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WO2002017042A2 - Global computer network based reservation system - Google Patents

Global computer network based reservation system

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Publication number
WO2002017042A2
WO2002017042A2 PCT/US2001/026451 US0126451W WO2002017042A2 WO 2002017042 A2 WO2002017042 A2 WO 2002017042A2 US 0126451 W US0126451 W US 0126451W WO 2002017042 A2 WO2002017042 A2 WO 2002017042A2
Authority
WO
Grant status
Application
Patent type
Prior art keywords
accommodation
consumer
room
page
operation
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2001/026451
Other languages
French (fr)
Other versions
WO2002017042A3 (en )
Inventor
Gregory H. Kossover
Jack P. Deboer
Original Assignee
Ubid4Lodging.Com, Inc.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date

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Classifications

    • GPHYSICS
    • G06COMPUTING; CALCULATING; COUNTING
    • G06QDATA PROCESSING SYSTEMS OR METHODS, SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES; SYSTEMS OR METHODS SPECIALLY ADAPTED FOR ADMINISTRATIVE, COMMERCIAL, FINANCIAL, MANAGERIAL, SUPERVISORY OR FORECASTING PURPOSES, NOT OTHERWISE PROVIDED FOR
    • G06Q10/00Administration; Management
    • G06Q10/02Reservations, e.g. for tickets, services or events

Abstract

An apparatus, system and method for facilitating accommodation reservations using the Internet (160) and for providing marketing data to the hotelier (140). The present invention includes a consumer component (110) and an accommodation component (120). The consumer component including includes an incremental bidding column wherein a consumer (150) may incrementally bid on a room type at an accommodation. The incremental bidding column includes the historically highest and lowest acceptable price. The accommodation component (120) includes definable tiers for an accommodation wherein a hotelier (140) may define selling criteria and pricing for an accommodation. The defined accommodation inventory is immediately available to the consumer (150) so that the consumer has access to the latest accommodation inventory and pricing. Additionally, the system tracks data related to use of the consumer component (110) that is useful to the hotelier in setting prices and defining marketing needs for a particular accommodation.

Description

GLOBAL COMPUTER NETWORK BASED

RESERVATION SYSTEM

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates generally to a web based reservation system.

The present invention relates more particularly to a web based reservation system having a consumer component and an accommodation component that, in part, form a virtual front desk for an accommodation and a consumer, the virtual front desk for providing a hotelier with a means for meeting present demand by immediately making accommodation inventory and pricing changes available to the consumer via the consumer component. Additionally, the present invention provides a tool for gathering sales and marketing data regarding consumer bidding activity for an accommodation.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Web sites that facilitate booking hotel rooms, flights, car rentals, tour packages, and the like are widely available on the World Wide Web ("WWW"). The web sites implement the booking process in a variety of ways. The following discusses two existing methods of booking hotel rooms that are implemented in existing web sites and various disadvantages of these methods. These methods may or may not constitute prior art to the present invention and their inclusion herein does not constitute an admission that these methods are prior art. Herein, the phrase "WWW" and term "internet" are used synonymously to represent a global computer network.

A first existing method implements the hotel booking process by allowing a user to offer a price for a hotel room in a particular city or area during a particular time. The room is automatically booked in the first hotel that accepts the offered price for the room. The user is notified by email a short time after making the selection if any hotel has accepted their offered price and, if so, provided with details about the booking. If no hotel accepts the offer, then the user must start over.

The first method has various disadvantages. First, the web site does not allow the user to choose a particular hotel, a particular room type, or a particular room within the hotel. Rather, the user is booked in any room in any participating hotel that accepts the price offered by the user. Second, the user is not provided with instant feedback. Rather, the user typically waits for an hour or more to find out if the offered price was accepted. If the offered price was not accepted, then the user must start over and once again wait to find out if the offered price is accepted. Third, the system does not provide the user with any indication of participating hotels or details about the accommodations that participate in the system including the rates or range of rates that have been acceptable for the accommodation in the past, nearby attractions, and detailed location information. Fourth, the user may not back-out once a bid is entered into the web site. Finally, the first existing method does not provide a means for a consumer to interact with a hotelier at a virtual front desk.

A second existing method allows the user to book a particular room type at a particular accommodation. The user may find the hotel by using a map or selecting a particular city, country, lodging type, and amenity. Using the map entails selecting greater and greater degrees of particularity. A world map is presented and the user selects a country of interest, for example, the United States. Then the user selects a particular area in that country, for example, Colorado. Finally, the user selects a particular region, for example the Denver metropolitan area. A list of hotels is then presented for the selected region.

The list provides a name of the hotel, a city the hotel is located in, advertised rates for the room types of the hotel, and a brief description of the hotel. Then, the user selects a hotel from the list. After selecting the hotel, a picture of the hotel is shown, the advertised rates for the hotel are shown, and various other details about the hotel are presented including a rating, a list of credit cards accepted, and a message from the host. The user may then view more pictures of the hotel, book a particular room type at the advertised rate for that room type, or check availability. The user may book more than one room at a time.

The second method does not allow, however, the user to pick a price or back- out once the hotelier's bid is accepted. In addition, the second method does not provide any previously acceptable rate at the accommodation besides the currently advertised rate. Moreover, the second method does not provide any means for a consumer to interact with a hotelier in real time at a virtual front desk.

It is against this background that the various embodiments of the present invention were developed.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention implements, in part, a virtual front desk of a hotel or other accommodation using the Internet. When a consumer physically enters an accommodation with the intention of getting a room for the night, the consumer is typically quoted, initially, the advertised rate for a particular room type by a clerk at the front desk of the accommodation. The consumer may, however, negotiate the price, and depending on demand for the night or nights requested the clerk might sell the room for a lower rate than the advertised rate. If demand for the accommodation is high, however, the clerk may not be willing to sell the room at a lower rate. The present invention, using the Internet, virtually emulates the interaction that occurs at the front desk by using an on-line, real-time system having a consumer component and an accommodation component. A hotelier, i.e., the clerk at the front desk, using the accommodation component defines and releases inventory (including setting prices) for an accommodation to the consumer component. The consumer, using the consumer component, then may bid on the very latest inventory for an accommodation.

Additionally, the present invention provides a tool for gathering marketing data for a hotelier. The present invention tracks marketing data including, but not limited to, the number of hits to a particular accommodation, the bids that consumers enter for a particular accommodation, and whether consumers choose to bid on an accommodation after viewing the accommodation. The hotelier to change pricing, change its marketing approach, or redecorate may use this marketing data.

A first embodiment of the present invention includes a method of accepting a reservation from a consumer. The method of the first embodiment having the following operations: (a) establishing a site on a global computer network, the site including a consumer component; (b) presenting accommodation information from which the consumer selects a desired accommodation; (c) displaying bid information for the selected accommodation, the bid information comprising a plurality of bidding prices that the consumer may use to make a consumer-selected bidding price for the selected accommodation; and (d) determining whether the consumer-selected bidding price for the selected accommodation is acceptable. This method may also include the operation of presenting accommodation information including presenting at least one room type associated with the accommodation from which the consumer selects at least one desired room type to make a consumer-selected bidding price.

A second embodiment of the present invention includes a method for a hotelier to match supply with demand by defining accommodation inventory for an accommodation and submitting the accommodation inventory for the accommodation to a consumer component using an accommodation component, the hotel having at least one room type. The method of the second embodiment including the operations of: (a) accessing an accommodation component, the accommodation component having a link to at least one tier global computer network page defining at least one definable tier of inventory, the definable tier of inventory having at least one definable room type field, at least one definable selling criteria field, and at least one pricing attribute field associated with the at least one definable room type field and the at least one definable selling criteria field; (b) defining the at least one room type field wherein the room type field is representative of the at least one room type of the hotel; (c) defining the at least one definable selling criteria field; (d) defining a price in the at least one pricing attribute field; and (f) submitting the hotel inventory to the consumer component.

A third embodiment of the present invention includes a method for a consumer to bid on at least one room type associated with at least one accommodation. The method of the third embodiment including the operations: (a) serving an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a consumer-selectable image of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations; (b) serving an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and (c) serving an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type.

A fourth embodiment of the present invention includes a method for a hotelier to provide accommodation inventory to a consumer component. The method of the fourth embodiment including the operations: (a) serving a hotelier home global computer network page, the hotelier global computer network home page including a link to a tier global computer network page; and (b) serving at least one tier global computer network page, the at least one tier global computer network page including at least one definable tier of inventory having at least one room type field, at least one selling criteria field, at least one definable pricing attribute field associated with the at least one room type field and the at least one selling criteria field.

A fifth embodiment of the present invention includes an apparatus for a consumer to bid on at least one room type. The apparatus of the fifth embodiment includes: (a) a server for serving an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations; (b) a server for serving an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including an image of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and (c) a server for serving an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type including an acceptable bidding price.

