination-specific information provided by destination-based travel agencies or franchisees (the term "franchisee" being utilized herein to describe a destination-based travel agency that is affiliated with the travel system). Such information may include: general information 212 concerning the franchisee and the destination area; event information 214 describing various upcoming events at or near the destination area, and an inventory record 216, which may include restaurants, museums, golf courses, shopping venues, cultural events, hotels, motels, condominiums, inns, etc., and which may designate whether the various items in the inventory are offered individually or as packaged services, among others. Preferably, the Fd 210 is compiled by travel system by allowing a destination- based travel agency to communicate with the travel sub-system, such as through the use of an internet web site, whereby the destination-based travel agency is prompted to enter the aforementioned information. The travel system preferably provides a secure function for granting access to those destination-based travel agencies who desire to affiliate with the travel system and who have not previously entered franchisee information for use in the franchisee database. Such a secure function may include the use of a user ID and password which may be obtained directly from agents ofthe travel system and which, upon issuance, may allow the destination-based travel agency to access the various portions of a web site for entering information. Upon approval by the travel system, the destination-based travel agency then may be granted franchisee status. Franchisees also may be granted access to the travel system in order to update previously entered information which has since become stale.
As described hereinbefore, a preferred embodiment ofthe travel system also incorporates the use of an RPd 220 (FIG. 14), which may include information regarding traveler needs 222, traveler preferences 224 and traveler traits 226, among others. RPd 220 typically is constructed by a traveler accessing the travel system web site (FIG. 8), and by actuating the create/edit profile tab 38, such as depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 15. Once the tab is actuated, the traveler preferably is advanced to a create/edit profile page 230, such as depicted in FIG. 16. In some embodiments, the travel system may then read a traveler's internet temp files (block 232), such as are typically stored in the memory ofthe traveler's computer, to determine if previously entered profile information exists on the traveler, or to create an initial profile for storage in the RPd.
If profile information already exists on the traveler, such as determined in block 234, the traveler's user ID may be evaluated and stored as a cookie for display (block 236), with the traveler then being prompted to key in a password (block 238), such as at item 240 (FIG. 16). The traveler then is given the option of updating the profile information stored in the RPd by scrolling through the various profile display screens 242, such as depicted in the representative screen prints of FIGs. 16-20, which prompt the user to enter profile information. Such profile information may include personal identification information (FIG. 16), billing information (FIG. 17), personal interest information (FIG. 18), travel preference information (FIG. 19), and accommodations information (FIG. 20), among others. If profile information does not exist on the traveler, the system may proceed from block 234 to block 244 where the traveler preferably is advanced through the various profile display screens 242.
Preferred embodiments ofthe travel system utilize the profile information stored in the RPd to create a resident profile (RP) ofthe traveler. As briefly described hereinbefore in regard to FIG. 7, once the travel system determines that a traveler accessing the system is a member, certain "member only" features may be enabled. For instance, if an RP for the traveler exists, such as typically is the case when the traveler is a system member, for example, the travel system may correlate the RP data with travel service information provided by the travel system 10 and the basic travel information (i.e., FIG. 13) provided by the traveler, so that a series of recommended travel reservation selections specifically tailored to suit the traveler are generated. Such functionality is depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 21.
As shown in FIG. 21, after the traveler has entered the basic travel information (112, 114, 118 and 120, for instance), the system determines whether the traveler is logged into the system (block 250), such as described in relation to FIG. 15. The system then may proceed to block 252 where, if traveler profile information does not exist, profile information is created. The traveler then may be advanced to an activities/lodging page 254, where various selections (256, 258 and 260, among others) may be displayed to the traveler. As shown in block 262, the various selections preferably are provided by merging data from the RPd 220 with travel service information, such as information stored in the franchisee inventory database 216, with the selections being utilized to generate a vacation plan for the traveler (block 264). Thus, the travel system may provide a tailored offering of travel reservation selections while giving the traveler the option of choosing from these selections. As shown in FIG. 22, the travel reservation selections preferably are displayed as an itinerary for review by the traveler (block 266). In block 268, the traveler then is given an opportunity to make changes to the itinerary, such as by adding or deleting events and/or making scheduling changes among the various events. The traveler's changes and/or comments, questions, etc., are then submitted back to the travel system, such as depicted in block 270, with the system then updating the traveler's vacation plan (block 272). After the traveler's vacation plan has been updated, such as by updating information in a traveler itinerary database, a message indicating that a trip application (TA) has been received by the travel system may be sent to the destination-based franchisee corresponding with the traveler's intended destination (block 274). Preferably, the destination-based franchisee may display the traveler's TA on a display screen, for example, at the franchisee's office so that the TA may be reviewed by one ofthe franchisee's agents (block 276). Sending the TA to the destination-based franchisee allows the franchisee to modify the TA based upon availability ofthe various travel services scheduled by the traveler, such as depicted in block 278. Such display ofthe TA also allows the franchisee to offer itinerary suggestions and to answer questions ofthe traveler in an interactive forum, thus allowing the traveler to receive potentially valuable information from a travel agent who is familiar with the traveler's destination.
