The Business Travel Coalition and the American Society of Travel Agents got more than 200 corporations and travel management companies to back airline efforts to collect fees for checked bags and premium seats, but the signatories to a letter sent to U.S. carriers want to ensure that they -- and not solely the airlines -- get to choose the distribution channel where these ancillary services get fulfilled.
As already reported, the BTC and ASTA penned the letter, and sent it to American Airlines, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, United, JetBlue and Alaska.
In a press release today, BTC, ASTA and the signatories offer to partner with the airlines "to support innovative distribution strategies and to maximize traveler uptake and resulting airline revenue growth from ancillary products and services, such as additional fees for checked baggage and pre-reserved seating."
However, the signatories fear the impact on the supply chain of airline unbundling and merchandising, and call on the airlines to "make available their unbundling initiatives in a manner that does not discriminate against a corporation based upon its choice of reservations fulfillment processes that best meet its needs..."
In other words, if the airlines roll out ancillary services on their own websites or through alternative distribution channels like Farelogix when these services are unavailable -- or available at a higher cost through global distribution systems like Sabre, Galileo, Worldspan and Amadeus -- then that is where the signatories find a huge problem.
The dispute therefore has both technological and commercial components.
On the technical front, the GDSs that travel management companies use often don't move fast enough and sometimes don't have the acumen to handle airlines' ancillary services and unbundling in the manner that the carriers desire.
And, the TMCs would have to make massive investments to their back end systems to handle any huge change in the distribution of products like bag fees, premium seats, lounge and Wi-Fi access.
And, probably the larger issue is that some airlines -- which have been advocating in the run-up to 2011 negotiations that the GDSs and travel agencies pay for airline content rather than the other way around -- want to distribute their ancillary products in low-cost channels, perhaps outside the GDSs, if GDSs and travel agencies don't agree to the airlines' terms.
"Forward-thinking airlines are listening to what we have to say," states BTC chairman Kevin Mitchell. "Some carriers have come to realize that to secure more high-yield business travelers, they must respect the modern procurement and travel management practices of their best customers."
The signatories to the letter sent to the airlines include major corporations, including Fujitsu America, Sapient, Oracle, Merck and SAP, just to name a handful.
Travel agencies and groups include Hickory Travel Systems, Montrose Travel, Casto Travel, and Travel and Transport, as well as online travel agencies Expedia, Travelocity and many more.
Missing from the list are some major TMCs such as American Express Business Travel, BCD Travel, HRG and Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
Mitchell says some of these TMCs and consortia do things their own ways at times.
"But, I wouldn't assume they are not supportive," Mitchell says.
Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Wendy King says the airline doesn't have a position on the letter, but listens to its corporate customers and tries to make the best decisions with its customers in mind.