This story appeared in the August 1984 issue of Online Today, CompuServe's magazine for CIS subscribers, announcing the first service to allow consumers to make airline reservations online. But “e-tickets” didn't yet exist, so you had to visit a travel agent or airline ticket office to pick up your tickets. (The first story also mentions plans to provide for ticket delivery by mail, but they apparently later decided against that option.)
This story used the three-word name “The Travel Shopper,” but as you'll see below, it ended up being called “Travelshopper.”
Starting in October , CompuServe Information Service subscribers will have access to a service offering flight availability and reservations options for any scheduled airline in the world. The Travel Shopper is offered by Trans World Airlines.
“This will be the first time such comprehensive worldwide airline information will be offered directly to the consumer,” says Richard Baker, CompuServe’s corporate communications director. The Travel Shopper will be available on both the Executive and Consumer Information Services.
Information will be provided to subscribers in easy-to-follow steps in user-friendly language. Users will be able to analyze the flight schedules of major domestic and world airlines, scan for airfare bargains and order tickets electronically. Subscribers can arrange for tickets to be issued by a travel agency, through the mail or at any participating airline ticket office.
“While it’s a TWA-automated system, we have structured our program to highlight the services of travel agencies for ticketing, and we believe this system will benefit agency productivity, as well as generate new business,” says Peter T. McHugh, TWA’s vice president of passenger marketing.
The Travel Shopper’s flexible design will offer both a “browse” and a “book” mode. In browse mode, the user can search among possible flights and fares to determine the optimum itinerary. In book mode, actual seat reservations can be made. While browse mode will be available to all subscribers, only those subscribers who choose to enroll in The Travel Shopper service will be able to book a seat.
“Membership in The Travel Shopper is simply a mechanism whereby TWA, CompuServe and the subscriber can be assured that the system is being used properly,” says Mary Vaughn, CompuServe’s marketing manager for travel products. “The membership option is open to all CompuServe subscribers at no cost. There are no dues involved, and membership applications can be made online.”
To become a member of The Travel Shopper system, a subscriber need only enter the command GO TWA at any ! prompt in the Consumer Information Service. There, the user will find an in-depth description of the upcoming service and an application for Travel Shopper membership. Jerry Loffman, CompuServe’s advertising and promotion specialist says, “The enrollment process is being made available now so that subscribers will be able to make full use of the booking option as soon as TWA’s service is live.”
In addition to booking privileges, membership in The Travel Shopper gives the subscriber automatic membership in TWA’s Frequent Flyer Bonus (FFB) program. FFB provides travelers with bonus mileage credit for the number of miles they fly. Credit is also given for staying at Marriott, Hilton International and Vista International hotels, using an auto from Hertz Rent-A-Car or flying on various regional airlines, such as Air Midwest, and international carriers like Austrian Airlines.
The cost of using The Travel Shopper service will range between $20 and $40 per hour, depending on the time of day the system is accessed.
— Robert Loomis
The November 1984 Online Today followed up with this article. Although the previous story used the three-word name, “The Travel Shopper,” it ultimately became known by the one-word name “Travelshopper” as used in this story.
If you have a personal computer or communicating word processor, you can have all the advantages of entering an airline terminal, finding out what seats are available for specific flights and even making seat reservations — without leaving your desk.
Trans World Airlines and CompuServe Incorporated have jointly developed a way for consumers to directly obtain comprehensive worldwide airline information and to book flights. Travelshopper, the new service, is available to all CompuServe Information Services subscribers. The database includes flight schedules serving nearly 100,000 pairs of cities for every published airline schedule in the world, as well as approximately 3 million different fares.
“It’s the first time consumers will have direct access to a reservation system,” says Mary Vaughn, CompuServe product marketing manager. She cites other advantages of Travelshopper: “It’s user-friendly, it’s a time-saver, and it will allow users to make informed decisions about their travel plans.” Costs are estimated at $20 to $35 per hour or an average cost of 45 cents per minute, depending on the time of day Travelshopper is used.