Once any modifications have been made to the TA by the destination-based franchisee, the information is submitted back to the travel system (block 280).
Preferably, as depicted in block 282, the travel system sends the traveler a proposed itinerary (PI), such as in the form of an e-mail message, for instance, as well as updates various system databases with information contained within the PI. As depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 23, the traveler then is prompted to review the PI, such as by clicking on embedded links contained within the e-mail message transmitted to the traveler (block 284). These links may advance the traveler to various pages ofthe system web site, such as to a vacation plan page (block 286) or flight page (block 288), with the traveler then being given the opportunity to review the displayed PI information (blocks 290 and 292). The traveler then may either accept (blocks 294 and 296), reject (blocks 298 and 300)or make further changes to the PI (blocks 302 and 304). As depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 23, some embodiments ofthe present invention may provide for separate review and disposition of various aspects ofthe traveler's plans, although in other embodiments, these process steps may be accomplished simultaneously. As described hereinbefore, preferred embodiments ofthe travel system also provide access to flight reservation services, which, in some embodiments, may be provided in the absence of other travel reservation services. In a preferred embodiment (the functionality of which is depicted in the flow chart of FIG. 24), access is provided through links, such as by actuating tab 40 ofthe travel system home page (FIG. 8). Preferably, the system may initiate a traveler confirmation program 310 which utilizes information from the RPd 220 to determine whether the traveler is a system member (block 312).
If it is determined that the traveler is a member, the system may extract information from the customer itinerary database to determine whether there are any saved itineraries for the traveler on file (block 314). If so, the traveler then may be advance to a find-a-flight page 316, such as depicted in the representative screen print of FIG. 25. There, the saved itineraries may be displayed to the traveler as recommended travel selections. However, if no saved itineraries are located, the travel system may generate an itinerary based on other information provided by the traveler and which is displayed to the traveler, such as on the find-a-flight page 316. Preferably, find-a-flight page 316 prompts the traveler to select flight reservation information, such as air travel preferences 318, departure details 320, and return details 322, among others. The traveler also may view itineraries which the traveler has previously completed, such as by actuating the "saved trip plans" icon 324. Preferably, such plans are stored in the travel sub-system and are referenced by traveler identification information. Additionally, the travel sub-system may store information relating to previous searches ofthe air reservation system, and may provide the stored information to the traveler for review by use ofthe "previous searches" icon 326. Once all the traveler's information has been entered, the entered information then may be submitted to the system (block 328) by actuating the find-a-flight icon 330, for instance.
Referring now to FIG. 26, based on the information provided by the traveler and, preferably, information provided by an airline reservation system or GDS, the travel system may utilized a computer reservation system (CRS) program to interpret GDS information (block 340) and then display flight information for the traveler, such as on an available flights display (block 350). Since the GDS information typically is not presented in a user-friendly format, preferably, the CRS is able to present the GDS information in a user-friendly format, such as depicted in the available flights display 350 of FIG. 27.
Preferably, once the information provided by the traveler and the information provided by the GDS has been received by the travel system, the traveler's preferences, i.e., preferences stored in the RPd, if applicable, are merged with the aforementioned information (block 352) to develop the available flights display 350. Then, the traveler may either select one or more ofthe various flights, such as by clicking on a displayed flight (block 354), or the traveler may reject all ofthe flights, such as depicted in block 356. If a flight is accepted, the system may proceed to block 358 where the system generates a flight reservation. For instance, once the traveler selects one or more of the displayed flights, the travel system may display a list ofthe selected flights 360, such as depicted in the representative screen print of FIG. 28. Confirmation ofthe traveler's desire to purchase the selected flight reservations is then requested, with such confirmation being requested in various manners, such as by requesting the traveler to actuate an icon, i.e., the "Confirm Purchase" icon 362. Upon confirmation, billing information provided by the traveler, such as entered into credit card information box 366, or billing information stored in the RPd, is processed.
