Last updated:
26 Mar, 2024

Travel Booking Engines: Solution Landscape and Functionality

Home Blog Travel Booking Engines: Solution Landscape and Functionality
Reading time: 13 min

A booking engine is the go-to instrument for modern online travel product distribution. This software component is essential for processing various online transactions related to airfare, hotel bookings and other types of travel reservations.

Travel businesses from around the world are using various kinds of booking engines to automate their core operations with limited intervention of human staff. Below, we will examine their capabilities and how they differ depending on the type of travel business or business model.

Internet booking engine (IBE)

Essentially, the Internet booking engine (IBE) is a software component that mediates between travel buyers and sellers. Foremost, it links with customer interfaces to receive search queries. Then it also connects with systems used by travel product suppliers — the likes of hotels, airlines, car rental businesses — to manage and distribute their inventories.

Booking Engine Workflow Scheme

Customer interfaces can be websites, mobile apps, or travel provider chatbots connected with a booking engine through an API layer. This way customers can search and book flights, hotels, packages, transfers, insurance, and other travel products.

The main solutions involved on the part of suppliers are:

  • Global Distribution Systems (GDSs);
  • Bedbanks;
  • Hotel PMSs;
  • Airline booking solutions.

A booking engine uses travel APIs to access these systems and find products that match a customer’s query. It also checks their availability and prices before moving on with a reservation. Then the reservation is confirmed by the system — and the booking is complete. IBE then creates a final booking details file and sends it out to the customer via email.

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Important features

In addition to their main function, contemporary travel agency booking engines often incorporate the features below to boost sales.


Content mapping

Booking solutions obtain information from various sources and sometimes encounter duplicate entries in search results. This is due to a variety of suppliers — bedbanks, consolidators, GDSs, hotels, etc. — providing inconsistent data. Because of this, one and the same room or other inventory elements can pop up simultaneously under different names. To fix this problem, booking engines need to use either built-in or external mapping tools for inventory validation.


Read more about mapping solutions in our separate article [here].


Dynamic packaging

This functionality enables clients to combine various travel items — rooms, flights, car rentals or excursions — within the same booking flow.


Payment gateway connections

Booking engines are incapable of handling booking payments on their own. They usually connect to multiple payment gateways for providing secure online transactions. As soon as a particular travel product is selected for booking, the IBE makes a redirect to the required payment gateway.


Multi-lingual support

Travel businesses tend to accept booking requests from various countries around the world. Thus, their booking engines need to be translated into multiple languages to make things convenient for international audiences.

computer with gear

Booking management

This functionality serves to modify bookings — fix dates, introduce additional products post-booking, enable booking cancellations, etc.

What makes travel booking engines different?

Various types of booking engines may seem to work in the same way, but they actually have different processes under the hood, based on various criteria, such as:

  • Customized business rules. These rules determine the way how a booking engine searches for options and how it ranks them for the customer.
  • Pricing rules. These are usually adjusted by a revenue manager or another specialist, who decides how much to add to the net prices in the form of service fees.
  • Differences of booking engines based on supplier types. Each supplier has its own way of doing things which influences the internal booking engine workflow.
  • Extra features and adjustments. In order to achieve the best results, any booking engine needs to be suited for the specific needs of a particular company.

Also, it’s worthy of mentioning that booking engines differ. In the sections below, we’ll examine how IBEs differ by business model, travel company, and the products offered.

Internet booking engine business models?

Depending on the supported business model, IBEs can be business-to-customer, business-to-business and business-to-enterprise.

Business models in travel distribution


Business-to-customer (B2C) booking engines

B2C engines let end users book travel products directly from the provider via a specifically designed customer-facing website. They are used by hotel websites, hotel booking systems, airlines, online travel agencies (OTAs) and other businesses. In addition to the basic functionality, most IBEs tend to have the following essential features as well:

  • user-friendly UI;
  • built-in shopping cart;
  • recommendation of travel products based on search and booking history;
  • alerts sent to the customer confirming processed bookings.

B2B booking engines

B2B engines let travel wholesalers, destination management companies and OTAs distribute large volumes of travel products and services to other travel companies — smaller agencies or corporate entities. The buyers receive special rates that are not available in the B2C model, and some extra features, such as:

  • adjustable commissions and markups;
  • ability to book without immediate payments using a credit limit;
  • and creating PDF booking confirmations with the distributor’s branding.

B2B clients — smaller agencies — gain access to GDS content using the IBE owner’s (host agency’s) login. Using this option, they are able to avoid costly supplier contracts they cannot afford. They also don’t have to spend on ARC (Airline Reporting Corporation) or IATA accreditations certifying the right to flight ticket issue. This part is covered by the host agency.

