I recall that in the past there were basically two big backends (Saber and something else) for all the online search engines, so you really only needed two search on one site from each group (choosing within a group based on features or points or whatever). There could still be differences within a group using the same backend due to stale prices, but those would usually disapear when you proceeded to booking.

Is that still true (and if not, was it ever)? Where can I see a list of sites that use a given backend?

  • 2
    The second one is ITA Matrix, recently purchased by Google.
    – JonathanReez
    Jun 23, 2016 at 22:54
  • 3
    Neither the premise nor the conclusion is correct. Many airlines continue to use their in house solutions. Other airlines do not publish all their fares on the public distribution system, so even the best search engines won't find them (many of CX's best deals are only available from CX and only searchable through CX's own website or ticket office). And anyone who does buy an off-the-shelf solution like ITA Software's QPX will tune it to suit their own ends.
    – Calchas
    Jun 23, 2016 at 22:59
  • So if I do want to hit a couple of engines that hit the biggest distribution systems, which should I choose? I can't do much about the fact that some fares may not be available through any distribution system (except to note that, and sometimes do specific searches on airline sites when I know where to look).
    – BeeOnRope
    Jun 23, 2016 at 23:07
  • 2
    @JonathanReez I believe the OP is talking about Amadeus, not matrix
    – Berwyn
    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:19
  • @BeeOnRope Could you expand a little on what you're trying to achieve? Are you thinking of developing some search tools, or are you just looking for the cheapest fare for your travels, or something else?
    – Berwyn
    Jun 24, 2016 at 1:24

2 Answers 2


Short answer: No, that's not the case.

I think what you've heard was a little mangled in the telling. There are indeed only three large airline Global Distribution Systems (GDS), which are the systems where both tariffs (prices) and reservations are created, stored and accessed. These are Travelport (Galileo/Apollo/Worldspan), Amadeus and Sabre, the last of which you mentioned. Even these aren't quite universal though, as many low-cost airlines like Ryanair and Air Asia don't participate.

However, flight search is the next layer on top of this, which attempts to find the best flights and fares in these GDSes. This is a notoriously complicated problem that continues to elude a single winner, and since anybody can purchase a GDS subscription and start doing searches, lots of startups do. So while the GDSes have their homegrown pricing systems, there are also third-party competitors like QPX (one of the most popular packages for doing this), some of the big boys like Expedia roll their own, and then there's a whole slew of startups like Rome2Rio, Adioso and Hipmunk that all attempt to find some edge: Rome2Rio mixes in trains and buses, Adioso lets you do really wide-open searches and combine with LCCs, Hipmunk factors in the "pain" of the itinerary etc.

  • Thanks for the explanation then. I guess what I'm trying to understand is how best to cover the largest number of possible itineraries/prices by doing only a few (ideally not more than two) searches across engines.
    – BeeOnRope
    Jul 9, 2016 at 18:32

No, it isn't and it was never. And they won't tell who uses what.

Several airlines don't participate in any of those systems, but force all sales through their own system (example: Southwest).

They have obviously some disadvantages from that, but also some advantages; they think it is the better solution.

Google's ITA (http://matrix.itasoftware.com/) or Google's direct flight search (https://www.google.com/flights/#search, very fast) are generic and touch nearly all airlines (including Southwest, etc.), but you cannot book there - once you see the cheapest or you preferred offer, you need to go to that airline to book it.

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