Welcome to GDS

Chapter 3

Welcome to GDS

During the 1980s, the airline industry went through a huge transformation with the advent of GDS.

What is GDS?

A global distribution system (GDS) is a computerized network system that connects all the providers – such as airlines, travel agencies, TMCs, hotels, and car rental companies. It allows travel agencies to research and locate many itineraries and options with a few clicks. Inventory on the GDS is in real-time – e.g. available seats on flights, rooms available in hotels, or cars available to rent.

Besides the inventory, the GDS will also have a ton of information: Departure times, seat types (AKA ‘seat class’), aircraft type, meal types, and much more. Pricing is also available in the GDS.

A GDS is different than a CRS. While a CRS is a private system owned by a specific airline or vendor, a GDS is a standalone system designed to be used by multiple airlines, and allows travel agencies to access all those airlines and their inventories in one central place. (However, some airlines outsource their entire CRS system to a GDS)

It’s important to point out that the actual inventory is not kept in the GDS. The inventory is kept in the vendors’ CRS. The GDS serves as a real-time link to their CRS.

In summary, the core functions of a GDS are:

  1. Allow access to find available flights, details, and pricing
  2. Conduct reservations, booking, ticketing, cancelling and refunding

Advantage to airlines: By giving easier access to their inventory, it allows the many thousands of agents using the GDS to market their products and reach a larger target audience.

Advantage to travel agencies: A way to quickly source many options from many airlines, along with tons of useful information for each option.

There’s More Than One GDS

There are three main GDS systems globally:

  • Sabre
  • Amadeus
  • TravelPort (The parent company of Galileo, Worldspan and Apollo)

These three are the global standard. Although there are also a number of small GDS systems in specific regional markets, they are largely irrelevant to most agencies, especially here in the United States.

All major airlines are connected to all three systems. The reason for multiple systems is due to the way that they developed and evolved; they are owned and operated as joint ventures between specific airlines and other travel providers.

Sabre and Amadeus are the most popular within the United States, and deciding which system to use is a matter of your agency’s preference. The GDS systems are similar to one another, and once a travel professional is proficient in one GDS, they should be able to adapt to another with a moderate amount of training.

In order to use the GDS, an agency must be accredited with IATA (and also ARC in the USA). More on IATA and ARC later though.

Fact: GDS is Not Easy

Let’s be very up front here: GDS is a very technical skill and extremely difficult to learn and navigate. It will take months of intense training to become proficient, and ongoing practice and daily use to maintain your sharpness.

To make matters worse, GDS is very unforgiving when it comes to mistakes. Every small error will cost you. They are called debit memos, which are fines for mistakes, and they add up very fast.

However, just because you have chosen a profession in the travel industry does not mean you must learn GDS. This section will take you under the hood a bit, and help you decide if, and how much you need to learn. Even if you never learn or use it, you will at least gain a basic understanding of the principle concepts.

What does it look like?

Traditional GDS – commonly called the green screen is sort of like a unique computer language. It has the look and feel of the old DOS operating systems from back in the 1980s, before Windows and Mac came around (remember those?)

As you can see from the image below, it ain’t pretty 🙁

At its core, GDS is native to the green screen environment. So, whenever you hear the term ‘GDS’, chances are that it’s referring to the green screen. If you apply for a travel agent job and they ask if you know GDS, they are almost definitely asking if you know green screen.

Is GUI the Answer?

Some GDSs offer a slightly more modern GUI (Graphical User Interface) that users will feel (just a bit) more comfortable with. For instance, Sabre GDS offers Red Workspace and TravelPort has Smartpoint.

But don’t get excited just yet.

Even GUI users must still learn the green screen language for one simple reason: GUI only helps with navigating the program and the inputting of information. However, the results are displayed in regular GDS green screen language. Therefore, agents who use GUI must learn the GDS language anyways – so not much gained there…

Do You Need to Learn GDS?

Well, that depends on where you are focusing your travel career.

Any travel agency that books directly on a GDS will definitely use GDS extensively. (duh…)

If you only sell leisure travel, then you can get the air supplied by the air supplier. That way you can avoid GDS altogether.


Tip from the Pros: The best way to avoid the need to learn GDS is to book through a consolidator or TMC. If you select the right one, they will do all the GDS work for you.


Getting Your Feet Wet in GDS

Even the basics would be beyond the scope of this training. But just to give you a starting point, we’ll show you two typical examples of GDS in action.

1) – A simple GDS search for availability in Sabre:

The GDS user inputs the following code in the green screen: 11JULNYCLON

To break that down, this is what is happening:

11JULNYCLON
Code that tells GDS to search for available flightsDate to searchFrom New York CityTo London

The results of such a search might look like this:

Notice that it found six available options. Here’s a simple breakdown of the first option:

2) – A booked itinerary in Sabre GDS code format:


Again, these two examples are on the most basic level. As mentioned before, it would take many months of training and practice to become proficient in GDS.


Tip from the Pros: No GDS allows a booking of more than 11 months in advance. That’s why there is never a need for a ‘year’ in the date format.


Further education: Here are some links to video tutorials on the Sabre GDS that will teach you some of the basics:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTOWY8PQHVIhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfxax-a8Jfo Here’s a link to the full Sabre Basic Course Manual:https://bit.ly/2D9HajG


CRM and Accounting Software

Every travel agency needs to have systems to manage their bookings. This includes a front end CRM (customer relations management), and a back office accounting platform. Without going into detail, we will just mention them here briefly.

The industry standards in the USA are:

CRM: ClientBase

Back Office accounting: TRAMS

Although both are owned by Sabre, they are compatible with all GDS systems.


Chapter 3 Takeaways…

  • GDS is a computerized network system that connects all the providers in real-time
  • GDS includes available flights, prices, departure times, seat class, aircraft type, meal types, and more
  • The core functions of a GDS are:
    1. Allows access to find available flights, details, and pricing
    2. Conduct reservations, booking, ticketing, cancelling and refunding
  • There are 3 main GDS systems: Sabre, Amadeus, TravelPort
  • Sabre and Amadeus are most popular in the USA
  • GDS is not easy to learn
  • Green screen refers to the GDS user interface (Sadly, not user friendly)
  • Best way to avoid the need to learn GDS is to book with a good consolidator