A sixth embodiment of the present invention includes an apparatus for a hotelier to provide accommodation inventory to a consumer component. The apparatus of the sixth embodiment including: (a) a server for serving a hotelier home global computer network page, the hotelier global computer network home page including a link to a tier global computer network page; and (b) a server for serving at least one tier global computer network page, the at least one tier global computer network page including at least one definable tier of inventory having at least one room type field, at least one selling criteria field, at least one definable pricing attribute field associated with the at least one room type field and the at least one selling criteria field.

A seventh embodiment of the present invention includes a real-time system for providing a virtual front desk for an accommodation. The system of the fifth embodiment includes: (a) an accommodation component having at least one tier of inventory whereby a hotelier may define inventory and set pricing for the accommodation; and a consumer component linked to the accommodation component, the consumer component including: an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a descriptive image of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations; an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including an image of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type including an acceptable bidding price. The system of the seventh embodiment may also include a sales and marketing data module accessible by the hotelier, the sales and marketing data module configured to track and store consumer use patterns of the system.

The foregoing and other features, utilities and advantages of the invention will be apparent from the following more particular description of a preferred embodiment of the invention as illustrated in the accompanying drawings.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

Figure 1 is an overall system diagram illustrating the present invention including an accommodation component and a consumer component implemented through web pages accessible via the Internet; Figure 2 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the consumer component of the present invention; Figure 3 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the basic reservation criteria web page of the consumer component;

Figure 4 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the map web page of the consumer component; Figure 5 is an exemplary map page screen shot;

Figure 6 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the accommodation selection web page of the consumer component;

Figure 7 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the accommodation display web page of the consumer component; Figure 7a illustrates an exemplary accommodation display page;

Figure 8 is a flowchart illustrating the initial bidding and payment operations;

Figure 9 is a flowchart illustrating the incremental bidding operations;

Figure 9.5 is an exemplary confirmation page screen shot;

Figure 10 is an exemplary incremental bidding page screen shot; Figure 11 is a flowchart illustrating the overall operations associated with the accommodation component;

Figure 12 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the log-in web page of the accommodation component;

Figure 13 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the tier display web page;

Figure 14 is an exemplary tier display page screen shot;

Figure 15 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the tier change page;

Figure 16 is an exemplary tier change page screen shot including change fields;

Figure 17 is a second exemplary tier change screen shot including an exemplary pricing attribute change;

Figure 18 is a flowchart illustrating the operations associated with the master change web page; and Figure 19 is an exemplary master change page screen shot. DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Figure 1 is a system diagram broadly illustrating a web based reservation system 100 of the present invention (hereinafter "system"). The system 100 includes a web site 105 having a home page providing access to consumer oriented pages 110 (hereinafter "consumer component") including an apparatus and method for a consumer 150 to make online reservations, and hotelier oriented pages 120 (hereinafter "accommodation component") including an apparatus and method for a hotelier 140 to manage inventory (i.e., rooms available for rent). As is known in the art, the web site 105 is accessed via the Internet 160 using a web browser such as Microsoft Internet Explorer™ or Netscape Navigator™ by entering the appropriate domain name for the web site 105 in the web browser. The consumer component 110 and accommodation component 120 are both connected to an inventory database 130 storing various data regarding the accommodation inventory, hoteliers, and consumers. Although described herein as a reservation web site having consumer pages and hotelier pages accessible via the Internet 160, the present invention may also be implemented in a separate consumer web site and a separate accommodation web site. In either Internet implementation, it is preferable to include security features, such as a password, for access to the hotelier component 120. Additionally, the system 100 may be implemented in a proprietary client server network arrangement.

The hotelier 140 using any standard web browser on a computer connected to the Internet 160 accesses the accommodation component 120. The hotelier may then manage inventory available to the consumer component 110. The management of inventory includes adding or removing rooms; changing the pricing of rooms; adding pricing tiers based on length of stay, advanced reservations, season and the like; and adding, modifying, or deleting descriptions of properties. The added or modified inventory is instantly communicated to the inventory database 130 and adds new data therein or effects the related data stored therein. Because the consumer component 110 is also connected to the database 130, the consumer component 110 has instant access to the updated inventory in the inventory database 130.

The accommodation component 120 provides a method and apparatus by which the hotelier 140 may dynamically manage inventory to take account of present demand. The term "hotelier" as used herein includes any person or entity charged with setting up, monitoring, or otherwise managing inventory for a rental accommodation, including managing the number of rooms available in the system, rates for the rooms available for rent at the accommodation, and tier pricing. For an example of inventory management to take account of demand, consider a situation where it is Friday night, the following Sunday night is only 30% booked, and the hotelier's advertised rate for a room is $100.00/night. However, the hotelier 140 still makes a profit on the room at $70.00/night. In an attempt to increase the bookings for Sunday night the hotelier can change the rate for a room from the advertised rate of $100.00/night to $70.00/night. Accordingly, the hotelier 140 may attract more consumers 150 because of the lower room rate. In contrast, if a convention is coming to town and the hotelier can sell a room for $150.00/night, the hotelier 140 can change the rate for a room to $150.00/night. Furthermore, if demand from other sources such as travel agents is low or demand from the system 100 is high, then the hotelier 140 may add more rooms to the system 100. Accordingly, the accommodation component 120 provides a means for the hotelier 140 to take account of present demand in its pricing strategy.

The consumer 150 using any standard web browser accesses the consumer component 110 through the Internet 160. As used herein, the term "consumer" includes any person or entity accessing the system to check accommodation availability, location, pricing, and for other travel planning purposes, including room reservations. The consumer may then make a reservation for any accommodation wherein the hotelier 140 provided inventory to the consumer component 110 via the accommodation component 120. The system 100 provides the consumer with access to the very latest inventory, on-line and real time. In addition, the consumer component 110 presents both the highest and lowest rate or price ever acceptable for a room type along with a currently acceptable bid price and incremental pricing steps therebetween. Accordingly, and amongst other things, by providing previously acceptable high and low prices, the consumer 150 may make an educated decision as to how much they are willing to pay for any given room on any given day. This feature of the present invention is advantageous because most consumers 150 do not realize that rooms may be rented at rates below the advertised rate. Additionally, this feature of the present invention is advantageous because most consumers 150 do not realize that room rates are negotiable and subject to change on a daily basis. With other Internet implemented on-line reservation methods the consumer is not presented with historical rates on a room-by-room basis and is therefore unable to determine if the advertised rate is a fair price to pay for a given room on a given day. The system 100, including the accommodation component 120 and the consumer component 110, is preferably implemented in a single web site in a single data center. Accordingly, a single web server or set of redundant servers in the data center serve both the consumer component 110 and the accommodation component 120 and utilize a shared database 130 comprising one or more storage disks in the data center. By implementing the system at a single data center various efficiencies are achieved over existing methods wherein the hotelier pages and the consumer pages are not in a single web site or at a single data center. The system may also be implemented at interconnected data centers wherein data is updated at all databases instantly. The aspects of the overall system 100, the consumer component 110 and the accommodation component 120 of the present invention are presented in greater detail below. The embodiment of the present invention discussed below is described with reference to making reservations for an accommodation such as a hotel, motel, resort and the like and providing accommodation inventory to the system 100; however, the present invention is equally applicable to reservations for car rentals, flights, and the like, and providing inventory to the system accordingly. Consumer Component

The consumer component 110 provides a comprehensive apparatus, system, and method of making a reservation for a room or room type at an accommodation. The consumer component 110 includes a number of web pages wherein the consumer goes through various operations that lead to making a reservation at an accommodation for a set of dates at a certain, consumer-selected price. The following describes the consumer component 110 and the operations associated with it. The various operations associated with the embodiment of the consumer component 110 as discussed below are presented in a particular order. The order of many of the operations, however, is only provided for ease of discussion, and the operations may be performed in alternative orders. In addition, the following discussion focuses primarily on making a reservation for a room; however, the system 100 may also be used to check rates, accommodation location, and availability, and to obtain other travel-related information.

Figure 2 illustrates the general operations associated with the consumer component 110. The basic reservation criteria page 210 is the first page that the consumer is presented with when accessing the consumer component 110. The basic reservation criteria web page 210 is the page wherein the consumer enters data such as a check-in date, a check-out date, geographic location to search for accommodations, and begins the accommodation selection operations.

The consumer component provides three ways in which a consumer may select an accommodation to incrementally bid on for a reservation. First, in operation 215, the consumer may enter a particular accommodation that they wish to stay at. If the consumer knows the particular accommodation that they wish to stay at, then that accommodation is entered in page 210, and the consumer is presented with the accommodation display page 235. The accommodation display page 235 provides various details, as discussed below, for a particular accommodation. Second, in operation 220, the consumer may enter a particular brand of accommodation, e.g., "HOLIDAY INN™," that they wish to stay at. After entering a particular brand, in operation 220 the consumer is presented with a brand specific map page 225 that shows all accommodations of the brand selected in the geographic region selected. Finally, if the consumer does not choose a particular accommodation or brand of accommodation, then the consumer is presented with a general map page 230 for a selected geographic region presenting all accommodations participating in the system for that region.

