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Publication numberUS20040039612 A1
Publication typeApplication
Application numberUS 10/172,481
Publication dateFeb 26, 2004
Filing dateJun 14, 2002
Priority dateJun 14, 2002
Also published asCA2465965A1, EP1525544A2, EP1525544A4, US8234134, US20050119921, US20120290341, US20120296681, US20130030847, US20130046565, US20130166331, WO2003107125A2, WO2003107125A3, WO2003107125B1
Publication number10172481, 172481, US 2004/0039612 A1, US 2004/039612 A1, US 20040039612 A1, US 20040039612A1, US 2004039612 A1, US 2004039612A1, US-A1-20040039612, US-A1-2004039612, US2004/0039612A1, US2004/039612A1, US20040039612 A1, US20040039612A1, US2004039612 A1, US2004039612A1
InventorsHugues Belanger, Kelli Boruff, Neil Fitzgerald, Paul Tucker
Original AssigneeNeil Fitzgerald, Hugues Belanger, Kelli Boruff, Paul Tucker
Export CitationBiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan
External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet
Method and apparatus for customer direct on-line reservation of rental vehicles
US 20040039612 A1
Abstract
A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-booking entity via a computer network inter-connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring submission of at least three different types of reservation data from the customer for successful completion thereof, each reservation data type having one of a plurality of different values, wherein each reservation data type value is dependent upon other reservation data type values, the method including presenting an initial page for data value entry for a plurality of reservation data types, accepting for partial data entry data values for less than all of said reservation data types, and determining, on the basis of the interdependence of the different data values for the different reservation data types, a list of acceptable data values for any un-entered reservation data types. Also, the processor provides the customer with a less than full page summary section on many of the reservation booking pages, the summary section including a list of submitted data values for the reservation transaction and an edit link associated with each listed data value that is selectable to initiate a revision of its associated data value. Further, the present invention supports promotional deep-linking, promotion reservation with notification upon customer violation of the promotion rules, and corporate account deep-linking.
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Claims(60)
What is claimed is:
1. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-booking entity via a computer network connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring submission of at least three different types of reservation data from the customer for successful completion thereof, each reservation data type having one of a plurality of different values, wherein each reservation data type value is dependent upon other reservation data type values, the method comprising:
(a) displaying a page on the customer computer, the page including (1) a request that the customer submit values for at least two of the different data types, and (2) for each requested data value, a data submitter through which the customer can submit a data value to the automated reservation transaction processor;
(b) receiving data at the automated reservation transaction processor from the customer computer that corresponds to a submission of a data value for at least one of the data types;
(c) determining from the received data at least one data type, if any, that remains unsubmitted;
(d) if any unsubmitted data type is determined to remain, determining, on the basis of the interdependence of the different data values for the different reservation data types, a list of remaining acceptable values for the at least one unsubmitted reservation data type;
(e) displaying another page on the customer computer, the another page including (1) said at least one determined list of acceptable data submission values, and (2) for each said determined list, a data submitter for submitting at least one of said acceptable values to the automated reservation transaction processor; and
(f) repeating steps (b) through (e) as necessary until all required data types are successfully submitted to the automated reservation transaction processor, thereby completing the reservation.
2. The method of claim 1 wherein the step of displaying another page includes selecting one from a plurality of pages, each of said another pages corresponding to at least the unsubmitted data type.
3. The method of claim 2 wherein the step of selecting includes selecting corresponding also to the submitted values.
4. The method of claim 1 wherein the step of displaying another page includes selecting one from a plurality of pages, each of said another pages corresponding to at least the submitted data values.
5. The method of claim 1 where the step of displaying another page includes displaying the other page wherein the determined list includes unacceptable data submission values.
6. The method of claim 1 wherein the another page includes a summary section that lists the received data value for each reservation data type, the summary section including an edit link for each listed data value, the edit link being selectable to request an edit page, the edit page being configured to accept a revision to the listed data value for the reservation data type corresponding to the selected edit link.
7. The method of claim 6 wherein the reservation transaction is a rental vehicle reservation transaction.
8. The method of claim 7 wherein the reservation data types comprise a reservation location, a reservation starting date, a reservation ending date, and a vehicle type.
9. The method of claim 8 wherein the reservation data types further comprise the customer's age.
10. The method of claim 8 wherein the displaying step includes displaying a page on the customer's computer, the page including a data submitter for submitting at least a partial data value for each of a reservation location, a reservation starting date, and a reservation ending date for transmission to the automated reservation transaction processor.
11. The method of claim 10 wherein the receiving step includes receiving data from the customer computer, the data including a value for reservation starting time, a value for reservation ending time, and a partial value for reservation location.
12. The method of claim 11 wherein the unsubmitted data type determining step comprises determining that the reservation location remains undetermined.
13. The method of claim 12 wherein the remaining data entry option determining step includes determining, from a plurality of different reservation locations, at least one reservation location dependent upon the submitted partial location value.
14. The method of claim 13 wherein the another page sending step includes sending the another page over the computer network to the customer computer for display thereon, the another page including (1) a list comprising each determined reservation location satisfying the submitted partial location value, and (2) for each determined reservation location, a link selectable by the customer to effect a submission of the reservation location to the automated reservation transaction processor.
15. The method of claim 8 further comprising:
receiving a data value for vehicle type corresponding to a vehicle selection;
receiving a data value for reservation time;
determining a total cost for the reservation from a base rate for the vehicle selection and the received reservation time; and
displaying a page on the customer computer that identifies both the base rate and the total cost for the reservation transaction.
16. The method of claim 1 wherein the another page displaying step includes displaying the another page wherein the another page further includes a selectable message tile for initiating an action in accordance therewith.
17. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-booking entity via a computer network inter-connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring submission of at least three different types of reservation data from the customer for successful completion thereof, each reservation data type having one of a plurality of different values, wherein each reservation data type value is dependent upon other reservation data type values, the method including presenting an initial page for data value entry for a plurality of reservation data types, accepting for partial data entry data values for less than all of said reservation data types, and determining, on the basis of the interdependence of the different data values for the different reservation data types, a list of acceptable data values for any un-entered reservation data types.
18. The method of claim 17 further comprising presenting another page on said customer's computer, said another page including a summary section that lists the received data value for each reservation data type, the summary section including an edit link for each listed data value, the edit link being selectable to request an edit page, the edit page being configured to accept a revision to the listed data value for the reservation data type corresponding to the selected edit link.
19. The method of claim 18 wherein said another page is presented regardless of whether data values have been entered for all reservation data types.
20. The method of claim 19 wherein the reservation transaction is a rental vehicle reservation transaction and wherein the reservation data types comprise a reservation location, a reservation starting date, a reservation ending date, and a vehicle type.
21. The method of claim 20 wherein the initial page presenting step includes displaying a data submitter for submitting at least a partial data value for each of a reservation location, a reservation starting date, and a reservation ending date for transmission to the automated reservation transaction processor.
22. The method of claim 21 wherein the un-entered data type determining step comprises determining that the reservation location remains undetermined and wherein the list determining step includes determining, from a plurality of different reservation locations, at least one reservation location dependent upon the submitted partial location value.
23. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and a reservation-booking entity via a computer network connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring a plurality of customer-entered pieces of information that are necessary for successful completion thereof, the method comprising displaying a page on the customer's computer, the page being configured with:
(1) at least one field for the customer to submit a piece of necessary information, and
(2) a summary that includes (a) a list comprised of any pieces of said necessary information previously submitted by the customer and (b) at least one selectable edit link for requesting a data submitter for entering at least one revised data value for at least one piece of said necessary information.
24. The method of claim 23 further comprising:
recognizing selection of said at least one edit link,
displaying on the customer computer a data submitter for receiving revised data values for a piece of necessary information,
receiving a revision to the piece of necessary information that corresponds to the selected edit link; and
updating the corresponding piece of necessary information.
25. The method of claim 23 wherein the method includes providing an edit link for each piece of necessary information on the list.
26. The method of claim 25 further comprising locating each edit link adjacent its associated piece of necessary information.
27. The method of claim 23 wherein the method further comprises providing a progress marker indicative of proportional successful entry of pieces of necessary information.
28. The method of claim 23 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, and wherein the pieces of necessary information comprise (1) temporal information for the reservation, (2) a rental location for the reservation, and (3) a vehicle type for the reservation.
29. The method of claim 28 wherein the pieces of necessary information further comprise personal information about the customer.
30. The method of claim 23 further comprising displaying said summary on less than a full page.
31. The method of claim 30 further comprising permitting the rest of the page to be separately addressed and used for display of other information relating to the reservation.
32. An apparatus for processing a reservation transaction between a customer and a reservation-booking entity via a computer network, the reservation transaction requiring a plurality of customer-submitted pieces of information that are necessary for successful completion thereof, the apparatus comprising:
a processor configured to create a page for display on a customer computer, the page having:
(1) at least one field for the customer to submit a piece of necessary information; and
