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How to develop your online booking engine and what alternatives are there?


13 minutes read

The travel market is flooded with various online booking software, making it tougher to survive the fierce competition. In fact, online sales account for 66% of the revenue share in the worldwide travel and tourism market, as Statista found. Some companies opt for ready-made engines or other alternatives to the booking engine, sacrificing many perks they could have had otherwise. The value of online travel booking engines is immense as they are highly customizable for each individual business and can set you apart through unique commodities or features. The only difficulty lies in crafting one because the process has many intricacies.

“What features should my online booking engine have to win user attention?” Our software development company has been working with travel software and marketplaces for quite a while and has dealt with numerous such queries. We would like to share some knowledge with you. We will also give you insights on what you can use instead and where other options give in.

What is a booking engine and how does it work?

Let’s start with an online booking engine definition. This is a website application that combines integrated multiple services in a single application and shows all the information about flights, hotels, and transport in real-time for the end user.

The main aim of the booking engine is to remove any unnecessary and redundant steps in the booking process to make it as clear and understandable as possible. It automates the booking process to decrease the pressure on travel agents and hotels, as a client can do everything alone without external help.

We are going to explain how it works and what processes are behind the booking engine creation. The easiest way to comprehend it is through the example of a travel agency. 

A travel booking engine consists of 4 layers.

4 layers of booking engine

Integration with external suppliers

You don’t take flights out of thin air, so you have to seek suppliers of the product to sell in the booking engine. The supplier takes on the task of sourcing these suppliers and engaging in negotiations to secure the most favourable deals and collaboration terms. These curated offers are then integrated into the booking application for users to access. The logical question arises: how to connect the supplier and booking engine? With the help of API, of course. To describe the principle of how an API works, it is a pipe that connects and transfers data between two different software applications. You connect “the pipe” from your booking engine to the supplier, and the tickets, for example, display in real-time for your users.


When it comes to the application’s search feature, it looks like you only need to enter the request and here you have the result. You can do so, but merely offering users random options is insufficient. To make the search process smart, you have to make the search system offer users only the best deals for their needs. For example, when someone searches for a flight from Warsaw to Budapest, the system should prioritize options with the lowest prices or the most convenient flight times, sourced directly from suppliers. Customize the search so that users consistently receive the most advantageous offers, rather than relying solely on generic filters or popular airline choices. 


Pricing also can be adjusted so you can set your margin according to the following criteria:

  • demand
  • season
  • competition


The last layer is the process of actually booking what the user needs. It may look the same as the previous, but many aspects need to be solved. For example, when you use different suppliers, you need to adjust each of them specifically as they require a unique approach. Each supplier can have individual aspects as:

  • booking requests
  • payment processing
  • API messaging

The booking engine is complex software and requires a professional hand that can make it work properly. That’s why it is vital to have a team of experienced specialists. Our ASD team possesses reasonable expertise to be called one. We always approach projects responsibly and examine many nuances that affect your booking engine.

Must-have features of an online booking system

As you have proceeded with defining the overall scope of the solution you need, there is a need to make sure it holds fast to the key features every successful travel agency online booking engine should have.

Must-have features of an online booking system


  • Dynamic packaging.

    Every user wants omnichannel service. Let them book their trips on an end-to-end basis within your platform. 

  • Financial integrations.

    Leaving your app or webpage to proceed with payment is tedious. Make sure the booking engine features all the financial integrations required for swift and painless payments.

  • Travel content mapping.

    A built-in or external mapping tool will prevent the engine from listing the very same inventory multiple times under various names.

  • Management flexibility.

    Booking a hotel room must not be a verdict. Let the user modify their reservations by changing all the parameters they might need.

  • Multi-language supportWhile there is no need to explain why this feature is crucial to your project’s success, never forget that the travel business is a global one.

11 steps to create an online booking system 

Feeling lost and don’t know where to start? We have compiled a step-by-step guide on how to create an online booking system that is easily adjustable to your project model. Take a look at the twelve steps to become more informed about the topic.

Before we get to the point, we will quickly break down what is the difference between the booking system and the booking engine. 

The booking system is the broader term that spans all the processes and infrastructure related to the management of accommodation options, flights, and other facilities whereas the booking engine is just one part of this system. It’s the tool people use to make reservations or bookings. 

Let’s draw the analogy with a car: if the booking system is the whole car, the booking engine is the ignition –  only one part among others.