The map page 230 presents the consumer with a map of a particular geographic area selected by the consumer. By selecting a particular area of the map the consumer is presented with the accommodation selection page 240. The accommodation selection page 240 presents the consumer with images of the accommodations in the region selected on the map page 230 along with some details about the accommodations including the range of previously acceptable prices for rooms at the accommodation. By selecting one of the accommodations listed on the accommodation selection page 240, the consumer goes to the accommodation display page 235. The accommodation display page 235 provides detailed information about the accommodation including images of the accommodation, images of the lobby, images and lists of nearby attractions, images of rooms, amenities, and advertised rates for the accommodation.

After an accommodation is selected in operation 245, the consumer begins the bidding operations. First, the consumer may view a sample bidding page 247 that familiarizes the consumer with the bidding operations without the consumer having to enter any credit card information and without the potential of the consumer reserving a room. The sample bidding page is considered advantageous, in part, because consumers are generally hesitant to enter credit card information over the Internet without having a good understanding of the system they are using beforehand. If the consumer chooses to bid for a room, then the consumer must enter credit card information in the credit card page 250. Then, the consumer goes to the incremental bidding page 255. The incremental bidding page 255 provides information about each room type offered by the accommodation, e.g., studio or suite, an image of each room or room type, an advertised room rate, and an incremental bidding column for each room type.

The incremental bidding column presents bid values for the historically lowest acceptable price, the historically highest acceptable price, the rate currently available and incremental bid values therebetween for the room type. For example, if consumers previously could reserve, using the consumer component or by other means, a studio at an accommodation for $52 and for $60, and the current acceptable bid is $50, then the incremental bidding column will present bidding values of perhaps $50, $52, $54, $56, $58, and $60. The consumer then may bid for the studio beginning with any price they believe is fair and continue bidding until a bid is accepted. The incremental bidding page 255 is advantageous, in part, because the consumer is provided with a basis for determining whether the price they wish to bid for a room is fair, is presented with instant feedback if their bid is accepted or rejected, and may back out at any time before their bid is accepted. The aspects of the incremental bidding page 255, particularly the incremental bidding column, are discussed in greater detail below. After a bid is accepted, then the consumer is presented with the confirmation page 260 that provides details about their reservation and the amount they saved compared to the advertised rate.

The detailed operations associated with the basic reservation criteria page 210 are illustrated in Figure 3. In operation 300, the consumer selects the consumer component link from the home page of the system 110. This brings the consumer to the basic reservation criteria page 300.

In operation 305, the consumer selects a check-in date; and in operation 310, the consumer selects a check-out date. The check-in and check-out dates represent the various nights for which the consumer desires to make a reservation. The check- in and check-out dates are selected by using a pull-down menu and left-clicking on the appropriate month and day. Generally, a pull-down menu includes a menu of commands or options that appear when an item is selected with a mouse. To select the month for the check-in, for example, a "monthly" pull-down menu is selected that displays the months of the year. The consumer may then select the desired month from the list in the pull-down menu.

In operation 312, the consumer selects the number of rooms that wish to reserve. The system allows the consumer to make more than one reservation at a time. In operations 315, 330, or 360 respectively the consumer decides whether to select an accommodation by using maps, to select a particular accommodation, or to select a brand of accommodation. This feature is advantageous because it allows consumers who know the brand of accommodation or a particular accommodation that they wish to stay at the ability to simply enter that brand or particular accommodation and rapidly move to the reservation operations. And, it also allows consumers who only know the general geographic location, e.g., Wichita, Kansas, the ability to discover and peruse accommodations in that general geographic location. In operation 315, if the consumer chooses to search for accommodations by geographic location, then the consumer must select a particular geographic region in operation 320. Using pull-down menus, the consumer selects the country, state, and city in which they wish to search for an accommodation. After selecting the country, state, and city the consumer is presented with the map page 325. The map page is discussed in more detail below with reference to Figures 4 and 5.

If the consumer does not choose to search for an accommodaton by geographic location, then in operation 330 the consumer may enter a particular accommodation or brand of accommodation in operation 360. The consumer selects a particular accommodation in operation 330 by entering the accommodation name and the geographic location of the accommodation in operation 335. The particular accommodation is entered by manually typing its name and location, e.g., "HOTEL AT OLD TOWN ™" and "Wichita," or by selecting the particular accommodation from a pull-down menu. The location may also be entered by entering the zip code for the accommodation. If the accommodation is unavailable, then the consumer may enter another accommodation in operation 335 or search for accommodations by geographic location beginning with operation 315. If the accommodation is available in the system, then in operation 340, the consumer is notified whether the accommodation is sold out. If the accommodation is sold out, then in operation 345, the consumer may choose to be wait-listed for the accommodation. If the consumer does not wish to be wait-listed, then the consumer may enter a new accommodation in operation 330 or search for accommodations by geographic location beginning with operation 315. If the accommodation is not sold out or the consumer desires to be wait-listed, then the consumer goes to the incremental bidding page in operation 355. The incremental bidding page is discussed in more detail below.

In addition to being able to search a geographic location for an accommodation or select a particular accommodation, in operation 360 the consumer may also search for an accommodation by entering a particular brand of accommodation (e.g., "Holiday Inn ™) and a geographic region. Then, the consumer is presented with a branded map page in operation 365. The branded map page presented in operation 365 is similar to the map page presented in operation 325 with the primary difference being that the branded map page shows only the brand of accommodations selected for the geographic region selected.

The operations associated with the map page are illustrated in Figure 4. In addition, an exemplary map page 500 is illustrated in Figure 5. In operation 400, the consumer is presented with the map page. As discussed above, the map page is entered from operation 325 of Figure 3. Based on the criteria entered in operation 320, a map of the appropriate region is presented when the consumer enters the map page. For example, if Wichita, Kansas were entered in operation 320, the map of Wichita shown in Figure 5 is presented on the map page.

In operation 420, the consumer has the option of viewing accommodations for a particular location on the map by selecting a particular location on the map or by entering a zip code for the particular location in which they are interested. If a zip code (e.g., in box 505 of Figure 5) is entered, then the consumer is presented with the accommodation selection page at operation 430, which displays accommodations associated with the zip code entered. If, on the other hand, the consumer chooses to use the map, then the consumer selects a location on the map in operation 440 after which the consumer is presented with the accommodation selection page, at operation 430, that displays accommodations associated with the location selected. Referring to Figure 5, the map page shows a geographic region associated with the criteria entered in operation 320. Referring to the above example, the map 500 is representative of the map that is presented if Wichita, Kansas is entered in operation 320. The map presents a wide geographic region associated with Wichita including surrounding suburbs. In addition, the map includes various features of the geographic region including streets 510; highways 520; points of interest (e.g., the Midcontinent Airport 530, the Sedgwick Zoo 540, and the Historic Old Town 550). Additionally, the map page may include accommodation links for all system accommodations, arranged on the map corresponding to their geographic location. By selecting a link, the consumer is presented with the accommodation display page for the accommodation associated with the link. The accommodation link feature is not illustrated in Figure 5.

In operation 440, the consumer selects on the map the region, in whicht they wish to view associated accommodations. For example, if the consumer wishes to stay near the airport 530 (Fig. 5), then the user will point to the airport using a mouse and left-click, near airport 530, after which the user is presented with the accommodation selection page at operation 430, which displays accommodations located near the airport 530. Accordingly, the map page presents the user with a comprehensive and easy to use method of finding an accommodation in a particular geographic region. The branded map page, not shown, is similar to the map page illustrated in Figure 5. The branded map page, however, additionally includes indicators and/or links on the map to all accommodations in the region for a particular brand, e.g., "Holiday Inn ™."

Figure 6 illustrates the operations associated with displaying all accommodations for the particular geographic region selected and selecting a particular accommodation for detailed display in the accommodation display page. After selecting an area on the map 500, in operation 440, or a zip code, in operation 420, the consumer is presented with the accommodation selection page in operation 430. The operations associated with the accommodation selection page begin with operation 600 (Fig. 6). In operation 605, the system determines if accommodations are available for the region selected in operation 440 or 420.

In operation 610, if at least one accommodation is available, then the available accommodations are displayed to the consumer. The accommodation display includes at least one image of each accommodation for the region, the name of each accommodation, amenities offered at the accommodation, and the range of rates available on the incremental bidding page (discussed below).