(2) a summary that includes (a) a list comprised of any pieces of said necessary information previously submitted by the customer and (b) at least one selectable edit link for requesting a data submitter for entering at least one revised data value for at least one piece of said necessary information.
33. The apparatus of claim 32 wherein the processor is further configured to (1) recognize selection of said at least one edit link, (2) interact with the customer computer to display thereon a data submitter for receiving revised data values for a piece of necessary information, (3) receive a revision to the piece of necessary information that corresponds to the selected edit link, and (4) update the corresponding piece of necessary information.
34. The apparatus of claim 32 wherein the summary includes an edit link for each piece of necessary information on the list.
35. The apparatus of claim 34 wherein each edit link is located adjacent its associated piece of necessary information.
36. The apparatus of claim 32 wherein the summary further comprises a progress marker indicative of proportional successful entry of pieces of necessary information.
37. The apparatus of claim 32 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, and wherein the pieces of necessary information comprise (1) temporal information for the reservation, (2) a rental location for the reservation, and (3) a vehicle type for the reservation.
38. The apparatus of claim 37 wherein the pieces of necessary information further comprise personal information about the customer.
39. The apparatus of claim 32 wherein the summary comprises less than all of the page.
40. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-making entity via a reservation booking website accessed over a computer network that connects a customer computer with the website host, the reservation transaction having at least three different data types for which the customer must submit a data value to effect a completion thereof, the method comprising:
receiving data from the customer computer that is indicative of a selection of a promotional link, the promotional link having a promotion associated therewith, the promotion having at least one condition, the at least one condition corresponding to a particular promotional data value that one of the reservation data types must exhibit for the promotion to be valid;
creating a reservation transaction for the customer computer; and
deep-linking the customer computer into the reservation booking website such that, for the customer computer's reservation transaction, any of the data types that correspond to the at least one promotion condition are set equal to the particular promotional data value.
41. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein one of the reservation data types is vehicle type, wherein the particular promotional data value for the at least one promotion condition is a particular vehicle type.
42. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein one of the reservation data types is a reservation location, wherein the particular promotional data value for the at least one promotion condition is a particular reservation location.
43. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein one of the reservation data types is customer age, wherein the particular promotional data value for the at least one promotion condition is a particular minimum customer age.
44. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein one of the reservation data types is reservation starting date, wherein the particular promotional data value for the at least one promotion condition is a particular reservation starting date.
45. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein one of the reservation data types is reservation ending date, wherein the particular promotional data value for the at least one promotion condition is a particular reservation ending date.
46. The method of claim 40 wherein the reservation transaction is a vehicle rental reservation transaction, wherein the reservation data types comprise a reservation location, a reservation starting date, a reservation ending date, and a vehicle type, wherein the promotion has a plurality of conditions associated therewith, and wherein the deep-linking step comprises:
deep-linking the customer computer into the reservation booking website such that, for the customer computer's reservation transaction, each of the data types that correspond to the promotion conditions are set equal to their particular promotional data value.
47. The method of claim 40 further comprising:
determining whether a subsequent data submission received from the customer violates any promotion condition;
if a promotion condition violation is found, presenting the customer with an option to revise the data causing the violation.
48. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-making entity via a reservation booking website accessed over a computer network that connects a customer computer with a website host, the reservation transaction having at least three different data types for which the customer must submit a data value to effect a completion thereof, the website comprising a plurality of interactive pages through which the customer submits data values to the host, the method comprising:
receiving data from the customer computer that is indicative of a selection of a promotional link, the promotional link having a promotion associated therewith, the promotion having at least one condition that corresponds to a range of data values that one of the reservation data types must exhibit for the promotion to be valid;
creating a reservation transaction for the customer computer;
linking the customer computer to a page of the website;
receiving data from the customer computer that corresponds to a submission of a data value for a data type that corresponds to the at least one promotion condition;
identifying whether a violation of the at least one promotion condition exists by determining whether the submitted data value is within the condition's range of valid data values;
if a promotion condition violation is identified, linking the customer computer to another page of the website, the another page being configured to notify the customer of the promotion condition violation; and
permitting the customer to complete the reservation either within the promotion condition or outside the promotion condition.
49. The method of claim 48 wherein the another page is further configured to allow the customer to submit a new data value for the data type corresponding to the violated promotion condition, the new data value being within the within the violated condition's range of valid data values.
50. The method of claim 48 wherein the promotion has at least two conditions, one of the promotion conditions corresponding to a particular promotional data value that one of the reservation data types must exhibit for the promotion to be valid, and wherein the another page linking step comprises:
deep-linking the customer computer to the another page such that, for the customer computer's reservation transaction, the data type that corresponds to the promotion condition with the particular promotional data value is set equal to the particular promotional data value.
51. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-making entity via a reservation booking website accessed over a computer network that connects a customer computer with a website host, the reservation transaction having at least three different data types for which the customer must submit a data value to effect a completion thereof, the website comprising a plurality of interactive pages through which the customer submits data values to the host, the method comprising:
receiving data from the customer computer that is indicative of a selection of a promotional link, the promotional link having a promotion associated therewith, the promotion having at least one condition that corresponds to a range of required data values;
receiving data submitted from the customer computer corresponding to a reservation;
identifying whether a violation of the at least one promotion condition exists by determining whether at least one submitted data value is within the condition's range of valid data values;
if a promotion condition violation is identified, notifying the customer of the promotion condition violation; and
permitting the customer to continue with either the promotion or with a standard reservation outside the promotion.
52. The method of claim 51 further comprising presenting an option to revise any data value determined to violate the valid promotion data values.
53. The method of claim 51 further comprising performing the method in the order recited.
54. The method of claim 51 further comprising completing the reservation of the promotion should no violation be identified
55. The method of claim 51 further comprising permitting the reservation to be completed outside of the promotion should a violation be identified.
56. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-making entity via a reservation booking website accessed over a computer network that connects a customer computer with the website host, the reservation transaction having at least three different data types for which the customer must submit a data value to effect a completion thereof, the method comprising:
receiving data from the customer computer that is indicative of a selection of a corporate account, the corporate account having a pricing rate associated therewith and further having at least one parameter associated therewith, the parameter defining at least one condition corresponding to a particular data value that one of the reservation data types must exhibit for the corporate account pricing rate to carry over to the reservation transaction;
creating a reservation transaction for the customer computer;
deep-linking the customer computer into the reservation booking website such that, for the customer computer's reservation transaction, any of the data types that correspond to the at least one parameter are set equal to the particular data value corresponding thereto; and
permitting the customer to complete the reservation as a corporate account reservation or outside the corporate account.
57. The method of claim 56 further comprising:
determining whether a subsequent data submission received from the customer violates any parameter;
if a parameter violation is found, presenting the customer with an option to revise the data causing the violation.
58. A method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-making entity via a reservation booking website accessed over a computer network that connects a customer computer with a website host, the reservation transaction having at least three different data types for which the customer must submit a data value to effect a completion thereof, the website comprising a plurality of interactive pages through which the customer submits data values to the host, the method comprising:
receiving data from the customer computer that is indicative of a selection of a corporate account, the corporate account having a pricing rate associated therewith and further having at least one parameter associated therewith, the parameter defining at least one condition corresponding to a range of acceptable data values that a data value of one of the reservation data types must exhibit for the corporate account pricing rate to carry over to the reservation transaction;
creating a reservation transaction for the customer computer;
linking the customer computer to a page of the website;
receiving data from the customer computer that corresponds to a submission of a data value for a data type that corresponds to the at least one parameter;
identifying whether a violation of the at least one parameter exists by determining whether the submitted data value is within the parameter's range of acceptable data values;
if a parameter violation is identified, linking the customer computer to another page of the website, the another page being configured to notify the customer of the parameter violation; and
permitting the customer to proceed either with a corporate account reservation or outside the corporate account parameters.
59. The method of claim 58 wherein the another page is further configured to allow the customer to submit a new data value for the data type corresponding to the violated parameter, the new data value being within the within the violated parameter's range of acceptable data values.
60. A system for processing a reservation transaction between a customer and a reservation-making entity via a computer network connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction comprising a plurality of data values, the automatic reservation transaction processor being programmed to display any one of a plurality of display pages, said plurality of display pages being inter-connected in a network so that most of said display pages offer movement to any one of a plurality of further display pages, wherein said processor is configured to move from one display page to another in response to data values not yet received, and wherein at least some of said another displayed pages include at least partial data corresponding to data values not yet received.
Description
FIELD OF THE INVENTION