  1. Prepare a detailed plan. To start with, envision clearly what your travel platform would be and put it on paper. You have to be very specific about what travel services you want to offer, such as airlines, hotels, or vacation properties. Describe your TA profile, their demographics, and the pain points that you strive to address. A sound business plan with strategies is a non-negotiable step.
  2. Conduct market research. Take a plunge in your travel industry competitors. Learn their strengths and weaknesses, and look for gaps or places where your platform can shine. And don’t forget to study the numbers and figure out your pricing strategies to ensure they comply with the market.
  3. Select technology stack. Now, let’s talk tech. Select all the tools that you will need to create your online booking system. Choose programming languages, frameworks, and other useful technologies that will assist you with that. Those largely depend on whether you are going to make a platform from scratch or upgrade an existing one.
  4. Design user interface. The interface is basically the face of your company. A successful interface speaks friendliness to your users and is comfortable to navigate. Wireframes and mockups can help build a clear picture of how the users will handle the platform.
  5. Integrate the system with APIs. If you go for a backend development, choose the tried and tested options that can manage booking processes, payment transactions, and real-time data retrieval. Integrate APIs from airlines, hotels, and payment gateways to access real-time data efficiently and ensure seamless interactions with travel service providers.
  6. Streamline user registration. Another step is to implement the functionality for user registration and login. Develop user profiles to securely store personal info, preferences, and booking history, creating a more personal touch.
  7. Provide multi-currency and multi-language support. Although most people around the world know or at least understand a bit of the English language, it is still better to add a few more common languages from each language group. It will increase the practicality of the application and make a client feel more comfortable.
  8. Adjust the system for mobile. To be accurate, according to Condor Ferries, 70% of users use mobile devices to search for travel. Taking this into consideration, it is almost certain that potential clients will use mobile phones to use your services, so optimization for proper working on such platforms is a must.
  9. Simplify payment processing. People don’t like intricate payment options, so try to make this stage as plain as possible. Integrate a payment gateway such as Stripe, or Paypal to enable users to make payments for their bookings securely. Comply with industry regulations (such as PCI DSS for payment processing) to ensure safe transactions and confidence for your users.
  10. Apply availability and inventory management. Create a robust system to effectively manage the availability and inventory of booked items or services. This system will guarantee real-time updates and synchronization, ensuring accurate and up-to-date information for seamless operations.
  11. Test and launch. Lastly, let’s put your platform to the test. Fix all the issues and bugs to check that everything smoothly running. Once you feel confident, hit the launch button.

What are alternatives to booking engines?

Even though booking systems are increasingly popular, there are still many other options to use instead. We will list these options below, each with its share of advantages and disadvantages.

Using Ready Booking Systems

Pros: you don’t have to spend time and effort to have booking functionality on your website. There are plenty of third-party booking systems, where you pick the system that fits best to your needs, and then connect it to your website.

Cons: third-party systems lack as much flexibility and control over the booking process and user experience. Apart from this, most of the third-party systems would levy a charge or commission tagged along with all bookings.

Affiliate Integration

Pros: you can integrate with the affiliate programs and redirect users to external booking platforms. This is a less complex way.

Cons: you lose some control over a user experience. Your users could be directed to another website, so earnings depend on the success of affiliate partnerships.

API Integration

Pros: it enables integrations with APIs of the travel industry for the best travel and booking options. This results in more flexibility and control.

Cons: setting up API integrations can become technically intricate and often time-consuming. You’ll also need to maintain those integrations and ensure that they work reliably.

White-Label Solutions:

Pros: can be customized to match your branding and integrate with your website. It is particularly advantageous for businesses with budget constraints, allowing them to leverage existing solutions without the hefty price tag.

Cons: may have limitations in terms of deep customization. While they offer branding adjustments, businesses with highly specific or unique requirements may find themselves constrained by the pre-set features.

Hybrid Approach

Pros: ability to offer both, the integrated booking engine as well as affiliate links. Gives flexibility to the user with a seamless experience.

Cons: is more work since you will have to develop both options and manage the integrated as well as the outside booking process.

In the long run, your choice depends on requirements, resources, and future aspirations the most. You might want to consider using a pre-made system or affiliate links for smaller projects, while larger and more complex websites may require a custom solution. A hybrid approach can offer the best of both worlds if you have the resources to implement and maintain it.