Typically, a plurality of accommodations are displayed, and the display is arranged in a display grid comprising rows and columns. The grid may be any size to allow for the number of available accommodations for the region. The presentation of the accommodations in the display grid changes periodically in preferably a round robin fashion; periodically moving the accommodation displayed in the last grid box to the first grid box. For example, if there are four accommodations associated with a geographic region then the display may comprise a 2X2 grid with an image of each accommodation presented in one of the grid boxes. Typically, in operation 615

(discussed below) the accommodation presented in the upper left grid box is selected most often, and the accommodation in the lower right grid box is selected least often. Therefore, to fairly present each accommodation the display changes periodically moving the upper left accommodation to an adjacent display, shuffling all accommodations over one grid box, and moving the lower right accommodation to the upper left grid box.

In operation 615, the consumer selects one of the accommodations presented in the grid box for further display in the accommodation display page. The selection is made preferably by left-clicking on the image of the accommodation. In operation 620, after an accommodation is selected, the consumer is presented with the accommodation display page that provides further detail about the particular accommodation selected.

If, in operation 605, the system determines that accommodations for the region selected are unavailable, then, in operation 625, the accommodations are displayed on the page. However, unlike operation 610, the accommodations are presented with an indication that the dates requested are sold out. For example, if the HOTEL AT OLD TOWN ™ in Wichita, Kansas is sold out for the dates selected, then an image of the hotel is presented with "Sold Out on Dates Requested" superimposed over the image. Alternatively, the accommodations are not shown and only an indication that the dates requested are sold out, such as "All Hotels Sold Out," is shown.

In operation 630, the consumer has the option of being wait-listed for a sold out accommodation. If the consumer chooses to wait-list an accommodation, then the consumer selects an accommodation in operation 640. After selecting an accommodation, in operation 640, the consumer is presented with the accommodation display page in operation 620 for the accommodation selected. If, in operation 630, the consumer chooses to not wait-list an accommodation, then, in operation 645, the consumer may return to the map page, return to the branded map page, or select another particular accommodation.

Figure 7 illustrates the operations associated with displaying and advertising a particular accommodation after the accommodation is selected in operation 615 or in operation 640. Figure 7a illustrates an exemplary accommodation display page for the HOTEL AT OLD TOWN ™. In operation 700, the accommodation display page is presented. In operation 710, a display for the accommodation selected by the consumer in the operation associated with Figure 6 is provided. The display includes a map 750 (Fig. 7a) providing directions to the accommodation, a description of the accommodation 755, and images 760 of the accommodation. The map is printable and includes detailed directions to the accommodation. The detailed directions may include freeways, streets, landmarks, and written directions from various points such as the airport 530. The description 755 preferably describes unique features of the accommodation. For example, the description may describe the rooms in the accommodation and a unique antique collection that is on display at the accommodation. Finally, the images 760 of the accommodation may include images of the outside of the accommodation from various angles, images of rooms available at the accommodation, images of a restaurant at the accommodation, and images of attractions near the accommodation. The accommodation display page for each particular accommodation may be customized in any way the participating accommodation chooses, including providing various images of the accommodation, rooms in the accommodation, and surrounding areas, and providing other descriptive data about the accommodation.

In operation 720, the consumer has the choice of bidding for a room or rooms at the accommodation (link 765) or selecting a different accommodation (link 770). If the consumer is happy with their selection, then in operation 740, the consumer begins the bidding operations discussed below with reference to Figure 8. If the consumer wishes to see other accommodations, then, in operation 730, the consumer returns to the accommodation selection page. Figure 8 illustrates the operations associated with preparing to bid for an accommodation. In operation 810, the consumer may view a sample bid page 820. The sample bid page allows the consumer to simulate the incremental bidding operations (discussed below) without having to enter credit card information and without any possibility of actually reserving a room. The sample bid page preferably does not use any actual accommodation or actual pricing for an accommodation to ensure that the consumer knows that the sample page is for exemplary purposes only. The sample bid page is advantageous because it allows consumers wary of entering credit card information or consumers unsure of how the incremental bidding operations work a chance to experiment with the system without any commitment. In operation 830, the system determines if the consumer is a first time user of the system. If the consumer is a first time user, then, in operation 840, the consumer is presented with the credit card page. The credit card page requires the consumer to enter all pertinent credit card information so that any future reservation may be charged to their credit card. No charge is made to the credit card, however, until a bid is accepted by the system in the incremental bid page as discussed below. Credit card information entered in the credit card page includes a credit card type, a credit card number, an expiration date of the credit card, the credit card holders first and last name, the phone number and address for the credit card holder, the email address for the credit card holder, and the company (if applicable) that the credit card holder belongs to.

If the consumer is not a first time user, then, in operation 850, the consumer is presented with the credit card information that the consumer used in a previous transaction on the system. Alternatively, the system will not store credit card information, and the consumer will have to enter credit card information regardless of whether they are a first-time user. In operation 860, the consumer must verify the credit card information currently in the system. If the credit card information is correct, then, in operation 870, the consumer is presented with the incremental bidding page. If the credit card information is incorrect, then the consumer is presented with the credit card page in operation 840 where the consumer may correct the credit card information. In operation 860, the consumer may also simply choose a different credit card then the system currently lists and go to the credit card page and add the information for the new credit card. After the credit card information is entered or verified, the consumer is presented with the incremental bidding page in operation 870.

Figure 9 illustrates the operations associated with the incremental bidding page. In operation 905, the consumer may start the bidding operations. An exemplary incremental bidding page is illustrated in Figure 10. The incremental bidding page 1000 includes the name and location of the accommodation selected 1002 and bidding windows 1004 for each room type generally available for the accommodation selected. The bidding windows 1004 include an image of the room type 1006, a bidding column 1008, an advertised rate for the room type 1010, a written description of the room type 1012, and the room type 1014, and the number of rooms currently available in the system (not shown in Figure. 10).

Referring- again to Figure 9, if the consumer does not wish to bid for one of the rooms types in the bidding windows 1004, then in operation 910 the consumer may return to the accommodation selection page. If the consumer chooses to bid on a room, then, in operation 915, the consumer selects a room type to bid on by left- clicking on the "bid here" button 1007. If the room type is sold out or for some reason not available in the system, then, in operation 920, an indicative text is superimposed over the image 1006 in the bidding box 1004. For example, the indicative text "No rooms of this type available on this date" 1016 is superimposed over the "Double/Double" room type 1018 image. In addition to left-clicking on the "bid here" button 1007, in operation 925, the consumer may also select a bid amount from the bidding column 1008. The consumer, using the bidding column, may incrementally bid on a room type by incrementally selecting bidding values for the associated room type. The consumer is not locked into a bid and may back-out at any time until they select an acceptable bid price. As discussed above, if the room is sold out or for some reason not available in the system, then, in operation 920, an indicative text is superimposed over the image 1006 in the bidding window 1004. Then, in operation 923, the consumer has the option of being wait-listed for the room type sold out. If the consumer chooses to not wait-list the room, then, in operation 924, the consumer may select another room type and return to operation 915 or return to the accommodation selection page in operation 910. If the consumer chooses to wait-list the room type, then the system determines if the number of rooms are satisfied in operation 935. The bidding column 1008 includes a plurality of potentially acceptable bid prices ranging from a low bid price 1020 to a high bid price 1022. A bid box 1024 containing the low bid price 1020 is located adjacent the top edge 1026 of the bidding window 1004, the bid box 1034 containing the high bid price 1022 is located adjacent the bottom edge 1038 of the bidding window 1004, and the bidding boxes containing the bid prices between the high bid price 1022 and the low bid price 1020 are located adjacent the right side wall 1040 of the bidding column 1008.

Figure 10 illustrates an exemplary bidding column. The bidding column illustrated, however, may include bid amounts that are lower or higher than can fit in the bidding column on a single page. To account for this situation, the bidding column includes a scrolling feature wherein the lower or higher amounts scroll up or down and are viewable by the consumer. Preferably, when the bid amounts exceed the capacity of a single page, then the low bid amount is included, at the top of the bidding column 1008, when the incremental bidding page is first accessed.

The bidding amounts comprising the range between the low bid amount 1020 and the high bid amount 1022 are incrementally divided between the high and low bid amounts. For example, the bid column 1008 includes the bidding amounts $71 (the low bid amount 1020), $73, $75, $77, $79, $81, $83, and $85 (the high bid amount 1022). Hence, there is a $2 increment between all of the values comprising the range between the high 1022 and low 1020 bid amounts. If the number of bid amounts exceeds the space available in the bid column 1008 on a single page, then the consumer may scroll the bidding column 1008 to reveal bid amounts greater or less than those initially presented in the bidding column 1008. The increment amount may be set by the hotelier. Otherwise, the system includes a default increment value.

A bid is accepted when the consumer bids the acceptable price as defined by the hotelier. The acceptable bid price is defined by the hotelier in the pricing attribute fields discussed below with respect to the accommodation component. Alternatively, all prices greater than and including the acceptable bid price may be accepted. Preferably, there is no indication in the bidding column as to which price is the acceptable price.