[0001] The present invention relates to the automated processing and booking of reservation transactions conducted over a computer network between a customer and a reservation booking entity. In particular, the present invention relates to the on-line reservation of rental vehicles. Even more particularly, the present invention relates to the reservation of rental vehicles over the internet through a consumer accessing a dedicated web site.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

[0002] In the past decade, the use of the Internet in connection with commercial activities (so-called “e-commerce”) has exploded into virtually all areas of the business world. Among the businesses utilizing the Internet for e-commerce purposes have been car rental businesses.

[0003] One of the ways that the car rental industry has utilized the power of the Internet is through on-line reservation booking. In addition to the many travel web sites, another way for a consumer to book a reservation over the Internet using an Internet-connected computer is to interact with a server maintained by the entity that books the reservation. To successfully complete a reservation transaction, the customer must generally provide the server with 3 or 4 basic types of information: (1) temporal information—when and for how long the car rental is needed (typically entered as pick up and return dates), (2) location information—from which branch of the rental car company the rental car is desired to be obtained, (3) vehicle information—what type of vehicle is needed, and optionally (4) customer information—the customer's age and/or name.

[0004] With these informational needs in mind, various websites dedicated to on-line booking of car rental reservations have been developed. Such on-line reservation websites guide the customer through the reservation process so that the customer provides the server with the information necessary to complete a reservation transaction. Thereafter, the server can create the reservation and post it to the rental car company's database. However, the current on-line reservation websites have failed to guide customers through the reservation process in a manner that provides both a high degree of user-friendliness and flexibility. Because of the rigid navigational structure of current on-line reservation websites, it is believed that on-line reservation processing has failed to reach its full potential in the marketplace.

[0005] FIGS. 1(a)-(d) illustrate an example of a conventional on-line reservation booking process. The customer accesses a page having a form that includes a plurality of fields in which he/she can enter data. Some fields are required for the reservation to be booked, some are not (required fields are denoted by the *). If the customer submits data for less than all of the required fields, the form is returned to the customer with an indication that he/she must fill out all required fields to successfully submit a reservation. In the example of FIG. 1(a), it can be seen that the customer has entered “St. Louis Airport” in the required location field, but has left all other fields blank. When this form is submitted, the form of FIG. 1(b) is returned. Error indicators are placed adjacent to the blank required fields, and an error message instructs the customer to fill all required fields. If the form of FIG. 1(c) represents the result of the customer's next attempt to submit a reservation, it can seen that the customer has now failed to include his/her age in the form. The confirmation form of FIG. 1(d) will only be provided to the customer after an age is entered in the age field. The confirmation page of FIG. 1(d) is only presented to the customer after the customer has submitted all required fields and the server has determined that a reservation is possible given the data submitted in the required fields (i.e., that a luxury sedan is available for rental at the St. Louis Airport branch from Aug. 1, 2002 through Aug. 3, 2002 to a 35-year old person).

[0006] Because of the different types of data needed to book a reservation (as exemplified by the required fields in the forms of FIGS. 1(a)-(c)), the on-line rental vehicle reservation process can be thought of as a multi-stage process, wherein each stage corresponds to receipt of a particular type of necessary reservation information from the customer. That is, one stage relates to obtaining temporal information from the customer, another stage relates to obtaining location information from the customer, another stage relates to obtaining vehicle information from the customer, and yet another stage relates to obtaining personal information from the customer.

[0007] Many current on-line rental vehicle reservation websites guide customers through these stages one stage at a time. That is to say, the customer is first presented with a page requesting that temporal information for the reservation be provided. After the customer transmits the requested temporal data to the server, the server responds by presenting the customer with a page requesting that location information for the reservation be provided. After the customer transmits the requested location data to the server, the server responds by presenting the customer with a page requesting that vehicle information be provided, and so on until the server receives all types of necessary data. Once all types of necessary data are received, the server presents the customer with a verify page that summarizes the entered data. If the customer wishes to change any of the entries, that customer is dropped back to the stage where revision is desired. In simplistic systems, the customer must thereafter re-supply the server with the information for any stages downstream from the revised stage. In more advanced systems, the customer can be returned to the verify page after entering the revision data. FIG. 2 illustrates such a conventional linear process (the dashed line indicating the improved revision process).

[0008] Such conventional techniques suffer from a shortcoming in that a customer who realizes that an error was made in entering stage 1 data (for example, entering the wrong starting date for the rental) but does not realize the mistake until stage 2, must wait until all stages are complete before getting the opportunity to correct the mistake. Because of this inconvenience, customer frustration may occur which could lead to the customer leaving the site without completing the reservation. Also, such conventional reservation techniques require the customer to complete reservation stages in a fixed order defined by the reservation booking entity and not the customer. Thus, customers typically do not have the freedom to complete stages in the order they may desire.

[0009] Another reservation booking process known as of the filing date hereof is shown in FIG. 3. Rather than forcing the customer to first complete a particular stage before proceeding to a next stage, the customer is allowed to first complete any of a plurality of stages (but not the vehicle stage—which requires prior completion of both the time stage and location stage), and then proceed through each individual remaining stage in a single-step fashion. While such a reservation system gives the customer the partial freedom to select the order in which stages are completed, it still requires the customer to complete the reservation process sequentially using a fixed number of minimum data exchanges. That is to say, for each stage, the customer must access the page associated with that stage before proceeding to a page associated with the next stage. This shortcoming may unnecessarily draw out the reservation process, thereby adding to customer frustration and possible loss of a reservation.

[0010] Another feature of a competitor's on-line reservation system is a summary section that is provided on the left hand side of each page associated with a stage (the right hand side of each page is dedicated to prompting the customer to enter the data for the stage associated therewith). The summary section lists the stage data entered by the customer. As the customer completes stages, the summary section is updated with the new data entries. However, the competitor's summary section is a read-only summary. It is not interactive to allow the customer to directly select a data entry he or she may wish to revise. If the customer, upon reviewing the summary section, decides that a stage needs to be re-visited to revise the data corresponding thereto, the customer must correlate which stage is associated with the data needing revision and then identify a tab or other pointer on the right hand side of the page and select it to re-visit the stage associated with the data needing revision. FIG. 4 illustrates this aspect of the competitor's reservation system. Because of the potential customer confusion that may be created as customers navigate through such an on-line reservation system, increased customer dissatisfaction may develop.

[0011] Log file research and usability tests have shown that customers will abandon websites as a function of the website's user-unfriendliness and inconvenience. As such, to maximize the potential of their e-commerce investment, it is highly important that reservation booking entities develop an on-line reservation system that smoothly guides the customer from start to finish while allowing those customers to proceed at their own desired pace with a minimum of inconvenience. This is especially the case due to the inherent uncertainty of speed and connectivity of the Internet. In other words, requiring potential customers to access increased numbers of menus or displays increases the amount of time required to successfully complete a reservation. These studies have shown that user drop out increases as a function of time, so designing a web site which perhaps is easily implementable in HTML or other programming code may well lead to a rigid, single path architecture that is not optimized for user friendliness, minimal data entry, and minimal display access steps.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

[0012] Toward this end, the inventors herein have developed an on-line reservation transaction system wherein the customer can complete the stages of the reservation transaction via a customer-determined path, and not according to a strictly defined, straight-line architecture.

[0013] According to one aspect of the present invention, disclosed herein is a method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and reservation-booking entity via a computer network connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring submission of at least three different types of reservation data from the customer for successful completion thereof, each reservation data type having one of a plurality of different values, wherein each reservation data type value is dependent upon other reservation data type values, the method comprising: (a) displaying a page on the customer computer, the page including (1) a request that the customer submit values for at least two of the different data types, and (2) for each requested data value, a data submitter through which the customer can submit a data value to the automated reservation transaction processor; (b) receiving data at the automated reservation transaction processor from the customer computer that corresponds to a submission of a data value for at least one of the data types; (c) determining from the received data at least one data type, if any, that remains unsubmitted; (d) if any unsubmitted data type is determined to remain, determining, on the basis of the interdependence of the different data values for the different reservation data types, a list of remaining acceptable values for the at least one unsubmitted reservation data type; (e) displaying another page on the customer computer, the another page including (1) said at least one determined list of acceptable data submission values, and (2) for each said determined list, a data submitter for submitting at least one of said acceptable values to the automated reservation transaction processor; and (f) repeating steps (b) through (e) as necessary until all required data types are successfully submitted to the automated reservation transaction processor, thereby completing the reservation.

[0014] The reservation transaction is preferably a rental vehicle rental reservation, wherein the types of necessary data comprise temporal information, location information, and vehicle information. Additional types of necessary data types may include customer age information and other customer personal information (such as name, phone number, insurance, etc.).

[0015] The data values for the reservation data types are said to be dependent upon each other because it is not necessarily the case that all possible combinations of the different values for each reservation data type will be acceptable to complete a reservation. That is, in a given reservation transaction, a particular data value for a particular data type may restrict the range of acceptable values for other data types. For example, the value of “luxury” for vehicle type may display a range of location values but restrict the range of acceptable location values from location 1-10 to only locations 3 or 4; or the value of Jul. 10-14, 2002 for starting/end time and the value of Location X for location may restrict the range of acceptable values for vehicle types from all vehicle types to only “economy” and “compact”. Thus, the range of acceptable values for each reservation data type are dependent upon availability given any previous data value entries for other reservation data types. At the same time, the user may choose to change one of the limiting data values to thereby change the resulting range of acceptable data values for other data types. Because the present invention narrows the customer's data submission options to a list of acceptable values for an unsubmitted data type on the basis of what values are acceptable for successful completion of a reservation given the previous data value submissions for the other data type, customers are guided toward making choices that maximize the likelihood of successfully booking a reservation with minimal customer dissatisfaction.

