The Quick Guide to NDC Certification Levels

This is an add-on to our previous explanation of New Distribution Capability. This time, we’ll take a closer look at the different NDC certification levels.

There’s a lot of mention of the different NDC levels across many articles. IATA has some very comprehensive documentation on the topic, but it can be hard to find a short and concise description of what those levels actually mean.

If you’re after a top-level summary of NDC levels, you’re in the right place.

Which NDC Certifications Are Available?

There are different types of certifications available, depending upon which type of company you are. It’s not only airlines who can get NDC-certified. You can also get NDC-certified as an IT provider or as an aggregator.

For airlines, the NDC certification enhances the capability of communications with travel agents, which can be sellers or aggregators. This way, airlines are expanding their distribution channels to third parties without losing control of their inventory. For more advantages and details, I’d like to refer you to our explanation of NDC.

If you’re an IT provider and offer any products based on the NDC standard for airlines and sellers/aggregators, you can apply for the NDC Capable designation at either Level 1, 2 or 3. Some examples of certified companies are Amadeus and ATPCO. You can find a list of all NDC-certified and capable IT providers in the IATA NDC registry.

Obtaining an NDC certification means the IT provider is capable of supporting deployments compliant with the standard NDC schema. Depending upon the level achieved, this will include a range of retailing capabilities (we’ll talk more about this later).

Why Do We Need the Aggregators?

Once NDC content is created, it needs to be aggregated with the NDC content of other suppliers and made available for travel channels and travel agents around the world, in a searchable and bookable format. This is what the aggregators take care of. (They also take care of the different NDC standards, but that's a different story.)

You’ll find a list of companies with the NDC aggregator certification in the IATA NDC registry mentioned earlier. Some example of aggregators are Skyscanner and Travelport, both with a Level 3 certification.

The NDC aggregator certification, also either Level 1, 2 or 3, is open to airlines that deploy an NDC API, as well as sellers and aggregators that consume an airline NDC API. Distribution might change in the future as most of the certified aggregators are not big global distribution systems, but the GDS are also getting certified as Level 3 aggregators to keep up with the industry trend.

What Do These Different Levels Mean?

Level 1

This certification gives access to post-booking ancillaries. Content such as seat maps, baggage allowance, baggage charges and types can be searched and booked after the flight booking has been completed. As of March 2019, IATA will discontinue Level 1 certifications.

Level 2

At this level, offer management is enabled. Offer search is possible, but the actual order creation and booking fulfillment are not possible at this level yet.

Level 3

This is the highest NDC certification and is awarded to companies that can execute offer and order management. At this level, airlines and aggregators can create customer offers and bookings and can carry out all required payment activities. They are also able to service the selected offer at any point throughout the order lifecycle.

Ultimately, Levels 1 and 2 are just the steps on the way to the Level 3 certification as this holds most benefits. Level 2 can possibly be interesting for meta-searchers working on a click-out basis, but eventually, they will also strive for Level 3 to be able to fulfill payments and the entire order life cycle.

Reminder: What Are the Advantages?

The advantages for airlines sound straightforward: they can regain control over their inventory across more than just one channel, there are more retailing capabilities via those channels to offer ancillaries, and last but not least, there are no GDS fees.

The main advantage for travel agents is that they can more easily access airline products. Travelers will benefit from an improved customer experience.

However, it’s not that easy. There are quite a few NDC standards – we are currently at 17.2 – and they’re not always compatible.

This is what IATA’s ONE Order is trying to remedy. Between 2015 and 2017, ONE Order grew a community of 50 NDC capable vendors using one robust standard and built a strong industry awareness. Implementation support has been improved and more value chain members are being engaged.

Is That It?

No! IATA has been working on additional NDC levels for a while. As of March 2019, Level 4 will be introduced while new Level 1 certifications will be discontinued. Level 4 will cover full offer and order management and will include service messages.

Stay tuned for more NDC updates these coming weeks!

Heike Neu

Heike Neu

Head of Strategic Partnerships and Business Development