Virgin Blue touts new programs designed for U.S. retailers

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BRISBANE, Australia -- Virgin Blue airlines announced a host of new programs designed to enhance its relationship with U.S. travel agents.

The airline signed a deal with Sabre to provide travel agents net fares, a move which gives agents a second avenue to book the airline and get paid for it.

"Agents who want to do large volumes on a commissionable basis can still work with us on the Internet, but if they want to work with us on the GDSs, they can do it on a net basis," said David Huttner, head of commercial operations for the airline.

"We do pay commission to agents -- 6% with no caps -- on our Web site, at www.virginblue.com.au/agents, so it's the agents' choice if they want to use the Internet or the GDS. We're not encouraging them to do it one way or the other.

"A lot of U.S. agents will probably like to work with Sabre and do net fares and service fees," he added. Huttner said Virgin Blue wants to start focusing on the North American market, which is the key reason it signed the deal with Sabre.

In other news, the airline signed a deal with United Airlines to code share flights from Sydney to Brisbane. The deal, using United's code, could be expanded to other routes in the near future, said Huttner.

Also, the carrier is planning to launch a wholesale division to reward those who book large groups. The airline offers agents booking groups of 10 to 20 passengers a group net rate, said Huttner.

"With us likely to fly to New Zealand in the next year, we're getting a lot of attention in that regard," he said.

Huttner said the airline only has about 20 to 30 U.S. agents who he considers "major bookers," and who use Virgin Blue's agent-only Web site to book flights.

Virgin Blue serves Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Darwin, Launceston, Mackay, Melbourne, Mt. Isa, Sydney and Townsville, Australia.

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