[0016] According to another aspect of the present invention, herein is disclosed a method of processing a reservation transaction between a customer and a reservation-booking entity via a computer network connecting a customer computer with an automated reservation transaction processor, the reservation transaction requiring a plurality of customer-entered pieces of information that are necessary for successful completion thereof, the method comprising displaying a page on the customer's computer, the page being configured with (1) at least one field for the customer to submit a piece of necessary information, and (2) a summary that includes (a) a list comprised of any pieces of said necessary information previously submitted by the customer and (b) at least one selectable edit link for requesting a data submitter for entering at least one revised data value for at least one piece of said necessary information.

[0017] The use of such an interactive summary on the interactive web pages of the present invention allows customers to quickly and easily enter any changes to the previously-submitted data.

[0018] According to yet another aspect of the invention, deep-linking is provided for customers seeking to book a reservation from a promotional link or from a corporate account. The promotion corresponding to a promotional link that may be selected by a customer may have one or more promotion conditions, each promotion condition corresponding to a particular data value or range of data values that the customer must choose for a particular reservation data type. For example, a promotion offering a reduced rate may only be valid for a single vehicle type or may only be valid for a limited time. Similarly, a corporate account may include limiting parameters analogous to promotion conditions. With the present invention, when a customer selects a promotional link or a particular corporate account, that customer is deep-linked into the reservation booking process such that the data values for any data type that correspond to a promotion condition (or a corporate account parameter) are identified in the accompanying text. Also, any reservation data types corresponding to promotional conditions (or corporate account parameters) have their data values set equal to those conditions/parameters. Should the customer submit a data value that violates a promotion condition (or corporate account parameter), then the present invention notifies the customer of this situation and presents him/her with an option to revise the data value causing the violation of a promotion condition/corporate account parameter. Instructional text may also be found on subsequent pages. Alternately, the customer may elect to continue the process and not take advantage of the promotion or move off the corporate account.

[0019] By deep-linking into the website those customers who are seeking to take advantage of an offered promotion (or an available corporate account), the present invention avoids inconvenience to the customer that would result from requiring the customer to first learn what data values need to be entered to satisfy the conditions of the promotion and then entering those values. Those steps are bypassed by deep-linking the customer to a point in the reservation booking process where data values relating to promotional conditions are automatically set to the conditional values. Also, by notifying the customer when a submitted data value for a reservation data type violates a promotion condition (or corporate account parameter) and by giving the customer the option to accordingly revise that data value, the present invention avoids the customer dissatisfaction that may arise from the customer losing out on a desired advantage because of an unintentional violation of a promotion condition or corporate account parameter.

[0020] The present invention further provides an efficient use of a user's time and network connectivity, by minimizing the required amount of interactivity, and movement of data/displays from the reservation booking website and the customer's computer. As is known in the art, delays are commonly experienced on the Internet due to the required transmission of large amounts of data to create displays so that minimizing the number of displays must necessarily speed up the process of a user making an Internet reservation.

[0021] Still another aspect of the present invention is the design feature that creates a summary section with hyperlinks for a user to conveniently click and move to a display to change the corresponding data needed to complete the reservation. This summary is further advantaged by occupying less than all of the display screen. This feature of the invention focuses the user on the single most important task at hand, i.e. that of completing the reservation in a manner acceptable to the user, with the correct information entered, and with perhaps the most user-friendly and intuitive method for correcting/changing any information needed for completing the reservation. The invention thus adapts the website architecture to the user's needs, and points every user action towards completing the reservation to thereby maximize the “completion” rate of reservations achieved compared to the number of users accessing the website.

[0022] These and other features and advantages of the present invention will be in part apparent and in part pointed out in the following description and referenced figures.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0023]FIG. 1 illustrates a prior art technique by which a reservation booking website obtains reservation data from a customer;

[0024]FIG. 2 illustrates another prior art technique by which a reservation booking website obtains reservation data from a customer;

[0025]FIG. 3 illustrates yet another prior art technique by which a reservation booking website obtains reservation data from a customer;

[0026]FIG. 4 illustrates a known technique for providing a customer with a summary of existing reservation data as the customer proceeds through the various stages of the reservation booking process;

[0027]FIG. 5 illustrates an overview of the reservation data gathering technique of the present invention, wherein 3 types of reservation data are needed;

[0028]FIG. 6 illustrates a preferred architectural overview for the present invention;

[0029]FIG. 7 illustrates the preferred automated reservation transaction processor in more detail;

[0030]FIG. 8 illustrates a preferred technique for how the present invention processes data received from the customer;

[0031] FIGS. 9-12 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from the home page;

[0032]FIG. 13 illustrates a preferred navigational path for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from a page designed to obtain general locational information from the customer;

[0033] FIGS. 14-15 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to obtain a branch selection from the customer;

[0034] FIGS. 16-17 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to obtain a vehicle selection from the customer;

[0035] FIGS. 18-19 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to provide the customer with detailed information about a selected vehicle;

[0036] FIGS. 20-23 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to provide the customer with detailed information about a selected branch;

[0037]FIG. 24 illustrates a preferred navigational path for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from a page designed to obtain pertinent personal information about the customer;

[0038] FIGS. 25-26 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to allow the customer to review and verify the reservation data prior to booking;

[0039]FIG. 27 illustrates a preferred navigational path for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from a reservation confirmation page;

[0040] FIGS. 28-29 illustrate various preferred navigational paths for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from pages designed to allow the customer to change the reservation time;

[0041]FIG. 30 illustrates a preferred navigational path for the reservation booking process of the present invention starting from a page designed to allow the customer to change the age data;

[0042]FIG. 31 illustrates an overview of how the present invention allows a customer to deep-link into the reservation booking process upon the selection of a promotional link;

[0043]FIG. 32 illustrates the promotional deep-linking aspect of the present invention;

[0044]FIG. 33 illustrates how the present invention allows a customer who is following a promotional path to make informed decisions when entering data to avoid violating the conditions of the promotion;

[0045]FIG. 34 illustrates an overview of how the present invention allows a customer to deep-link into the reservation booking process with use of a corporate account;

[0046]FIG. 35 illustrates the corporate account deep-linking aspect of the present invention;

[0047]FIG. 36 illustrates how the present invention allows a customer who is following a corporate account path to make informed decisions when entering data to avoid violating the parameters of the corporate account's profile;

[0048]FIG. 37 is a screenshot of a preferred home page (H) for the present invention;

[0049] FIGS. 38-41 are screenshots of preferred “choose location” pages (CL1-CL4) for the present invention;

[0050] FIGS. 42-43 are screenshots of preferred “choose vehicle” pages (CV1-CV2) for the present invention;

[0051] FIGS. 44-45 are screenshots of preferred “vehicle details” pages (VD1-VD2) for the present invention;

[0052] FIGS. 46-49 are screenshots of preferred “branch details” pages (BD1-BD4) for the present invention;

[0053] FIGS. 50(a)-50(b) are screenshots of a preferred “renter information” page (RI) for the present invention;

[0054] FIGS. 51-52 are screenshots of preferred “verify” pages (V1-V2) for the present invention;

[0055]FIG. 53 is a screenshot of a preferred “confirmation” page (Conf) for the present invention;

[0056] FIGS. 54-55 are screenshots of preferred “change time” pages (ChT1-ChT2) for the present invention;

[0057]FIG. 56 is a screenshot of a preferred “change age” page (ChA) for the present invention;

[0058]FIG. 57 is a screenshot of a preferred “stripped down home page” page (SH) for the present invention

[0059]FIG. 58 is a screenshot of a preferred “after hours” page (AH) for the present invention;

[0060] FIGS. 59-61 are screenshots of preferred “apology” pages (APOL1-APOL5) for the present invention;

[0061]FIG. 62 is a screenshot of a preferred “cancel reservation” page (Cancel) for the present invention;

[0062]FIG. 63(a) is a screenshot of a preferred “promotional parameters notice” page (Notice) for the present invention; and

[0063]FIG. 63(b) is a screenshot of a preferred “corporate account parameters notice” page (Notice) for the present invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

[0064]FIG. 5 illustrates the basic navigational structure for the reservation booking website of the present invention. In the example of FIG. 5, the different types of data needed from the customer to successfully book a rental car reservation are: (1) temporal data (T)—such as the starting and ending dates for the reservation, (2) location data (L)—such as an identification of the particular branch of the rental car company from which the customer seeks a car rental reservation, and (3) vehicle data (V)—such as the type of vehicle the customer wants to rent (economy, midsize, luxury, etc.). The customer can submit values for these data types to the reservation booking entity via a customer-determined number of stages. Each box in FIG. 5 represents a page of the website, and the text within each box represents the data types for which the page requests data values from the customer. Each arrow indicates a submission of data by the customer, and the text adjacent each arrow represents the type(s) of data being submitted.

[0065] The customer, depending on his/her desires, can either submit all data values for all necessary data types to the reservation booking entity via a single data exchange 104, two data exchanges 102, or in single-step fashion via three data exchanges 100. Once the reservation booking entity has received all necessary data from the customer, a verify page is presented from which the customer can review his/her data entries and thereafter book the reservation if all is accurate.

