Charter hub Returnjet.com is extending free access to aircraft availability data to brokers in a bid to challenge the market dominance of rival portal Avinode. The change, which took effect July 14, will also allow operators who have registered their fleets with the site to have complimentary access to the real-time data.
Operators will continue to pay a 3-percent “introduction fee” for any flight conducted as a result of customer contact from the site. Returnjet plans to introduce reduced introduction fees for flights booked by brokers.
More than 200 operators have registered their fleets with Returnjet, which started operations in February this year and now includes operators from across Europe and the U.S. The UK-based company conducts detailed checks on registered operators to ensure that they hold an air operator certificate (AOC) for the aircraft listed and have valid insurance. As of press time, another 60 operators were awaiting approval.
The Returnjet site interfaces with the operators’s own scheduling software to present real-time availability of aircraft. For any given trip request, the system will calculate a provisional price quote that the company guarantees will be within plus or minus 5 percent of the final charter rate.
If a flight is requested for which none of the registered operators has available aircraft, Returnjet searches its wider database of all AOC holders worldwide. These options will be presented to prospective charter bookers with the proviso that Returnjet cannot vouch for these operators.
According to Returnjet CEO Mark Blanchfield, Returnjet provides a more transparent way to introduce charter providers to clients. “All we do is make the connection; we don’t take money from the end customers,” he told AIN. “There are no set-up costs and no per-tail costs. Operators are charged only for the successful transaction of business. They get to represent themselves and are not misrepresented [by others involved in the charter transaction].”
From the 3-percent introduction fee, 0.5 percent is set aside into a loyalty bonus pool that gives charter bookers discounts on future flights. The operators can themselves decide whether to incorporate the introduction fee into the net price of the charter at the click of a button.
Under its original business model, Returnjet had not intended to open the online portal to charter brokers in the belief that its direct connection between charter providers and their clients rendered the role of the broker redundant. Announcing the strategic change, the company commented, “We appreciate there will be clients who will be willing to pay for the knowledge and insight a broker can provide, just as we know now there are brokers preferring to use a subscription-free resource on behalf of their clients.”
Returnjet is now planning to allow brokers to integrate its software into their own websites to give their own clients a quick way to search for flight options. Integrating a new version of the search engine into broker businesses allows them to control the customer price and keep the integrity of their client relationship, said a Returnjet spokesman. “They can dramatically reduce their overheads and increase their online presence and transparency. In trend with all online travel sites, the customer does the search, the broker takes the booking and in this case provides all the telephone and advisory support, value added and so on.”
As of press time, the Returnjet site had handled 1,149 charter requests, resulting in 81 flight bookings.