Garber Travel became the first travel agency to deploy ITA Software's alternative distribution system. The Chestnut Hill, Mass.-based agency, one of the top 25 in the U.S. (its 2003 sales totaled $334 million) is funneling about "10 or 20" United Airlines bookings a week through the system, executive vice president Joan Kaplan said. "We hope to get it up to 50 or 100," she said.

United was selected because it is a preferred partner of the agency, Kaplan said. United also has been active in promoting the GDS new entrants such as ITA and G2 SwitchWorks. Early this year, Derek Lewitton, its director of distribution strategy, urged the carrier's corporate accounts and major agencies to use the new systems; he joined ITA in April as vice president of sales.

Unlike many large agencies, Garber has until now used a single GDS -- Sabre -- and "we don't intend to destroy that relationship," Kaplan said.

Garber does not intend to expand the use of the ITA system to other airlines, Kaplan said, because it doesn't want to jeopardize the incentive payments it receives from Sabre. The system is being used in only one office and only for five accounts.

Kaplan said Garber is creating passive segments in Sabre for each of the United bookings made through ITA because the new system currently handles only air. The passive bookings enable the agency to put all trip information into one PNR.

Meanwhile, Sabre said it will charge both airlines and agencies a fee for passive segments booked conjunction with an alternative system booking. But Kaplan said she has not heard that directly from Sabre. "Sabre hasn't discussed it with us yet," she said. And in any event, she said, ITA has assured her that it will compensate the agency for the new fees. Besides, "we don't intend to do that many segments through ITA," Kaplan said. Meanwhile, Garber has not yet worked out its "gain-sharing" arrangement with United.

At a meeting with agencies and corporate accounts early this year, United said it would pay agencies an incentive of up to $5 per booking to encourage them to funnel some business to the alternative systems.

Kaplan is unconcerned about the lack of an agreement at this point. "We are not talking about enough segments," she said. "In the second quarter of next year, it might be a different story. We might be up to 50,000 segments." As for the ITA system itself, "it seems to be working fine," she said. ITA has been "very thorough" with training and have had technicians on site since the system went live. "They are very responsive," Kaplan said.