[0066] In the single data exchange 104 wherein the customer submits temporal, locational, and vehicle data at the same time, the reservation booking entity must consult a database to determine whether a reservation having those data values is possible. If not, the customer will be guided to amend one or more of the reservation data entries.

[0067] In the two-step data exchange 102, the reservation booking entity can process the double submission (TL, TV, or LV) to determine how to more accurately guide the customer through the process. For example, if both T and L are submitted at once, the reservation booking entity knows that vehicle data is still needed, but because both T and L data have been submitted, it can refine the customer's options for selecting vehicles to only those vehicles available at the selected time from the selected location. This aspect of the invention is taken one step further in the three-step data exchange 100. On each submission of data, the reservation booking entity processes the submitted data on the basis of the data values interdependent to refine the number of acceptable data value options for the remaining data types.

[0068]FIG. 6 illustrates a preferred architecture for the present invention. A plurality of customer computers 210 connected to a network 204 (such as the Internet) and using web browsing software can access a reservation booking website hosted by automated reservation transaction processor 150. Automated reservation transaction processor 150 can be any computer that is network connectable. Preferably, the processor 150 comprises an application server 200 (or application servers for redundancy purposes) a web server (or servers) 200, a customer/promotional database 208, and a business database 206. The application server 200 (1) interacts with the customer computers via web server 202 (or web servers) to obtain reservation data therefrom, (2) interacts with business database 206 via a connector interface such as Tuxedo, and (3) interacts with a customer/promotional database 208 via a connector interface such as JBDC. Business database 206 stores all of the data pertaining to the rental car company's branch locations, vehicle inventories, pricing, etc. Customer/promotional database 208 preferably stores the profiles of any registered customers, the profiles of any corporate accounts, and data relating to any rental promotions being offered by the company.

[0069]FIG. 7 illustrates the automated reservation transaction processor 150 in greater detail. Application server 200 preferably runs WebLogic 6.1 software 250 and interfaces with web server 202 (preferably an Apache web server 242) via a servlet 220 and a Java Server Page (JSP) 222, preferably using Struts architecture. The servlet communicates with a personalization application programmer's interface (API) 228 to store and retrieve customer profiles and a promotions API 230 to retrieve promotional data. The APIs 228 and 230 link with EJB connector logic 232 which in turn links with JBDC connector logic 234. The JBDC connector logic 234 allows the application server 200 to communicate with database server 208 (which is preferably an Informix database 236). The server also communicates with the business database 206 via EJB connector logic 224 and WebLogic Tuxedo connector 226. The business database server 206 is preferably an AS/400s implementing Tuxedo services 240 and Tuxedo connector 238.

[0070] Servlet 220 performs the major decision-making tasks for the reservation booking process of the present invention. Servlet 220 interacts with the databases to gather necessary information for both (1) determining which page should be constructed by the JSP 222, and (2) the particular data that should appear on the page. Upon reference to the navigational charts and screen shots of the succeeding figures, a programmer having ordinary skills can readily implement the programming needed to implement the present invention, particularly the servlet 220 and JSP 222. Also, as one of ordinary skill in the art would readily recognize, any of a number of servers and software platforms can be used in connection with the present invention. As such, the present invention is in no way limited by the configurations shown in FIGS. 6 and 7.

[0071]FIG. 8 is a flowchart illustrating how the application server 200 processes data received from customers. At step 8.1, the application server receives a data submission from a customer computer. Using FIG. 5 as an example, this data may relate to T, L, or V. At step 8.2, the application server creates a reservation transaction for the customer computer and stores the received data therein. Next at step 8.3, the application server processes the received data to determine what information is still needed from the customer to complete a reservation, and what information the customer needs to make a meaningful decision when deciding what to choose for the remaining data. To make such decisions, the servlet 220 interacts with the business database 206. For example, if servlet has received T and L data from the customer, the servlet determines that V data is still needed and queries database server 206 for all vehicles available from the selected L at the selected T. Preferably, the servlet also queries the database for additional information pertaining to the available vehicles, such as a price and a general description (both of which can be included in the page to be built and sent to the customer). At step 8.4, the servlet then interacts with JSP 222 to build a web page with necessary information and hyperlinks that allow the customer to make a further data submission that will at least partially satisfy at least one remaining reservational data need. Thereafter, at step 8.5, the customer computer accesses the built page and the process repeats itself as additional data submissions are received from the customer computer.

[0072] The navigational path for the reservation booking website of the present invention will now be described. FIG. 9 shows a navigational path starting from the home page wherein a zip code has been entered as partial location information. FIG. 38 illustrates a preferred format for the home page (H) of the present invention.

[0073] With reference to FIG. 38, page H includes a plurality of fields in which the customer can enter reservation data. The four basic types of reservation data are preferably location information (L), temporal information (T), vehicle information (V), customer age (A), and additional customer information (RI). From the home page, the customer can preferably enter data for L, T, V, and A. Also, it should be noted that the website can be designed to recognize returning visitors through the use of cookies or customer registration, which would eliminate the need to repetitively gather A and RI information from repeat customers.

[0074] Preferably, a customer enters partial L data from the home page that will allow the processor 150 to determine a general area (such as a metropolitan area or state) from which the customer is interested in renting a car. In locational field 302, the customer can enter either a zip code, an airport code, or general search text. Business database 206 preferably associates each branch location with a plurality of nearby zip codes to enable zip code searching. Also, any branch locations that are designated as airport branches (preferably branches near an airport) are associated with the 3 character airport code of the nearby airport to enable airport code searching. If general search text is entered, the servlet will query the business database 206 for all branch locations having the entered text anywhere in its address. However, it should be understood that other locational search methods may be readily implemented (including but not limited to methods such as a drop down menu listing all of the rental car company's branches—which is not very efficient for a large rental car company having thousands of branches, a pop-up map with geographically-placed hyperlinks, cascaded searches by state then city then branch, or the like). If a customer wishes that only branch locations associated with airports be returned but does not know the airport code for the airport of interest, a box 326 is provided that restricts the branches returned from a zip code or general text search to only airport branches that satisfy the zip code/text search criteria.

[0075] Full temporal information is preferably provided in fields 304, 306, 308, and 310 which correspond to starting date, starting time, return date, and return time respectively. It is preferred that default values be used for the temporal information (such as the current date for starting/end dates and noon for starting/end time) in the event that the customer does not enter T data from the home page. In the event error data is received as a date, the customer will be linked to a “stripped down” version of page H (SH, see FIG. 57) to re-enter valid temporal data.

[0076] Vehicle information is preferably provided in field 314. A drop down menu can list available vehicle types (including but not limited to types such as compact, economy, mid-size, and luxury). Preferably the vehicle type defaults to “all vehicle types” in the event that the customer does not enter V data from the home page.

[0077] Customer age information is preferably provided in field 322. A drop down menu can list possible age ranges (including but not limited to below 20, 21-24, and 25+). Preferably the age defaults to 25+ in the event that the customer does not enter A data from the home page.

[0078] Upon entering data in any or all of the above-described fields, the customer can submit the data (including any default temporal or age entries that may exist) to the processor 150 by selecting link 324. The data entry fields and the “search” link 324 make up a data submitter through which the customer can submit at least one data value. It should be noted that the present invention is not limited to a data submitter as shown in FIG. 38 but encompasses data submission techniques of all kinds, such as a data submitter that is a list of hyperlinks with each hyperlink corresponding to a different acceptable data value, a data submitter that is a drop-down menu of selectable options and a corresponding “select” link, or the like.

[0079] Additional preferable features for the home page include (1) various promotional links 318 that correspond to any promotions that the rental car company is offering (each promotional link 318 being selectable to initiate a reservation transaction according to the conditions of the promotion), (2) an “enter corporate account” field 316 through which a customer can access a corporate account and initiate a reservation transaction according to the parameters of a profile associated with the corporate account (preferably the corporate account is accessed by entering a password or the like in field 316), and (3) a “modify an existing reservation” link 320 which allows a customer to access and/or modify an existing reservation by entering a reservation confirmation number or some other suitable identifier when subsequently prompted. One or more message tiles 317 may also be provided on page H (or any page other than SH). The message tile 317 includes either a link 318 to a promotion or a link to accessing a customer's corporate account. Preferably the message tile 317 is positioned on either end (left or right) of the page, preserving the center of the page for reservation data interaction.

[0080] Returning to FIG. 9, when a customer has selected link 324 after entering a zip code in field 302, the servlet accesses the business database to determine the state in which the zip code is located and the branch(es) associated with that zip code. If the received age data (which may either be the default age data or customer-entered age data) is below the minimum age for renting a vehicle in the zip code's state (21 in most states, 18 in New York), then the servlet links the customer to page APOL3 (see FIG. 61). If not, the servlet queries the database 206 to determine whether any returned branches are open at the starting date and starting time received from the customer (which may be either default values or customer-entered values). If no such branches are open, the servlet links the customer to either page CL1 (if a vehicle type has been selected, see FIG. 38), or page CL2 (if no vehicle type has been selected, see FIG. 39). On the displayed CL page, the indicated status for each listed branch will be “closed”.