In operation 930, whether or not the bid is accepted is communicated instantly to the consumer. Accordingly, the consumer does not have to wait before knowing if their bid is accepted. If the bid is not accepted, then the consumer may bid again or quit. If the consumer chooses to bid again, then the consumer may choose any of the bid amounts in the bid column 1008.

In operation 925, the consumer begins incrementally bidding by selecting a bid amount from the bid column 1008. The low bid amount 1020 is the lowest price that was historically available for the room type or currently available for the room type being bid on. By providing a range between the lowest and highest historical prices and the advertised rate, the consumer is provided with an advantageous way of deciding how much they are willing to pay for the room, i.e., the consumer can place an upper limit on how much they will pay for the room. Presumably, the consumer will start bidding at the low bid amount 1020 and incrementally bid higher until a bid is accepted or they reach their upper limit.

Presumably, if the first bid is not accepted, then the consumer will choose the bid amount one increment greater than there first bid. For example, if their first bid was $71 than their second bid will most likely be $73. This is advantageous because it allows the consumer to work up to the upper limit they have decided to pay for the room. If they reach their limit without having had a bid accepted they are able to leave the consumer component 110 without having paid more than they are willing to pay. On the other hand, if a bid is accepted lower than their upper limit then the consumer will most likely be pleased with the result. Working up from the lower amount toward an upper limit as described above, however, is not enforced by the system. Rather, the consumer may choose any amount in the bidding column 1008 for any bid. If, in operation 933, the consumer chooses to stop bidding, then, in operation 910, the consumer is returned to the accommodation selection page.

In operation 935, after a bid is accepted the system determines if the number of rooms selected in operation 312 is satisfied. Preferably, a message 1040 is superimposed over the image in the bidding window 1004 notifying the consumer of the status of the transaction. For example, the message 1040 may state: "Bid Accepted! You have reserved 1 studio for $71. You still have 1 room left to reserve. Click on 'studio' to take another studio for $71 or begin bidding on another room type." In this example, the low bid amount 1020 of $71 was accepted by the system. In the above example, the consumer had originally requested two rooms. In operations 940, 945, and 950, if both the same room type at the same price is available in the system, then the consumer has the option of getting the second room for the same price as the first. The portion of the message that reads "Click on 'studio' to take another studio for $71" indicates that the same room type for the same price is available. If, in operation 940, the same room type was not available in the system, then the system would return the consumer to operation 915 and superimpose a message notifying the customer of that information. If, in operation 945, the same price for the same room type was not available, then the consumer would have to perform the bidding operations again beginning with operation 915. In operation 950, if the same room type at the same amount as the first reservation is available, then the consumer may simply click on "studio" in the bidding window 1014 to get the same room type for the same price.

After a bid is accepted in operation 930 and the number of rooms are satisfied in operation 935, then the consumer is presented with the confirmation page. Figure 9.5 illustrates a screen shot of an exemplary confirmation page. The confirmation page provides a confirmation number 965 for the reservation, and may be printed for use when the consumer checks-in to the accommodation. The confirmation page also provides a summary 970 of the details of the reservation including the accommodation the reservation is made at, the number of rooms reserved, the type of room(s) reserved, the dates of the reservation, and the total amount for the reservation which is also the amount charged to the consumer's credit card. The confirmation page also includes a link 975 allowing the consumer to change the name under which the reservation is made. This allows a consumer that is reserving rooms for multiple parties to make the reservation under the different parties names. In addition, the confirmation page also provides various additional options 980 such as printing a map for the accommodation, requesting a smoking or non-smoking room, requesting a handicap accessible room. Furthermore, the confirmation page includes links 985 to other travel related services, such as airlines and rental cars. Finally, the confirmation page displays the amount saved 960 using the system as compared with the advertised rate for the accommodation. Accommodation Component

The accommodation component 120 provides the input medium for the hotelier to establish pricing and inventory for a set of room types at an accommodation according to various selling criteria, and then make the room types immediately available to the consumer component 110 for rent at the established prices. The term "accommodation" as used herein is meant to include all rental accommodations including hotels, motels, condominiums, bed & breakfasts, resorts and the like. And, the term "hotelier" as used herein is meant to include any person or entity responsible for setting-up, maintaining, or otherwise managing inventory for a rental accommodation.

Figure 11 is a high level flow chart illustrating the web pages used for the overall operations that the hotelier performs using the accommodation component 120 to provide accommodation inventory to the consumer component 110 immediately. In operation 1110, the hotelier logs into the accommodation component. The log-in procedure generally allows the system to identify the hotelier and to relate the hotelier to a particular accommodation in the system.

In operation 1120, the hotelier accesses a tier display page that displays all of the tiers of inventory currently set-up in the system for a specified accommodation. A tier is a pricing matrix for a set of room types that allows a hotelier to set pricing for the room types according to various selling criteria as defined by the hotelier. The selling criteria include a room type, a length of stay ("LOS"), quota of rooms in the system, and number of rooms being reserved ("NOR") by the consumer. Thus, the tiers allow the hotelier to establish pricing for a room type according to the room type, according to how many rooms a consumer wishes to reserve at one time, according to the quota of rooms the hotelier releases to the system, and according to how long the consumer reserves the room(s) for. The room type, quota, LOS and NOR selling criteria are discussed in more detail below.

In addition, more than one tier may be defined for each hotel that the hotelier manages. Defining multiple tiers for a single accommodation is one way that the hotelier can relate room pricing to demand. Demand is managed with room pricing by setting pricing for a second tier different than pricing for a first tier. For high demand the second tier is priced higher than the first tier. Accordingly, with high demand the first tier sells-out and rooms rented from the second tier garner a higher rental rate to take advantage of the demand. Another way that demand is managed with room pricing is by periodically updating room pricing according to demand. Accordingly, if demand is high for an accommodation, then room prices may be raised and the rooms rented at the higher price. In contrast, if demand for an accommodation is low, then room prices may be lowered in an attempt to create more demand for the accommodation. Demand is immediately accounted for by the system in that the accommodation component 120 and consumer component 110 are always linked thus allowing any inventory or pricing changes to be immediately available to the consumer component 110.

In operation 1130, the hotelier accesses a tier change page. The tier change page is where the hotelier can change pricing and quotas for the room types of an existing tier. In operation 1140, the hotelier can access a master change page. The hotelier defines a tier(s) for an accommodation including the room types, the LOS criterion, the NOR criterion, and the room quota criterion for a tier using the master change page. The operations generally outlined with respect to Figure 11 are discussed in more detail below. The accommodation component provides on-line, real-time, inventory control to the hotelier for rental price management, LOS definition, NOR definition, room type definition, and quota management. In operation 1150, the hotelier may access the marketing page. The system also provides a marketing tool for the hotelier. The present invention tracks various consumer data that is accessible by the hotelier including tracking the bids that the consumer stops bidding at for each room type of each accommodation, tracking whether the consumer views an accommodation without bidding for a room at the accommodation, and tracking the number of hits for each accommodation, amongst other things.

The bid values that consumers stop bidding at, without reaching the acceptable bid price, is useful for the hotelier in setting pricing for an accommodation. For example, if the acceptable bid price for a particular room type at an accommodation is $79.00, but the consumers generally quit bidding at $69.00, then the hotelier may consider changing the pricing from $79.00 to $69.00 to account for the demand for the room at $69.00. Accordingly, the tool is useful in setting pricing for an accommodation based on demand at various prices for the accommodation. The number of times that an accommodation is viewed without the consumer bidding for a room at the accommodation is useful for the hotelier to understand whether the consumer positively perceives their accommodation. If an accommodation is viewed often without resulting in a bid, then the hotelier may change the images of the accommodation on the system, change the description of the accommodation, remodel the accommodation, change the advertised rate for the accommodation or make other changes that would positively influence a consumer's initial perception of the accommodation and corresponding influence the consumer to bid on a room at the accommodation. The number of hits that an accommodation receives from the system is useful for the hotelier to understand if the system is useful for them and to know if consumers are generally using the system. In addition, the system will track the number of no vacancy walks. The number of no vacancy walks indicates the number of times that a consumer wanted to make a reservation at an accommodation, but was unable to do so because the there were no vacancies on the system. This information is useful as an indicator to the hotelier to release more rooms to the system. Figure 12 illustrates the operations associated with logging-in to the accommodation component. In operations 1205-1225 the hotelier inputs various login parameters. Generally, the log-in parameters associate a particular hotelier with a particular accommodation in the system and provide security for the system to help prevent non-hoteliers from accessing the system and changing any of the tiers, or to prevent the hotelier from changing data that is not their own.