When CompuServe subscribers log on and access Travelshopper (GO TWA) from either the Consumer or Executive Service, they will go through an electronic gateway which will connect them to TWA’s computers. At that point, all users can browse; those who are Travelshopper members can also book seats.
The information displayed is based on what TWA calls an objective algorithm. “If you want to go from city A to city B, there’s a formula for determining the best flight to get you there,” Vaughn explains. “A nonstop flight, for example, receives more points than a flight that has two or three stops, even though it might be closer to your time.” All of this information goes into generating the display.
In addition to the book and browse functions, Travelshopper has help features and search capability. “If you’re going to New York, it will look for anything in the New York area — Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports,” says Vaughn, “If you know you want to go to Kennedy, it will give such flights higher priority.”
You’ll also be able to receive information about special services available from travel agents. While it’s a TWA-automated system, the program is structured to highlight the services of travel agencies for ticketing. “We believe this system will benefit agency productivity, as well as generate new business,” says Jan Emmerson, manager of PARS (airline reservation system) marketing at TWA. “Travel agents generate 75 percent of our business.”
Until now, computerized airline reservation systems were designed for use only by travel agents. To learn how to use the TWA PARS system, travel agents typically fly to TWA headquarters in Kansas City for a week-long training session. Since the original PARS system is code-driven rather than menu-driven, agents memorize the various code sequences to access information quickly for their customers.
TWA has modified the reservation system so that consumers will be able to use it without difficulty. CompuServe subscribers can operate it by answering a few questions online and selecting items from a series of menus. “We’re concerned about having the right mix between ease and difficulty,” says Emmerson. “We designed the system to accommodate the needs of the novice and expert user.” To an experienced user, a long series of menus could become frustrating. To a first-time user, too few menus could prove equally frustrating. Emmerson is trying to find the balance.
“We’ll watch it closely to see how it’s working,” she says. TWA has a way of monitoring Travelshopper’s ease of use by statistically tracking the number of times the various help pages are accessed. Emmerson says a “help desk” is also available through a toll-free number.
TWA will monitor the system for patterns of usage. “The biggest concern is that people will book seats and not fly,” says Emmerson. “We’re concerned for our own seat inventory and that of other airlines.” TWA will track the number of booked seats and the number actually occupied, including such details as destination cities and class of service booked.
To ensure that Travelshopper is not being misused, Emmerson says TWA will have limits on the number of bookings a person can make in a given time period. The system will identify atypical usage. This security policy will not have an adverse effect on TWA’s frequent fliers.
TWA and CompuServe are also concerned about the possibility of people “just playing” on Travelshopper. TWA will require an additional identification number beyond the CompuServe User ID number and password before it will allow booking of seats. This measure protects access to the system from someone who has stolen another’s User ID number and password.
If you have not already applied for a Travelshopper membership, you can type GO TWA at any ! prompt on the Consumer or Executive Service. You will be prompted for your name, address and travel agent. When you’ve completed the online form, you’ll receive your Travelshopper materials through the mail. Once you have your identification number, you can go directly to the book mode on Travelshopper and make seat reservations.
When you use Travelshopper you will still have access to a travel agent for your tickets, boarding passes and other special services. When you answer the online questionnaire to apply for Travelshopper membership, TWA will ask how you plan to get your tickets. If you don’t have a travel agent, TWA will provide you with a list of TWA-automated travel agents in your ZIP code area.
Travelshopper provides you with comprehensive, worldwide airline information and the convenience of booking seats online. Just type GO TWA at any ! prompt to enter the electronic age of travel.
— Mary Mitchell
Here’s the first Travelshopper ad in Online Today. It ran as a two-page spread in the December 1984 issue. You can probably read most of it at this size, but there’s also a larger image (~700K) that you can zoom and scroll in your browser.