[0081] If open branches do exist, and only one such open branch exists, the servlet proceeds through steps 9.5-9.21. If the customer selected a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is both available at the branch and available for the customer's age, the servlet links the customer to page BD2 (see FIG. 47) which allows the customer to learn more about both the single returned branch (address, etc.) and the vehicle selected (such as price, etc.). If the customer selected a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is available at the branch but not available for the customer's age, the servlet links the customer to page APOL3 (see FIG. 62) which informs the customer of the vehicle's unavailability based on an age restriction. If the customer selected a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is not available at the branch but other cars are available at the branch, the servlet links the customer to page BD1 (see FIG. 46) or BD4 (see FIG. 49) depending upon whether the branch is designated an airport branch. BD1 and BD4 let the customer know of the other vehicles that can be selected at the branch while also informing the customer about the single returned branch. Because airport branches often have extended operating hours, after closing vehicle drop-offs, and shuttle services, airport branches are given special attention in the present invention (although this need not be the case). If the customer selected a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is not available at the branch, nor are any vehicles available at the branch, the servlet links the customer to page APOL1 (see FIG. 59) or APOL2 (see FIG. 60) depending upon whether the branch is an airport branch. APOL1 will provide the customer with a link outside the summary section (to be described below) that allows the customer to change branch locations. APOL2 preferably does not provide such a link outside the summary section. Both APOL1 and APOL2 inform the customer that the branch has no vehicles available at the selected starting time. If the customer did not select a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is not available at the branch, nor are any vehicles available at the branch, the servlet links the customer to page APOL1 (see FIG. 59). If the customer has not selected a vehicle type from the home page, and the selected vehicle is not available at the branch but other cars are available at the branch, the servlet links the customer to page BD1 (see FIG. 46) or BD4 (see FIG. 49) depending upon whether the branch is designated an airport branch, which lets the customer know of the other vehicles that can be selected at the branch.

[0082] If more than one open branch is returned from the database query at step 9.4, the next action needed from the customer is a selection of one of the plurality of branch locations meeting the zip code search criterion (steps 9.22-9.24). Depending upon whether the customer entered a vehicle type, the servlet links the customer to either page CL1 (see FIG. 38) or CL2 (see FIG. 39) which list the locations available for selection based on the submitted data.

[0083]FIG. 10 illustrates essentially the same process as FIG. 9 with the exception that the customer entered search text in field 302 rather than a zip code (which affects the “choose location” pages now denoted as being either CL3 and CL4, see FIGS. 40-41). Likewise, FIG. 11 illustrates essentially the same process as FIGS. 9 and 10 with the exception that the customer has either entered an airport code in field 302 or entered either a zip code or search text in field 302 after checking box 326. Because it is known that only airport branches are returned from the database query, the process of FIG. 11 (unlike those of FIGS. 9 and 10) does not need any decision-making based on whether a particular branch is flagged as an airport branch.

[0084]FIG. 12 illustrates a navigational flow from the home page where the customer enters any combination of age, vehicle, and/or time data—but no locational data is entered in field 302. In such cases, the servlet links the customer to page SH (see FIG. 57) which is a stripped down version of the home page. FIG. 13 shows the navigational flow from page SH, and is self-explanatory. Data entries other than locational data results in the customer being looped back to page SH.

[0085]FIGS. 14 and 15 illustrate the navigational flow from the “choose location” pages CL1-CL4. An exemplary screenshot of CL1 is shown in FIG. 38. Referring to FIG. 38, CL1 lists a plurality of branch locations 332 that meet the zip code criterion provided by the customer. Because CL1 is reached when the vehicle type for the reservation is known, each branch listing 332 also lists that branch's status as to the availability of the selected car (see vehicle availability status column 336). Each branch listing 332 also lists that branch's distance from a selected point in the zip code provided by the customer (see branch distance from zip code column 334). Preferably, CL1 lists not only the branches that are acceptable for selection as determined from the current reservation data (i.e., open branches having the selected vehicle available at the selected time) but also branches that are unacceptable for selection based on current reservation data (i.e., the branch listings denoted as “closed” or “sold out”). While such branches are not acceptable for selection via link 338, the customer may desire to change other reservation data to make a particular location acceptable. For example, by selecting the link 342, a customer will be linked to a branch details page allowing the customer to possibly change reserve time (steps 14.14-14.16).

[0086] For each branch listing 332 where the selected vehicle is available, a “select” link 338 is provided nearby that allows, upon selection thereof, the customer to select the branch to which the “select” link corresponds. No “select” links are provided for branches where either the selected vehicle is unavailable or the branch is closed during the selected start time. Each branch listing also includes a “view branch details” link 342 that, upon selection, links the customer to a page (a BD page) that provides more details as to the pertinent data for the branch (i.e. hours of operation, rental policies, shuttle service (if available), etc.) and if a vehicle has not been selected also presents the customer with a listing of available vehicles. Furthermore, a “next 5/prev 5” link 340 is also provided (when the number of branch listings exceeds a predetermined number, which is preferably however many branch listings comfortably fit on the page). Upon selection of link 340, the CL1 page is redisplayed with the next 5 or previous 5 branch listings.

[0087] Another feature of the present invention that can be seen on the CL1 page is summary section 330. Summary section 330 provides the customer with a running summary of reservation data submitted to processor 150. Summary section 330 preferably includes a listing for L stage data 346 which can be seen in FIG. 38 as not yet existing, T stage data 348 which is the start date/time and end date/time provided by the customer, V stage data 350 which is the vehicle type data provided by the customer, A stage data 352 which is the age data provided by the customer, and RI stage data 354 which is the renter information provided by the customer. The summary section 330 also includes, for each reservation data type for which a complete data value has been received, a nearby (preferably adjacent as shown) “editing” link 360. “Editing” link 360 is selectable to initiate a revision to the data with which the link is associated. The “editing” link provides the present invention with a unique user-friendliness and flexibility that allows customers to easily revise any errors that may have been made when entering data or quickly implement changes of mind. In the example of FIG. 38, it can be seen that only the T stage data 348 has been provided by the customer, and as such, an “editing” link 360 is situated adjacent thereto.

[0088] While it is preferred that the summary 330 include a separate edit link for each listed data value, this need not be the case. By providing separate edit links for each listed data value, the user-friendliness of the summary section 330 is improved because the customer can initially determine how to best initiate a data value revision. However, less preferred edit link implementations can be used, such as a single edit link within the summary section 330 that is selectable to initiate a revision for any of the listed data values, or the like.

[0089] Furthermore, summary section 330 preferably includes a progress marker 344 which notifies customers of how far along they are in the reservation booking process. In the example of FIG. 38, progress marker 344 notifies the customer that the process is 209 complete (preferably the stages considered by the progress marker are T, V, L, RI, and a verification stage). However, as would be apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art, more or fewer stages could be considered in calculating the percentage complete for the progress marker. As can be seen in connection with the other screenshots shown in the figures, the summary section 330 provides a useful tool through which customers can optimize the reservation booking process.

[0090]FIG. 40 illustrates CL3 which closely matches CL1, except column 334 is not included (because the customer has not provided a zip code). FIG. 41 also shows an example of another hyperlink that may appear on either CL1 or CL3—the “check other vehicles” link 360. Whenever the selected vehicle is unavailable at one of the branch listings 332, a “check other vehicles” link 360 is preferably provided as an action item for the branch that is selectable to both select the corresponding branch location and initiate a “change vehicle” edit.

[0091]FIG. 14 illustrates the navigational path starting from either CL1 or CL3. If the customer selects one of the listed branches, the servlet first checks whether the selected branch is flagged as an airport branch. If so, the servlet checks whether the return time for the reservation is after the branch's closing time. If the return time is post-closing, the customer is linked to an “after hours” (AH) page (see FIG. 58) which provides the customer with the option of either accepting the selected branch's after hours return policy (continue to step 14.6) or initiating a change to the reservation time (link to page ChT2, described in more detail below). At step 14.6, a VD1 page (see FIG. 44) is displayed which notifies the customer of important vehicle information such as base rate and total rental cost.

[0092] If step 14.2 determines that the selected branch is not an airport branch, then the servlet proceeds through steps 14.7-14.11. In the event the selected branch offers an after hours return policy, the steps 14.8-14.11 are performed (which essentially mirror 14.3-14.6 except non-airport page versions are displayed). If there is no after hours policy at the selected branch and the return time is after closing, steps 14.11-14.13 are followed.

[0093] Another selection possibility from CL1 or CL3 is the selection of a “view branch details” link 342. If a link 342 is selected, then the customer is linked to a “branch details” page (either BD2 or BD3 depending on whether the selected branch is an airport branch—see FIGS. 47-48). The BD pages provide detailed information about the branch corresponding thereto.