In operation 1205, the hotelier inputs a user name. Preferably, the user name is associated with one particular hotelier or a particular accommodation. For example, if Joe Smith is the hotelier, then the user name may be Joe Smith or some representation for Joe Smith such as J_Smith. If Joe Smith, Bob Jones and Ed Jackson are all hoteliers for a single accommodation, then the user name may be associated with the particular accommodation, e.g., Old Town. In addition, the accommodation may define levels of authority for each user. In operation 1210, the hotelier inputs a user identification ("user ID"). The user ID identifies the particular hotelier attempting to log-in to the accommodation component. In addition, the user ID is meant to be kept confidential by the hotelier and helps the system protect against non-hoteliers gaining access to the system and modifying inventory. The hotelier sets-up a unique user ID for themselves. For example, Joe Smith might establish a user ID of J_smithl.

In operation 1215, the hotelier inputs the accommodation name. The accommodation name is simply the name of the accommodation that the hotelier intends to view, add or modify inventory parameters for. For example, the accommodation name may be "The Hotel at Old Town" for The Hotel at Old Town in Wichita, Kansas. The hotelier may type the accommodation name into the log-in page or select the hotel name from a pull down menu. Preferably, the pull-down menu selections are sorted for the particular hotelier. Accordingly, by referencing the user name and user Id the system will place only the accommodations that the hotelier is associated with, i.e., manages, on the pull-down menu. If the hotelier desires to add a new accommodation to the system, then in operation 1215 the hotelier inputs "new" or selects "new" from the pull-down menu.

In operation 1220, the hotelier inputs an accommodation number. The accommodation number is a unique alpha-numeric identifier for the accommodation. The accommodation number also provides an identifier for non-system components what may be linked to the system such as traditional reservation systems.

In operation 1225, the hotelier inputs a password. Like the user ID, the password is a security measure that helps to prevent access to the accommodation component to non-hoteliers. The password is unique to the user and is meant to be kept confidential. Accordingly, when a particular hotelier attempts to gain access to the accommodation component the hotelier must input the correct password for access.

In operation 1230, if the log-in is unsuccessful, then the system allows the hotelier to perform the various log-in operations 1205-1225 anew. If the hotelier is repeatedly unsuccessful in their log-in attempts, then the system may temporarily prevent access to the accommodation or, prevent access by the user related to the unsuccessful log-in attempt for a period of time.

After the hotelier successfully logs-in, then the hotelier may access the master change page in operations 1235-1240 or access the tier display page in operations

1245-1255. In operation 1250, to access the tier display page, the hotelier must input a particular date that they wish to view. Tiers are defined for each day of the year. Providing tiers for each day of the year allows the hotelier to set pricing for rooms according to demand which may be different for each day of the year. Additionally, in operation 1260, if the hotelier has returned to the log-in page after one of the tier change operations or master change operations discussed with reference to Figures 15-19 below, then the hotelier may submit any changes that were made and print the changes in operation 1265. Submitting the changes immediately updates the system and makes the changes available to the consumer component.

Figure 13 illustrates the operations associated with viewing the tiers and selecting a tier to modify using the tier change page. Figure 14 illustrates an exemplary tier display page for an exemplary set of tiers defined for the Hotel at Old Town. Note, the Hotel at Old Town is provided extensively herein as a source of general example, however, the invention described and claimed herein is not meant to be limited to application only for the Hotel at Old Town. In operation 1310, when the tier display page is first accessed the tiers currently defined for the accommodation (selected in operation 1215) are displayed. Figure 14 illustrates three exemplary tiers for the Hotel at Old Town: tier 1

(1402), tier 2 (1404), and tier 3 (1406). Each tier is displayed for the particular day selected in operation 1250. For example, the tiers displayed in Figure 14 are for Wednesday, July 12, 2000. The tiers displayed in the tier display page illustrated in Figure 14 are the tiers that are currently defined in the system when the hotelier accesses the tier display page. The tiers comprise a set of selling criteria including the room type criterion 1408, the quota criterion 1418, the LOS criterion 1426, and the NOR criterion 1432. In addition, the tiers include pricing attributes 1442 related to the selling criterion. The pricing attributes 1442 represent the acceptable bid prices for the consumer component. The room type, LOS, and NOR selling criteria are defined in the operations associated with the master change page, discussed in more detail below with respect to Figures 18-19, and the pricing attributes along with the quota selling criterion are defined in the operations associated with the tier change page discussed in more detail below with respect to Figures 15-17. Typically, the hotelier will take some or all of the selling criteria into account when setting pricing for a tier.

The room type criterion defines the type of room(s) that the accommodation is making available for the consumer component. Figure 14 illustrates three exemplary room types: a studio 1412, a double 1414 and a suite 1416. These room types are commonly found in the hotel industry, the "studio" referring to a single room with a single, double, queen, or king bed, the "double" referring to a room with two beds, and the "suite" referring to a room having a bed room along with an adjoining room. The accommodation component, however, allows each participating accommodation to use predefined, industry recognized, room types or to define custom room types for their accommodation. The definition of particular room types is discussed in more detail below with respect to Figures 18-19.

The quota criterion 1418 defines the number of each particular room type that is made available, on a tier-by-tier basis, to the consumer component for rental by a consumer. For example, for tier 1 (1402) there are five (1420) studios (1412) available for rental to the consumer component 110, two (1422) doubles (1414) available to the consumer component 110, and five (1424) suites (1416) available to the consumer component 110. The quota criterion allows the hotelier to meet demand by adding or removing room quotas for the consumer component in accordance with demand for the room types. For example, if traditional reservation avenues such as travel agents and reservation systems are not routing sufficient consumers to fill the hotel, but, the consumer component is, then the hotelier can reallocate rooms from the travel agents and other reservations systems to the consumer component by increasing the quotas. The LOS criterion 1426 defines the number of nights that a particular room type will be reserved for. The LOS criterion allows the hotelier to set pricing for a room type, in part, according to the number of nights that a consumer reserves a room for. Exemplary tier 1 includes a 1-6 day LOS (1427), a 7-29 day LOS (1428), and a greater than 30 day LOS (1430). Generally, a hotelier sets pricing for longer stays at a somewhat lesser rate than shorter stays. This encourages longer stays which, even at a reduced rate, are typically more profitable than shorter stays for the hotel.

The NOR criterion 1432 defines the number of rooms being reserved by a single consumer. The NOR criteria allows the hotelier to set pricing for a particular room type, in part, according to how many rooms a particular consumer reserves. Exemplary tier 1 includes a NOR for one room (1434), for 2-4 rooms (1436), for 5-15 rooms (1438), and for greater than 15 rooms (1440). Generally, a hotelier sets pricing for large numbers of simultaneously reserved rooms by a single consumer at a somewhat lesser rate than for a lesser number of reserved rooms. This pricing arrangement encourages large group reservations (e.g., conventions and the like) which, even at a reduced rate, are typically more profitable for the hotel than single or small group reservations.

The pricing attributes 1442 are matrixed according to the room type 1408, the quota 1418, the NOR 1432, and LOS 1426 selling criteria. For example, tier 1 currently has 12 prices defined for a studio. In the LOS column of 1-6 days, a studio has a pricing attribute of $99 if only 1 studio is reserved or 2-4 studios are reserved, $89 if five to fifteen studios are reserved, and $79 if more than 15 studios are reserved. In the LOS column of 7-29 days, a studio has a pricing attribute of $89 if only 1 studio is reserved, two to four studios are reserved, or five to fifteen studios are reserved, and $69 if greater than 15 studios are reserved.

In operation 1320, the hotelier, after viewing the currently defined tiers in the system, may choose to change some or all of the pricing attributes or quotas for any of the tiers 1402-1406. In operation 1330, to change pricing or quotas for a tier, the hotelier selects the tier to change. For example, to change pricing or quotas for tier 1 the hotelier clicks somewhere on the tier itself or the link "Existing Tier 1 data" which takes the hotelier to the tier change page for tier 1. In operation 1350, if the hotelier does not choose to change a tier, then the hotelier may simply exit the accommodation component or return to the home page. Figure 15 illustrates the operation associated with changing the pricing attributes and the quota criteria for the tier selected in operation 1330. Figure 16 illustrates an exemplary tier change page for tier 1 (1402) of the Hotel at Old Town. In operation 1505, the tier selected in operation 1330 is displayed. And, in operation 1510 the identical tier is displayed with change fields 1640 and 1645 for the pricing attributes 1442 and quota criteria 1418. The change fields 1640 and 1645, before any changes are made, are populated with the values for pricing and quotas as currently defined in the system. Referring to Figure -16, reference numeral 1605 refers to tier 1 as currently defined in the system and reference numeral 1610 refers to tier 1 with change fields. In operation 1515 and 1520, the hotelier may change any of the pricing attributes and quota criteria for tier 1. Pricing change fields 1640 are changed by left- clicking on the pricing field and inputting a new price. For example, the hotelier may choose to change pricing for pricing attribute associated with the suite (1416), the 1-6 day LOS (1427), and the 2-4 NOR (1436) which has a current value of $159 (1615). To change this pricing attribute, the hotelier selects the pricing change field 1620 and inputs the change, e.g., $149. The quota criteria 1645 are changed in substantially the same manner as the pricing attributes. The hotelier may change as many of the pricing attributes or quota criteria as desired.