Monitor with travel booking

Travel Booking Engine Software

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Corporate (B2E) engines

Corporate IBEs are built according to the requirements of travel management companies (TMCs) and their enterprise clients. A software solution enabled by a B2E engine allows employees to make business trip reservations at agreed pricing on behalf of their business entity. Business rules function in line with the company’s travel policy and might incur spending limits or other limitations depending on the employee.


Multi-channel booking engines

Some businesses may combine several business models within a single booking engine. Upon registration, end clients, travel agents and business customers gain access to a set of features, interfaces, and rates that are specifically designed for them. In particular, a hotel website can render various prices for the same room to individual tourists or companies that put out large amounts of gross sales.

But despite the actual business model, online booking engines for direct travel suppliers (hotels, airlines or else) will be different compared to the ones designed for travel middlemen — DMCs, OTAs, consolidators and other 3rd-party distributors.

IBEs for travel distributors

Thanks to extensive development of the Internet, airlines and hotels can be quite efficient in reaching out to their clients directly. But nevertheless, numerous 3rd-party middlemen — TMCs, wholesalers, agencies, tour operators, online travel agencies and so on — are still a key element for the travel service distribution landscape. Their success and performance largely rely on how well they are presented online and how functional their booking engines are.

Similar to supplier IBEs, the booking engines for middlemen can make use of one of three general business models (B2C, B2B, B2E) or a combo of them, while offering different business conditions to the clients of each category.

Based on the travel services provided, travel company IBEs can be:

  • flight booking engines with automated connections to key GDSs, airfare consolidators, low-cost carriers and other airfare providers;
  • hotel booking engines making use of diverse hotel APIs for reaching out to GDSs, bedbanks, travel marketplaces or various extranets supporting directly negotiated hotel contracts;
  • car hire engines interconnected with multiple car rental API interfaces;
  • cruise booking engines running on automated connections to river and ocean cruise lines, along with cruise consolidators;
  • activities booking engines supporting connection to various 3rd-party tour and attraction providers; and
  • compound booking engines designed for selling multiple travel products.

The majority of OTAs and tour operators run their own complex engines supporting multiple travel products for buying a fully stacked trip. However, small agencies can start operating with a single module — for example, air booking — and later add hotels, cars and other products as the business grows in size.

Launching complex travel industry booking engines can be quite labor-intensive, taking months to complete all the necessary pre-launch arrangements. But it is always possible to cut down the time-to-launch period by finding a turnkey solution adjustable to specific business needs.

Hotel booking engines

Hotel booking engine usually forms a constituent part of the hotel’s property management system (PMS) and is often an element of a channel manager — a specialized solution which supervises all hotel bookings processed via multiple channels: OTAs, GDSs, bedbanks, etc.

The hotel IBE is used to process direct online reservations coming from the dedicated hotel website. In addition, hotel booking engines:

  • connect and sync with the property’s social media;
  • facilitate cross-selling (promotion of extra services) at the time booking is made;
  • can be used to distribute discounts and promo codes;
  • display the best rates compared to other distribution channels like OTAs; and
  • send notification emails regarding booking confirmation, pre-arrival, post-departure and so on.

Customized solutions

All businesses are unique with regard to their individual business circumstances and requirements. That is why chances are high that none of the existing solutions available on the market will properly match your business. In such situations, it is worthy to take into consideration a fully custom booking engine solution. Although it may take longer to launch and might be more costly initially, this option will pay off in the long run by being more flexible and aligning better with the specifics of your business.

travel booking engine
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Launching your own IBE: options to go online

The travel businesses that are just getting ready to launch their first booking website have several options to choose from.


A white label solution

White label engines are ready-to-use and can be customized to reflect your preferred look&feel. They match the requirements of smaller companies that are quite limited in resources and have shorter launch timeframes. The major issue here though is less flexibility in terms of new integrations and features.


Integrate content aggregator APIs

Rather than building connections to each of your suppliers individually, it is possible to implement travel APIs aggregating content pulled from numerous sources simultaneously. In this case, though, it is most likely you will need expert assistance from an external technology partner to handle the applicable integration activities.


A tailor-made booking engine on top of a basic solution

In case you seek utmost flexibility and customization, it’s recommended to build up your implementation on top of an existing minimalistic solution interconnected with specific travel suppliers, thus eliminating redundant integrations. This seems to be the golden mean between a unique solution and practicability.

But anyway, the final choice of engine setup option depends on your available resources, stack of requirements and presence of control over the booking workflows you want to work with.

Maria Bondarenko
Maria Bondarenko
VP Product, Shareholder at GP Solutions

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