[0094] Other selection possibilities from CL1 or CL3 are derived from the “editing” links 360 in the summary section 330. Because it is preferred that default values be used for T data and A data in the absence of modification thereof by the customer, summary sections 330 will always include “editing” links 360 corresponding to changing the reservation's temporal data and changing the customer's age. Selection of those “editing” links will link the customer to pages SH (see FIG. 57) and ChA (see FIG. 56) respectively. Also, because CL1 and CL3 will always be reached when a vehicle type has been selected, the “editing” link 360 corresponding to V stage data will also be present and selectable to link the customer to a “choose vehicle” page (CV1) (see FIG. 42). Furthermore, in the event that the renter information is known (the conditionality of the “change RI” path is indicated by the dashed lines), an “editing” link 360 corresponding thereto will be present in the summary section 330 and selectable to link the customer to a change renter information page (RI)—see FIGS. 50(a)-(b). Renter information (RI) (see FIG. 50 for an example of information desired) can be obtained either through data entry from page RI or through a customer profile learned either from customer registration/log-in or cookie recognition. Further, any customer profiles used with the present invention may also include parameters such as “preferred vehicle type”, “preferred branch location” or the like to further expedite subsequent reservation transactions.

[0095]FIG. 15 illustrates the navigational path starting from CL2 or CL4. An exemplary screenshot for CL2 is shown in FIG. 39, and an exemplary screenshot for CL4 is shown in FIG. 41. Like CL1, CL2 includes column 334 because CL2 is reached when the customer provides a zip code in field 302 of page H. Also, because no vehicle information is known, a location status column 362 is provided that identifies whether any vehicles are available at the listed branches and whether the branch is open for business at the selected start date/time. Also of note is the airplane icon 364 that appears beside any branch listings 332 that are flagged as airport branches to notify customers of which branches are airport branches.

[0096] CL4, shown in FIG. 41, is highly similar to CL2 except column 334 (distance of branch from zip code) is not shown because no zip code was entered by the customer when reaching CL4. Like CL2, CL4 includes a branch status column 362.

[0097]FIG. 15 illustrates a navigational path for the present invention starting from either page CL2 or CL4. Steps 15.2-15.13 of FIG. 15 parallel steps 14.2-14.13 of FIG. 14, with the exception that CV pages are reached at steps 15.6 and 15.11 instead of VD1 pages (as in FIG. 14). Furthermore, because no vehicle is selected, steps 15.15-15.17 link the customer to a BD page that allows the customer to make vehicle selections therefrom.

[0098]FIGS. 16 and 17 illustrate navigational paths for the present invention starting from the CV pages, and are readily understood upon reading the CV page information below. Exemplary screenshots for CV1 and CV2 are shown in FIGS. 42 and 43 respectively—the only difference being that CV1 corresponds to a reservation where the selected branch is not an airport branch and CV2 corresponds to a reservation where the selected branch is an airport branch. Both CV1 and CV2 include a vehicle inventory list for the selected branch. Both acceptable vehicle types (those with a select link 376) and unacceptable vehicle types (those without a select link 376) are preferably listed.

[0099] Each vehicle listing 370 identifies the vehicle type (economy, compact, etc.), a link 372 to “view vehicle details”, a description of the makes and models for the class, a price quote, and when the vehicle is available, a “select” link 376. The price quote preferably includes both a daily rate for the vehicle and a total price listing reflective of the daily rate times the number of reservation days (known from T data) plus any surcharges, taxes, etc. By displaying both the daily rate and total price, the customer is made more fully aware of price issues for the reservation. With this feature of the present invention, when the customer desires a particular vehicle, he/she can learn if any other branch locations (some of which may be sufficiently nearby) offer the desired vehicle. If a listed vehicle is unavailable, a link 378 is provided which, upon selection, allows the customer to both (1) select the vehicle and (2) link to a choose location page (CL1 or CL3). CV1 and CV2 also both include summary section 330.

[0100]FIGS. 18 and 19 illustrate the navigational paths starting from the pages VD1 and VD2 respectively. FIGS. 44 and 45 illustrate examples of “vehicle details” screenshots for VD1 and VD2 respectively. Referring to FIG. 44, VD1 includes information listing 390 that contains detailed information about the selected vehicle. This detailed information preferably includes a make/model description, a listing of vehicle features (such as A/C, stereo, engine, number of doors, etc.), a price quote (preferably both a daily rate and a total cost), etc. Links 392 and 394 allow the customer to link to a “vehicle details” page for the next smaller or next larger vehicle classes respectively. The “all” link 360 between links 392 and 394 corresponds to a “change vehicle” link. The “select” link 398 is provided for customers who, upon reviewing the details shown in listing 390, wish to select the shown vehicle. VD1 also includes a summary section 330.

[0101] VD2 includes a listing 390 of vehicle details for a vehicle that is unavailable for selection. VD2 is typically reached when link 392 or 396 of VD1 is selected and calls up a vehicle class that is unavailable. VD2 also preferably includes summary section 330.

[0102] FIGS. 20-23 illustrate navigational paths starting from various “branch details” (BD) pages and are readily understood upon reading the BD page information below. An exemplary BD1 is shown in FIG. 46. BD1 shows pertinent branch information for a selected non-airport branch when no vehicle has been selected. Listing 400 includes pertinent branch information such as operating hours and address. Because no vehicle has yet been selected, BD1 also includes a vehicle menu 402 that lists the vehicle inventory for the selected branch. Menu 402 is similar to a miniature “choose vehicle” page. Each vehicle listing includes a pricing column 380 and a “selection” column that includes links 376. The “select” links 376 are selectable to submit the vehicle corresponding thereto as the V data for the reservation. Each entry in the pricing column preferably includes both the daily rate and the total cost as explained above. BD1 also includes a summary section 330. BD4, shown in FIG. 49, closely corresponds to BD1, with the exception that the selected branch is an airport branch, and as such, the information in listing 400 is preferably slightly different.

[0103] An exemplary BD2 screenshot is shown in FIG. 47. BD2 is reached when a vehicle has already been selected. As such, BD2 includes a “selected vehicle information” listing 408 which is similar to a miniature VD1 page. Listing 408 includes pertinent information about the selected vehicle, a link 360 that is selectable to link to a CV page, and a link 410 selectable to continue the process with the selected vehicle. The pertinent information in listing 408 preferably includes both a daily rate and a total cost as explained above. BD2 also includes a summary section 330. BD3, shown in FIG. 48, closely corresponds to BD2 with the exception that the selected branch is an airport branch, and as such, the information in listing 400 is slightly different.

[0104]FIG. 24 illustrates a preferable navigational path starting from the “enter renter information” page (RI) and is readily understood upon reading the RI page information below. An exemplary RI page is shown in FIGS. 50(a) and 50(b). The RI page preferably includes a field 420 in which the renter's name can be entered, a field 422 for the renter's phone number, a field 424 for the renter's e-mail address, a field 426 for the renter's credit card type, and a plurality of fields 430 for additional information that is generally needed from the customer by a rental car company employee working at the counter of the branch location when the customer actually arrives to pick up the rental car. A “continue” link 428 submits any entered data to the processor 150. No fields in RI need to be required, however, it is preferred that the name, phone number, and credit card type fields be flagged as required fields. The RI page also includes a summary section 330.

[0105]FIGS. 25 and 26 illustrate preferred navigational paths for the present invention starting from a “verify” (V) page and are readily understood upon reading the V page information below. FIGS. 51 and 52 are exemplary screenshots for an non-airport version (V1) and an airport version (V2) respectively of the “verify” page. Both V1 and V2 include a listing 440 of pertinent information for the rental, such as important terms and conditions, after hours information, and a total cost estimate (the information in listing 440 may include additional airport-related data such as shuttle availability information). Summary section 330 is included in V1 and V2 to identify the data values for the different reservation data types 346-354 that have been submitted to the processor 150. Should the customer wish to revise any of the data entered for the reservation transaction, the “editing” links 360 are available. Link 442 is a “booking” link that submits the reservation to the processor 150 for final booking. Link 444 is a “cancel” link that cancels the reservation, and link 446 is an “upgrade” link that is selectable to link the customer to a “vehicle details” page for the vehicle of the next larger vehicle class.

[0106] In the event the customer decides that all information on the “verify” page is correct and the reservation is ready for booking, after selection of the “booking” link 442, the customer is linked to a “confirmation” page. FIG. 27 illustrates the preferred navigational path for the present invention starting from the “confirmation” page (Conf). FIG. 53 illustrates an exemplary screenshot for Conf. The Conf page includes confirmation information 450, the confirmation information 450, and a confirmation number 498. A “print” link 452 is provided to allow the customer to print out the reservation confirmation number and data values. A “create another similar reservation” link 454 is provided to allow the customer to repetitively make new reservations using the current reservation data as the starting point (upon selection of link 454, the customer is linked to a “verify” page wherein the reservation data matches the current reservation data). Additional preferable links on the Conf page include a “speed your time at the counter” link 456 that appears if the customer did not fully fill out fields 430 in the RI page. Link 456 is selectable to return the customer to page RI or a shortened version thereof that includes only the fields 430. Also, the Conf. Page preferably includes a “modify/cancel” link that is self-explanatory.