In operations 1525, after making the change(s), the hotelier decides whether to submit the changes. Submitting the change(s) adds the changes to a batch that includes all of the changes made by the hotelier while logged into the accommodation component. The entire batch may be viewed and submitted in operation 1260. In operation 1260, all of the changes submitted are immediately available to the consumer component.

In operation 1535, if the hotelier chooses to submit the changes, then fields are updated with the changes displayed in operation 1540. Figure 17 illustrates an exemplary change display page that displays the submitted changes. Referring to the exemplary change from $159 to $149 discussed above, "$149" (1710) is displayed in the appropriate pricing attribute field of tier 1 (1720). Along with the changed field(s) for tier 1 (1720), the pricing attribute change fields and quota change fields for tier 1 are also displayed in a separate change tier 1730. However, the changed fields (e.g., $149) is updated. Accordingly, the hotelier can continue to change pricing attributes and quota criteria from the change display page.

In operation 1530, the hotelier may reset any of the changes made, before submitting them in operation 1260. Resetting the fields, will return all fields wherein the hotelier inputted a new value to the originally displayed value which makes correction simple for the hotelier. Accordingly, if the hotelier inputted $149 as discussed above and selected "reset" (1630), then $ 149 would be changed back to $159.

In operation 1545, the hotelier can choose to copy changes made to tier one, or any other tier, for the current dates to other dates. If the hotelier chooses to copy changes, then the hotelier must click on a "click here to copy changes" link 1645. Additionally, the hotelier may choose to simply copy defined tiers whether or not changes have been made. After which, in operation 1550, the hotelier must select the dates to copy changes to and hit enter to update the same tier for the selected additional dates. Figure 18 illustrates the operation associated with defining a tier including creating a new tier, editing or creating a room type, editing or creating a LOS, editing or creating a quota and editing or creating an oversell value. Figure 19 illustrates an exemplary master change page wherein the operations associated with defining a tier may be performed.

In operation 1810, the hotelier may add or delete a tier. A link, not shown, for adding a tier is included in the master change page. Left-clicking on the link causes a blank tier, or tier template, to be displayed. The hotelier may then define the tier by defining the various selling criteria. In operation 1820, the hotelier may add or delete a room type. The hotelier may used predefined room types accessible from a pull-down menu or define custom room types. The predefined room types include commonly found room types such as a "single" room type or a "double" room type discussed above. The hotelier may also define custom room types for a particular accommodation. For example, the hotelier may define a "Ocean View Suite" that refers to a set of rooms that include multiple rooms with a view of the ocean. To add or define a room type the hotelier left-clicks on the room type definition field 1900 and selects a room type from the pulldown menu or types in the desired room type.

In operation 1830, the hotelier may add or delete a LOS. LOS is defined by the hotelier. The number of different LOS criteria for a tier is also defined by the hotelier. Figure 19 illustrates three LOS criteria, a 1-6 day LOS, a 7-29 day LOS and a >30 day LOS. By left-clicking in one of the LOS definition fields 1905, 1910 and 1915 the hotelier may redefine any the LOS. Additionally, the hotelier may add LOS criteria. For example, the hotelier may define the tier with a 1-3 day LOS, a 4-7 day LOS, a 8-15 day LOS, a 16-30 day LOS and a >30 day LOS. Note, each potential LOS that a consumer may want to reserve needs to be defined. If the hotelier attempts to define a set of LOS criteria for a tier that does not include a LOS that a consumer may choose, then the system will prompt the hotelier to correct the error. For example, if the hotelier only defines two LOS, a 1-10 day LOS and a >11 day LOS, then there is no LOS for 11 days and the system will prompt the hotelier to correct the error.

In operation 1840, the hotelier may add or delete a NOR column. Figure 19 illustrates a tier with NOR columns for 1 room, 2-4 rooms, 5-15 rooms and >15 rooms for each LOS criteria. The hotelier may define the NOR any way they choose. Additionally, the hotelier may define different NOR columns for each LOS. The NOR columns are defined by left-clicking in the NOR definition fields 1920 and typing in the desired NOR value. In operation 1850, the hotelier may add, change or delete an oversell value for an accommodation. The oversell value represents the number of rooms that an accommodation may overbook. For example, if an accommodation includes 10 rooms for rent and all the rooms are reserved for a given night, an oversell value of "1" allows the hotelier to allow an eleventh reservation. Hoteliers oversell accommodations because a number of reservations are typically canceled.

Accordingly, if one person cancels a reservation than the accommodation will still be full using an oversell value of "1."

For hoteliers new to the system, the accommodation component includes the ability to sign-up for the system on-line. The hotelier may register for the system, provide digital images on-line, provide written descriptions of an accommodation online, and initially define tiers of inventory for an accommodation on-line. This provides an efficient way for hoteliers to begin using the system.

The above described system provides a novel way for consumers to make reservations at accommodations and for hoteliers to manage inventory at the accommodations. By being online and easy to use, the system allows hoteliers to manage inventory and have the inventory immediately available to consumers. Accordingly, the customer has access to the very latest inventory pricing and may opt out of the system if the pricing is unsatisfactory. In addition, the customer benefits from reduced third party cost affiliated with travel reservations because the system does not require a third party, such as a travel agent, to perform the reservation and the consumer may view the accommodation. Moreover, the hotelier may easily manage inventory according to present demand.

An embodiment of the present invention and many of its improvements over existing methods have been described with a degree of particularity. It should be understood that this description has been made by way of example, and that the invention is defined by the scope of the following claims.