What factors can affect the price of developing an online booking system?

The list of price-defining factors can go on and on. We have picked several of the most decisive ones so you have a wider perception of dependencies.

  • Complexity. The key price driver in any project is the development complexity. It applies to the booking engine too, as there is a ted of functionalities with different difficulty levels. The more feature-rich the system is, the higher the cost in terms of development and maintenance. However, you can significantly save up if you prioritize the core features and leave others, less urgent for later.
  • Customization. Each business is unique and demands unique software development approaches. The team has to adjust the strategy or create one from scratch to fit your company’s needs. That also costs a sum, but you can find the sweet spot between customization and using off-the-shelf solutions.
  • Security. Ensuring strong security measures to protect your users’ data and payment information is necessary. It involves the cost of ongoing security updates and maintenance implemented to secure your booking software and its users.
  • Integration. If the system needs integration with other existing services or systems, expect the price tag to go up. Complicated integrations with a higher number of third-party services result in the more expensive the final price.
  • Iterations. Sometimes in the middle of the project, stakeholders come to teams with a set of new changes. In such cases, the project timeline extends, bringing repeated estimations back into place. It might involve more tools and data, and eventually money. The good news is that you can avoid this scenario by defining clear goals and requirements from the get-go. In our previous article, we are explaining the role of requirements in software development, so go check it out.

How to find the right team for developing booking engines 

While it might sound obvious, putting together a decent travel agency booking engine requires a software development team. Sure enough, there are various so-called ready-made offerings in the market, which you can take advantage of. Nonetheless, get ready for an abridged and limited scope of the tool’s flexibility and scalability. 

Meanwhile, getting a dedicated outsourced software development team is a one-time expense that gets you a tailor-made platform that delivers on the tasks your team has defined as crucial for your business. Here is the process of finding a trusted software development team for your travel agency booking engine.

  • First things first, you should look for a team that specializes in travel software development, and quite likely an outsourced vendor would be a perfect choice for you. Software development outsourcing has proved itself to be a miraculously beneficial model for the client, as outsourced teams are cheaper while their expertise and experience are often wider and richer.
  • Check the portfolio of the candidate companies that have made it to your software developers shortlist. You would want a tech partner with relevant experience in developing the very same type of products.
  • IT outsourcing companies tend to sweeten the deal when it comes to talking about their technical exploits on their websites. Go to Clutch or Goodfirms and check what their customers have to say about them.
  • Finally, talk to their representatives and compare their offerings. Quite often it would be during this stage that you will be able to choose your tech partner based on their vision of the tech stack and the overall development process.

What ASD Team can bring to your project?

Our company has hands-on experience in developing booking engines both from scratch and updating developed ones. For example, we developed the following things for one of our clients: 

  • report systems
  • synchronization with external services
  • integration with external systems for booking
  • Google Maps integration

Also, we developed many features for end-users, service providers, and travel agents:

  • ability to fully customize trips for users
  • separate deals for travel agents
  • admin panel for service providers
  • To become acquainted with the whole story, read the case

Let’s Sum It Up

The very process of developing a booking engine for a travel agency is not that long and tedious. Everything it takes is defining what kind of platform your business needs and what the users’ needs you want it to meet. Then, you only need an experienced travel software development team to put your ideas together. By the way, a decent software vendor will also advise you on not only the implementation of your idea but will also let you know how to refine it.


What are examples of online booking systems?

Online booking systems in the travel industry include well-known platforms like Expedia, Booking.com, and Airbnb for accommodations, and airline websites for flight reservations.

How much does an online booking system cost to develop?

The price is negotiated personally with your outsource partner. It is impossible to tell the cost off the top of your head because there are many things to count like project complexity, feature sets, timelines, integrations, etc. If you are interested, we welcome you to a detailed consultation with our ASD team.

Is it better to develop an online booking engine from scratch or consider alternatives?

It depends on your specific needs and resources. Developing from scratch offers customization, but alternatives can save time and effort. If you are ready to dedicate yourself to the endeavor, it is worth trying. The online booking engine has a wider audience coverage, so it might be more lucrative than its alternatives.

Can I make my booking system?

Yes, you can. If you have the necessary technical skills and resources it will be a breeze. Otherwise, the best thing you can do is to turn to a reliable outsourcing team that possesses enough expertise in the area.

Got a Project in Mind?

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