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Access to Orbitz Fares Broadened

Travel agents will soon be able to gain direct access to Orbitz's Web-based search engine and its inventory of low-fare ticket prices via a deal struck by AQUA Software Products Inc., a subsidiary of corporate travel firm Navigant International .

Orbitz, of course, is the online travel service created by a consortium of airlines. The move could help to ease government fears of anti-competitive practices at the travel site, said to be the third most visited online travel operation.

Chicago-based Orbitz is backed by American, United, Northwest, Delta and Continental. Online travel agency rivals Travelocity and Expedia have complained that Orbitz' airline owners withhold some so-called "Web fares," the heavily discounted tickets promoted on their own Internet sites.

Navigant, a Denver-based travel services company, said the move will give conventional travel agents access to fare data from more than 455 airlines via the creation of something called AQUAquest, which "will give travel agents the ability to instantly and directly access the Orbitz fare database." "We wanted our software to provide travel agents with the first-ever direct link to the richest single-source offering of low fares and we determined that the vast majority of airline discounts are available on Orbitz," said Mark Ferguson, said Mark Ferguson, president of AQUA Software. "This is the first time that traditional fares from the computerized reservation systems used by travel agents will appear side by side with Internet-offered fares. This will significantly enhance fare comparison and the booking of travel."

The new software product will be particularly useful to corporate travel managers, AQUA said. Financial specifics of the deal with Orbitz were not disclosed, but the operation reportedly has a revenue sharing deal that would give it a portion of the proceeds as Aqua sells the software.

When an Orbitz fare is selected via AQUAquest, agents will be able to book the reservation without having to transfer to and from multiple Web sites, the travel software specialist said. Once booked, the information about the flight will be stored in the traveler's record, along with any hotel and rental car reservations, incorporating the entire transaction into the traveler's management reporting system.

"AQUAquest also will have an optional upgrade allowing AQUA's current Fare Module to search both the standard computerized reservation system and the Orbitz database for lower fares that become available prior to travel after the initial reservation is made," said Ferguson.

Navigant International will be the first user of AQUAquest under its own branded name of WebFLYR. AQUA Software Products will make the app available to other travel management companies and travel agencies following the Navigant roll out.

"This relationship and the Aqua product it produces will enable travel agents to have instant access to up to 2 billion of Orbitz's flight and fare options each time they perform a search," said Jeff Katz, chief executive officer of Orbitz. "The advantage to the traveler in terms of dollar and time savings will be extensive.

And the advantage to Orbitz may be a lessening of interest from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has asked Orbitz to provide more documentation on its business plan and its contracts.

The DOT's review of Orbitz coincides with its preparation of new rules that could govern the systems travel agencies on and off the Internet use to compare and book fares, according to a Reuters report.

Airlines now are required to treat all reservation systems equally. If the government extends the rules to Web sites, airlines could then be required to list the same fares on all Web sites as they now do on reservation systems.