Claims

We claim:
1. A method of accepting a reservation from a consumer comprising the operations of:
(a) establishing a site on a global computer network, the site including a consumer component; (b) presenting accommodation information from which the consumer selects a desired accommodation;
(c) displaying bid information for the selected accommodation, the bid information comprising a plurality of bidding prices that the consumer may use to make a consumer-selected bidding price for the selected accommodation; and (d) determining whether the consumer-selected bidding price for the selected accommodation is acceptable.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein the operation of presenting accommodation information includes presenting at least one room type associated with the accommodation from which the consumer selects at least one desired room type to make a consumer-selected bidding price.
3. The method of claim 2 wherein the operation of displaying bid information for the selected accommodation includes displaying bid information for the at least one room type that the consumer may use to make a consumer-selected bidding price for the selected at least one room type.
4. The method of claim 2 further including the operation of accepting a consumer-selected bidding price for the selected at least one desired room type and making at least one reservation at the selected accommodation.
5. The method of claim 4 further including the operation of providing a means for the consumer to change the name under which the at least one reservation is made.
6. The method of claim 4 further including the operation of providing local advertising on a confirmation page that is displayed in response to the operation of making at least one reservation at the selected accommodation wherein the local advertising includes advertising for events, restaurants, and other attractions associated with a geographic region near the selected accommodation.
7. The method of claim 4 further including the operation of providing a comments link for consumers to post comments.
8. The method of claim 1 wherein the operation of presenting accommodation information includes displaying a map of a geographic region for the consumer to search for accommodations associated with the displayed geographic region, and presenting at least one accommodation associated with the displayed geographic region that the consumer may bid on.
9. The method of claim 1 wherein the operation of presenting accommodation information includes presenting at least one brand of accommodation so that the consumer may select a particular brand, and presenting a list of accommodations of the particular brand selected.
10. The method of claim 1 wherein the operation of presenting accommodation information includes providing an input medium for the consumer to inputs a particular accommodation.
11. The method of claim 1 wherein the plurality of bidding prices are displayed in a bidding column.
12. The method of claim 11 wherein the bidding column is scrollable to display bidding prices above and below the plurality of bidding prices displayed in the bidding column.
13. The method of claim 1 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a low bid price, a high bid price, and at least one intermediate bid price.
14. The method of claim 13 wherein the at least one intermediate bid price is incrementally valued between the low bid price and the high bid price.
15. The method of claim 14 wherein the low bid price, the at least one intermediate bid price, and the high bid price are displayed in the bidding column in ascending order beginning with the low bid price at a top of the bidding column.
16. The method of claim 1 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes an acceptable bidding price.
17. The method of claim 16 wherein the consumer may back-out of the reservation without obligation after a consumer-selected bid is entered.
18. The method of claim 16 wherein the consumer may back-out of the reservation without obligation after a consumer-selected bid is entered so long as the consumer-selected bid is less than the acceptable bidding price.
19. The method of claim 2 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type presented.
20. The method of claim 2 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a highest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type displayed.
21. The method of claim 2 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price and a highest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type presented.
22. The method of claim 13 wherein a lowest previously acceptable price defines the low bid price, and a highest previously acceptable price defines the high bid price.
23. The method of claim 13 wherein the acceptable bidding price defines the low bid price.
24. The method of claim 13 wherein the acceptable bidding price defines the high bid price.
25. The method of claim 13 wherein the acceptable bidding price defines one of the at least one intermediate bid prices.
26. The method of claim 1 wherein the consumer-selected bidding price is selected by the consumer from the plurality of bidding prices displayed in the bidding column.
27. The method of claim 1 wherein the consumer-selected bidding price is selected by pointing and clicking on one of the plurality of bidding prices displayed in the bidding column.
28. The' method of claim 1 wherein the consumer-selected bidding price is selected by the consumer after comparing the plurality of bidding prices to an advertised rate for each of the at least one room types.
29. The method of claim 1 wherein the operation of presenting accommodation information includes presenting the number of available rooms.
30. The method of claim 1 further including the operation of providing a wait-list for the desired accommodation if the desired accommodation is booked.
31. A method for a hotelier to match supply with demand by defining accommodation inventory for an accommodation and submitting the accommodation inventory for the accommodation to a consumer component using an accommodation component, the hotel having at least one room type, the method comprising the operations of: accessing an accommodation component, the accommodation component having a link to at least one tier global computer network page defining at least one definable tier of inventory, the definable tier of inventory having at least one definable room type field, at least one definable selling criteria field, and at least one pricing attribute field associated with the at least one definable room type field and the at least one definable selling criteria field; defining the at least one room type field wherein the room type field is representative of the at least one room type of the hotel; defining the at least one definable selling criteria field; defining a price in the at least one pricing attribute field; and submitting the hotel inventory to the consumer component.
32. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of submitting the hotel inventory to the consumer component, includes immediately making the hotel inventory available for a consumer that is using the consumer component.
33. The method of claim 31 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a length of stay selling criteria field.
34. The method of claim 31 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a number of rooms for reservation selling criteria field.
35. The method of claim 31 , the at least one definable tier having a quota field related to the at least one room type, wherein the quota field defines the quantity of each of the at least one room type allocated to the consumer component.
36. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the at least one room type.
37. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the at least one definable selling criteria field.
38. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the length of stay selling criteria field.
39. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the number of rooms for reservation selling criteria field.
40. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the at least one room type.
41. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining a price based on the at least one room type and the length of stay selling criteria field.
42. The method of claim 31 wherein the operation defining a price includes defining a price based on the at least one room type, the length of stay selling criteria field and the number of rooms for reservation selling criteria field.
43. The method of claim 31 wherein the at least one definable tier of inventory includes a first tier of definable inventory and a second tier of definable inventory.
44. The method of claim 43 wherein the operation of defining a price includes defining pricing for the first tier of definable inventory independently of the second tier of definable inventory.
45. A method for a consumer to bid on at least one room type associated with at least one accommodation, the method comprising:
(a) serving an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a consumer- selectable image of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations;
(b) serving an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and (c) serving an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type.
46. The method of claim 45 further including the operation of serving a map global computer network page, the map global computer network page including a map for a geographic region having selectable regions associated with the at least one accommodation;
47. The method of claim 45 wherein the bidding column includes a low bid price, a high bid price, and at least one intermediate bid price.
48. The method of claim 45 wherein the at least one intermediate bid price is incrementally valued between the low bid price and the high bid price.
49. The method of claim 45 wherein the descriptive presentation of the at least one room type includes an advertised rate for the at least one room type and an image of the at least one room type.
50. The method of claim 45 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes an acceptable bidding price.
51. The method of claim 45 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type.
52. The method of claim 45 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a highest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type.
53. The method of claim 45 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price and a highest previously acceptable bid price for the at least one room type.
54. The method of claim 53 wherein the lowest previously acceptable price defines a low bid price, and the highest previously acceptable price defines a high bid price.
55. The method of claim 50 wherein the acceptable bid price defines the low bid price.
56. The method of claim 50 wherein the acceptable bid price defines the high bid price.
57. The method of claim 50 wherein the acceptable bid price defines one of the at least one intermediate prices.
58. A method for a hotelier to provide accommodation inventory to a consumer component, the method comprising: serving a hotelier home global computer network page, the hotelier global computer network home page including a link to a tier global computer network page; and serving at least one tier global computer network page, the at least one tier global computer network page including at least one definable tier of inventory having at least one room type field, at least one selling criteria field, at least one definable pricing attribute field associated with the at least one room type field and the at least one selling criteria field.
59. The method of claim 58 wherein the tier global computer network page includes a link to a master change global computer network page, and further including the operation of: serving a master change global computer network page, the master change global computer network page including at least one definable room type field and at least one definable selling criteria field.
60. The method of claim 58 wherein the hotelier home global computer network page includes a submit button for updating hotel inventory on the consumer web page.
61. The method of claim 59 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a definable length of stay selling criteria field.
62. The method of claim 59 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a definable number of rooms for reservation selling criteria field.
63. The method of claim 59, the at least one definable tier of inventory having a definable quota field related to the at least one room type, wherein the quota field defines the quantity of each of the at least one room type allocated to the consumer component.
64. An apparatus for a consumer to bid on at -least one room type, the apparatus comprising:
(a) a server for serving an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations; (b) a server for serving an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including an image of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and (c) a server for serving an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type including an acceptable bidding price.
65. The apparatus of claim 64 further including a server for serving a map global computer network page, the map global computer network page including a map for a geographic region, the map including selectable regions associated with the at least one accommodation.
66. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the bidding column includes a low bid price, a high bid price, and at least one intermediate bid price.
67. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the at least one intermediate bid price is incrementally valued between the low bid price and the high bid price.
68. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the image of the at least one room type includes a display of the advertised rate for the at least one room type and an image of the at least one room type.
69. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes one acceptable bidding price.
70. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type displayed.
71. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a highest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type displayed.
72. The apparatus of claim 64 wherein the plurality of bidding prices includes a lowest previously acceptable price and a highest previously acceptable price for the at least one room type displayed.
73. The apparatus of claim 72 wherein the lowest previously acceptable price defines the low bid price, and the highest previously acceptable price defines the high bid price.
74. The apparatus of claim 66 wherein the acceptable bid price defines the low bid price.
75. The apparatus of claim 66 wherein the acceptable bid price defines the high bid price.
76. The apparatus of claim 66 wherein the acceptable bid price defines one of the at least one intermediate prices.
77. An apparatus for a hotelier to provide accommodation inventory to a consumer component, the apparatus comprising: a server for serving a hotelier home global computer network page, the hotelier global computer network home page including a link to a tier global computer network page; and a server for serving at least one tier global computer network page, the at least one tier global computer network page including at least one definable tier of inventory having at least one room type field, at least one selling criteria field, at least one definable pricing attribute field associated with the at least one room type field and the at least one selling criteria field.
78. The apparatus of claim 77 wherein the tier global computer network page includes a link to a master change global computer network page, and further including: a server for serving a master change global computer network page, the master change global computer network page including at least one definable room type field and at least one definable selling criteria field.
79. The apparatus of claim 77 wherein the hotelier home global computer network page includes a submit button for updating hotel inventory on the consumer web page.
80. The apparatus of claim 78 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a definable length of stay selling criteria field.
81. The apparatus of claim 78 wherein the at least one definable selling criteria field includes a definable number of rooms for reservation selling criteria field.
82. The apparatus of claim 78, the at least one definable tier of inventory having a definable quota field related to the at least one room type, wherein the quota field defines the quantity of each of the at least one room type allocated to the consumer component.
83. A real-time system for providing a virtual front desk for an accommodation, the system comprising: an accommodation component having at least one tier of inventory whereby a hotelier may define inventory and set pricing for the accommodation; and a consumer component linked to the accommodation component, the consumer component including: an accommodation selection global computer network page, the accommodation selection global computer network page including a descriptive image of at least one accommodation wherein the consumer may select one of the at least one accommodations; an accommodation display global computer network page, the accommodation display global computer network page including a descriptive presentation of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer; and an incremental bidding global computer network page, the incremental bidding global computer network page including an image of at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer, and a bidding column associated with the at least one room type, the bidding column defining a plurality of bidding prices for the associated at least one room type including an acceptable bidding price.
84. The system of claim 83 wherein the accommodation component includes a sales and marketing data module accessible by the hotelier, the sales and marketing data module configured to track and store consumer use patterns of the system.
85. The system of claim 83 wherein the consumer use patterns tracked and stored by the sales and marketing data module includes: (a) tracking a bid price that a consumer stops bidding at for each at least one room type for the accommodation selected by the consumer; (b) tracking whether a consumer views the descriptive presentation of the at least one accommodation selected by the consumer without making a consumer- selected bid for the at least one accommodation;
(c) tracking a number of hits that each at least one accommodation receives; and (d) tracking a number of times that consumers attempted to place a consumer- selected bid for an accommodation but the accommodation had no vacancies.
PCT/US2001/026451 2000-08-24 2001-08-24 Global computer network based reservation system WO2002017042A3 (en)

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