AA tells agents to use Direct Connect or pay a fee

By Jay Campbell
American Airlines is telling some agencies that they will be expected to pay a new $5.50-per-segment fee and face "less than full content" if they do not sign up for the carrier's Direct Connect program, according to a letter sent by Sabre to agency subscribers, reported industry newsletter The Beat.

The Beat later reported that American confirmed it told agencies it would tweak its Source Premium Policy, which levies per-segment fees on GDS bookings "to accommodate expected changes in our GDS agreements later this summer," according to an airline spokesman, who did not comment on the dollar amount.

"Since Sabre announced in January that it intended to remove American's fares from its system, our sales team has been visiting with our agency and corporate partners to inform them about options to continue to get American's content, should Sabre or another GDS disrupt or remove it," the AA spokesman said. "We continue to negotiate in good faith with Sabre and others to deliver the expanded content that our direct connect supports, and that a number of our agency and other travel partners are already using."

The Sabre letter to subscribers was written by Chris Kroeger, Sabre Travel Network’s senior vice president of marketing.

"We have heard from some of our agency customers that AA … has threatened them through a new 'Content Commitment Policy,' which would essentially force them to either accept AA's one-off, fragmented approach or face the consequences," Kroeger wrote.

The consequences are "less than full content through the GDS and a new fee of $5.50 per segment booked through a GDS. While this may be AA's view of the future, based on what our agency and corporate customers tell us is important, we don't see either outcome as viable."

The Sabre letter reiterated the company's positions on the matter and included a comment on the recently announced Expedia-American deal: "The most important thing to note in the Expedia-AA announcement is that GDS technology is and will be at the core of their arrangement, in the short-term and beyond. The companies' joint press release makes clear that AA content has been restored to Expedia's sites using GDS technology, and that Expedia plans to access AA's content using GDS technology in the future.

"Sabre already has a direct connection in place with AA, just as we do with hundreds of other airlines globally," the letter continued.

Referencing language in the AA-Expedia announcement, Sabre indicated that "using 'aggregation technology' to enable efficient comparison shopping, booking and fulfillment across hundreds of direct connections is at the heart of what a GDS does.

"A one-off connection disrupts comparison shopping, adds costs and inefficiencies for agencies and corporations — and simply isn't needed," Kroeger wrote. "This is a key distinction between our proven system of aggregated direct connections and AA's one-off Direct Connect product."

According to the Beat, a statement issued by American in response to the Sabre letter also referenced American's Expedia agreement, which the airline described as "a step toward a new era of distribution."

Sabre in January downgraded American information in its U.S. displays and began taking steps to end its distribution agreement early. However, American won a temporary restraining order, barring Sabre from biasing its flights, and later in January the two companies agreed to put litigation on hold until June 1 in order to work out their differences.

This story combines two reports published Tuesday in The Beat, a sister publication to Travel Weekly. 
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