Michael was born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. He attended Northern Illinois University where he received a BS in Biological Sciences. It didn’t take him long to realize the routine of scientific testing work didn’t match with his personality.
Following a 29-year career working for the airlines in increasing sales roles, Michael joined Sky Bird Travel & Tours in 2015 as Sky Bird’s first Business Development Manager. As the sales team grew, Michael took on the role of Director as well as overseeing the Customer Service division. He is often the face of Sky Bird at industry events and the voice of Sky Bird on webinars featuring our WINGS booking engine.
TRO: Hi Michael. It’s been almost 2 years since we talked last. How’s life treating you?
MD: Not too bad. When I talk with people, I hear more positive than negative stories.
TRO: It’s been a wild ride for travel for a while now, with COVID-19 still looming around the edges of the industry. But, Sky Bird has used this time to improve the WINGS Booking Engine. When did you start working on these improvements?
MD: I think we’ve had the plan of doing more for travel agents for some time. But the real push to make the WINGS booking engine a true one-stop place to sell travel began in May of 2019… well before COVID hit.
TRO: An addition to the WINGS Booking Engine are subscription plans. Will these be monthly or yearly, and will there be different plans available to advisors?
MD: The real impetus to having a subscription plan was to provide more content to agents who wanted it. We wanted to do this without requiring “non-users” to pay for it. We have monthly and yearly subscriptions, with an obvious savings for the annual plan. To date, there has been a good mix of monthly and yearly at each level. We have really outlined all the benefits at each level, because we want agents to be able to make an informed decision.
TRO: Sky Bird’s booking engine will now also include a PNR (Passenger Name Record) importer to help ease the advisor’s use of the engine. How easy is the process of uploading the PNR to the system?
MD: Most people know how to copy/paste so we didn’t see the need to go beyond that. The key was to make is easy for GDS agents to access all the WINGS has to offer. We didn’t want them to be excluded from the great things available to those agents who use WINGS for air bookings.
TRO: Another note I have here regarding WINGS is the inclusion of access to NDC (New Distribution Capability). How will this distribution method help travel advisors organize their booking information?
MD: NDC has been talked about for more than a decade. Finally, airlines have taken the steps to make it a reality. It’s great for their bottom line, but the lack of standardization among airlines makes it difficult on the travel professional. WINGS changes all that by bringing the content into the normal sales flow. Agents don’t have to think, “Wait, this is NDC so I have to…” They book it as if they would book any other content available in WINGS.
TRO: Of course, earning commission on bookings is vital to travel advisors. How does the WINGS Booking Engine work with commissions on flights, insurance, hotels, and car rentals?
MD: If the professional travel advisor doesn’t make money, what’s the point? All travel products available on WINGS are either commissionable or, in the case of net air fares, able to be marked-up. As a side note, travel advisors are severely underpaid for the amount of knowledge they provide to their customers. They are constantly learning and investing time to make sure their clients have the best experience. That soap box is for another day.
TRO: Marketing and branding is important, across the board, for business. Does the booking engine include a branding option for travel advisors?
MD: As you know, Sky Bird Travel does not sell direct to the public. There are good travel companies who do this, and that is fine. Sky Bird Travel does not. To keep our name out of any communication between the agent and their customer, we have given agents the ability to customize WINGS in any front-facing interaction. Some agents have really taken advantage of this, others are just dabbling in it. The WINGS booking engine has how-to videos that show agents how to make simple changes that really promote their own brand.
TRO: I’ve heard that there’s a move to upgrade the WINGS accounts to Premium plans. How will this work, and how is this going to be rolled out?
MD: Yes, we are moving all agents into the Premium plan (normally $30/month) at no cost for August and September. This is a great opportunity for agents to not only make more money, but to access all the Premium capabilities of WINGS. WINGS has always given agents the chance to provide B2C links for their customers. This would be a great time for agents to do a marketing push of their own, showcasing the capability of WINGS.
TRO: Michael, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. We’re looking forward to the full return of travel, as I’m sure you are.
MD: Thanks for your interest in Sky Bird Travel, Joey.
You can find more information about Sky Bird’s WINGS Booking Engine here.