Alternatively, if the traveler rejected the flights (block 356 of FIG. 26), the system may proceed to block 364 for generation of an exception report and, preferably, the traveler is returned to the system home page. Additionally, if the traveler neither accepts nor rejects the selections, the traveler may choose to communicate with an agent ofthe travel system or ofthe destination-based franchisee (block 400) in order to gain additional information about the various flights.
As shown in greater detail in the flow chart of FIG. 29, intercommunication of a traveler and agent preferably is facilitated through use ofthe find-a-flight page dialog box 410 (also depicted in FIG. 25). The traveler enters questions into the dialog box (block 412) and then submits the questions to the agent (block 414). Preferably, the agent views the traveler's questions on screen (block 416) and then responds to the questions, such as depicted in block 418. This response may include gathering additional information about flights as well as other information, with the gathered information then being displayed to the traveler (block 420), such as in the dialog box 410.
Alternatively, if a traveler is not able to find an acceptable flight and/or fare, the traveler may direct the agent to continue to search for suitable flights and fares. Specifically, the traveler may work with the agent to create a bid for purchasing a certain airline ticket during a certain time period for an amount not to exceed a specified amount. The agent can then search not only a conventional flight reservation system, such as a GDS, but also may have additional time to search supplier and distributor web sites to find an airline ticket that meets the traveler's criteria. If a matching fare is found, this bid may be construed as a firm offer by the traveler for an amount ofthe net discovered price, plus a commission or service fee.
For example, if a traveler were to want a round-trip ticket to a certain destination for $400, during a predetermined period of time the travel system may use that bid as an offer. If the travel system, t'.e., a franchisee agent, or an agent ofthe travel system, is able to find a ticket for $250, the traveler would be able to purchase the ticket for $250 plus a transaction fee, with the overall cost to the traveler being less than or equal to the $400 bid. If, on the other hand, the best accommodating fare were higher than the amount authorized by the traveler, then the agent could conditionally reserve the flight and then return to the traveler with a suggested offer which would be required to purchase the flight reservation. If this higher amount is then authorized and if the conditionally reserved flight is still available, then the agent would be able to consummate the sale at this higher amount.
Referring now to FIG. 30, finalizing a transaction, whether the transaction includes generation of reservations or a rejection by the traveler ofthe PI, typically includes updating the itinerary database and the RPd ofthe traveler. For instance, when a traveler has accepted a PI (block 430), the system may refer to the traveler's stored billing information, such as depicted in block 435, in order to determine whether the traveler has sufficient credit to pay for the requested travel services. If it is determined that the traveler is able to pay, the system may finalize the traveler's itinerary, send information to the traveler, such as a copy ofthe itinerary, billing and reservation confirmation numbers, and send the confirmation and billing information regarding the transaction to the franchisee (block 440).
If, however, it is determined that the traveler is unable to pay for the travel reservations (block 435), the traveler may be sent a rejection message (block 445), such as an e-mail message, for instance, informing him that the transaction may not be finalized. Preferably, the travel system then may update its various databases, including the traveler itinerary and RPd, as depicted in block 450. Likewise, when a traveler rejects a PI (block 455), the travel system also may update its various databases (block 450). Additionally, the system may send a rejection notice to the franchisee (block 460) and may generate one or more other status reports, such as an exception report, for use by agents ofthe travel system for monitoring the operation ofthe system.
The foregoing description has been presented for purposes of illustration and description. It is not intended to be exhaustive or to limit the invention to the precise forms disclosed. Obvious modifications or variations are possible in light ofthe above teachings. The embodiment or embodiments discussed, however, were chosen and described to provide the best illustration ofthe principles ofthe invention and its practical application to thereby enable one of ordinary skill in the art to utilize the invention in various embodiments and with various modifications as are suited to the particular use contemplated. All such modifications and variations, are within the scope ofthe invention as determined by the appended claims when interpreted in accordance with the breadth to which they are fairly and legally entitled.
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