[0107] The preferred navigational paths starting from the “change time” pages are shown in FIGS. 28-29 and are readily understood upon reading the “change time” page information below. An exemplary ChT1 page is shown in FIG. 54. ChT1 is reached when a customer has opted to change the reservation time after already selecting a non-airport branch location. Listing 470 preferably provides business hours information for the selected branch and possibly additional information such as an address. Fields 304-310 are provided to update the reservation time. Link 472 is selectable to submit the updated reservation time. “Show more locations” link 360 is analogous to a “change location” edit link 360 shown in summary section 330.

[0108] An exemplary ChT2 page is shown in FIG. 55. ChT2 is highly similar to ChT1 except ChT2 is reached when the selected branch is an airport branch. Also, ChT2 preferably does not include a “show more locations” link 360.

[0109]FIG. 30 illustrates the preferred navigational path for the present invention starting from the “change age” page (ChA), an example of which is shown in FIG. 56. Referring to FIG. 56, from field 480 of the ChA page, the customer can change the age value for the reservation—preferably to one of three groups 25+ (unrestricted), 21-24 (some vehicle restrictions exist), and 18-20 (only allowed to rent a vehicle in New York). The ChA page also preferably includes the summary section 330. As shown in FIG. 30, the navigational path from the ChA page requires additional decision-making based on age (given the new age data, is the customer eligible to rent any vehicles? the selected vehicle?).

[0110] FIGS. 58 illustrates a preferred screenshot for the “after hours” page reached when the selected return time for an airport branch is after closing. The AH page includes a listing 490 that notifies the customer of the after hours return rules. The AH page preferably further includes a “change time” link 360 that is selectable to link to a ChT page, and a “continue” link 492 that is selectable to indicate that the customer accepts the after hours conditions. Once again, the AH page includes a summary section 330.

[0111] FIGS. 59-61 are exemplary screen shots for apology conditions. APOL1, shown in FIG. 59, includes apology field 494 that notifies the customer that all vehicles at the selected location are sold out. Outside of thesummary section 330, a “try new dates” link 360 is provided along with a “search for a new location” link 360. Also, a “return home” link 460 is provided. “Try new dates” link 360 links the customer to a ChT page, “search for a new location” link 360 links the customer to a CL page, and link 460 is selectable to link the customer to the home page (H). APOL1 also includes summary section 330.

[0112] APOL2, shown in FIG. 60, closely tracks APOL1 except a “search for a new location” link 360 is not provided (outside of the edit link 360 corresponding to a location change in summary section 330).

[0113] Also, APOL3, shown in FIG. 61, listing 496 notifies the customer that age restricts him/her from vehicle rental. Link 460 is a “return home” link.

[0114]FIG. 62 illustrates an exemplary “reservation cancellation” page (Cancel) that includes “cancel” link 498, “don't cancel” link 500, and summary section 330.

[0115] Another aspect of the present invention is the concept of “deep-linking” customers into a stage of the reservation booking process commensurate with the conditions of a promotion they have selected or a corporate account they are using. When a customer selects a promotional link (link 318 shown in some of the screenshots, including H and Conf), it is typical that the promotion has one or more conditions associated therewith. For example, a rental car company may offer a promotion for a reduced rental price for a particular type of vehicle during a specified time period. To promote the promotion, the rental car company may provide hyperlinks on other websites through advertising or the like, or may include promotional links on its own website to attract customers.

[0116] When a customer selects such a promotional link to initiate a reservation transaction, it is preferable that the user begin the reservation transaction with the reservation data corresponding to promotional conditions set equal to those conditions, to thereby avoid unnecessarily requiring the customer to enter such data himself/herself or creating a situation where the customer may accidentally enter data that violates the conditions of the promotion. For example, if a promotion has a condition that the type of vehicle must be “standard”, it is preferable that the customer, upon selection of a link corresponding to that promotion, be linked into the reservation booking process such that the vehicle type is automatically set to “standard”. FIG. 31 illustrates this “deep-linking” concept. In one example, a promotion has one condition: the vehicle type must be “economy”. Upon selection of an icon or link associated with that promotion, the customer is preferably linked to a state where V has been automatically set to “economy”, and the remaining options are to choose a time and location. In another example, a promotion has two conditions: the vehicle type must be “luxury” and the duration of the reservation must start on Jul. 5, 2002 and end of Jul. 6, 2002. Upon selection of an icon or link associated with that promotion, the customer is preferably linked to a state where V has been automatically set to “luxury” and T has been automatically set to “Jul. 5, 2002 through Jul. 6, 2002”, and the only remaining option to choose is location.

[0117] Furthermore, as is apparent from the preceding navigational paths and screenshots, the present invention provides customers with unparalleled flexibility in entering the data necessary to book a reservation, including the ability to possibly change one or more promotional conditions. To avoid situations where a customer unknowingly modifies a data value such that a promotional condition is violated, the process of FIG. 32 preferably runs after each data submission when the customer is on a promotional path. If a promotional icon has been selected, the servlet checks whether any of the data provided by the customer violates any of the promotion's conditions (step 32.2). If no violation is found, any remaining reservation data corresponding to a promotion condition is automatically set in accordance with the promotion condition (step 32.4) and the customer is deep-linked into the website of the present invention to a page that is appropriate given the reservation's current data status.

[0118] If a violation is found, the customer is linked to a “notice” page (step 32.3). The “notice” page informs the customer which data value violates the conditions of the promotion and why. FIG. 33 illustrates the notification process wherein the customer is given an option to revise. The notice page shown in FIG. 67(a) includes a notification 401 that a promotional condition has been violated, including an identification of which reservation data violates the condition. Preferably, notification 401 also indentifies what the promotion condition is. A “change” link 403 is provided to allow the customer to revise the out-of-promotion data to in-promotion data and a “continue” link 405 which allows the customer to continue the reservation outside the promotion condition.

[0119] Other examples of potential promotional conditions that the servlet should be designed to handle are conditions that are ranges of acceptable data values, such as a promotion that may be taken advantage of any day during the month of August. Although the automatic setting aspect of deep-linking would be inapplicable to such range-based conditions because more specific time information is needed from the customer, the process of FIGS. 32 and 33 should still run to identify whether the customer has entered time data not in the condition's range.

[0120] FIGS. 34-36 illustrate the same “deep-linking” concept as applied to corporate accounts. Many businesses or groups of people set up so-called “corporate accounts” wherein a profile is established for the business/group. Data stored in a profile may be the types of vehicles eligible to be rented within the parameters of the corporate account, renters whose age and personal information are remembered between visits to the website, etc. When a customer accesses the website of the present invention and indicates a desire to use his/her applicable corporate account (see field 316 of page H), the same “deep-linking” concept can be used. FIG. 34 illustrates this deep-linking concept as applied to corporate accounts. Also, the steps shown in FIGS. 35 and 36 parallel those of FIGS. 32 and 33 for promotional “deep-linking”. FIG. 67(b) illustrates a notice page for when reservation data violates a corporate account parameter. optionally, the notice page of FIG. 67(b) also includes links 403 and 405 as shown in FIG. 67(a).

[0121] While the present invention has been described above in relation to its preferred embodiment, various modifications may be made thereto that still fall within the invention's scope, as would be recognized by those of ordinary skill in the art. Such modifications to the invention will be recognizable upon review of the teachings herein As such, the full scope of the present invention is to be defined solely by the appended claims and their legal equivalents.

Referenced by
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US20130018680 *Sep 17, 2012Jan 17, 2013The Crawford Group, Inc.Method and System for Providing and Administering Online Rental Vehicle Reservation Booking Services
US20130085898 *Jul 29, 2011Apr 4, 2013Qiuhang Richard Qian3D version of self-choosing a rental car or truck online and business solution for the car and truck rental business
WO2007109511A2 *Mar 15, 2007Sep 27, 2007Crawford Group IncMethod and system for providing and administering online rental vehicle reservation booking services
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Classifications
U.S. Classification705/5, 705/1.1
International ClassificationG06Q10/00
Cooperative ClassificationG06Q10/02, G06Q30/0645
European ClassificationG06Q10/02, G06Q30/0645
Legal Events
DateCodeEventDescription
Nov 29, 2010ASAssignment
Free format text: TO CORRECT ASSIGNEE ON ASSIGNMENT PREVIOUSLY RECORDED AT REEL/FRAME 013859/0658 ON 10/24/2002 ( SEEALSO DOC ID #700450138);ASSIGNORS:FITZGERALD, NEIL;BELANGER, HUGUES;BORUFF, KELLI;AND OTHERS;SIGNING DATES FROM 20060511 TO 20060512;REEL/FRAME:025631/0058
Owner name: CRAWFORD GROUP, INC., THE, MISSOURI
Oct 29, 2002ASAssignment
Owner name: ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR COMPANY, MISSOURI
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FITZGERALD, NEIL;BELANGER, HUGUES;BORUFF, KELLI;AND OTHERS;REEL/FRAME:013435/0076
Effective date: 20020708
Oct 24, 2002ASAssignment
Owner name: ENTERPRISE RENT-A-CAR COMPANY, MISSOURI
Free format text: ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST;ASSIGNORS:FITZGERALD, NEIL;BELANGER, HUGUES;BORUFF, KELLI;AND OTHERS;REEL/FRAME:013859/0658
Effective date: 20020708