I have encouraged you to respond to the January issue of the
Consumer Reports Travel Letter (CRTL), which fairly effectively
made agents sound a bit smarmy, maybe even criminal, for accepting
supplier overrides. I also said I would send my column on the
subject to the editor of CRTL.
The editor is Laurie Berger, who came to the monthly publication
last fall, succeeding Ed Perkins, who joined the staff of ASTA as
its consumer advocate. I know Laurie, although not well. She is a
former editor of Frequent Flyer magazine.
In a letter accompanying my Jan. 25 column, I said: "The
enclosed column says much of what I have to say about a package of
articles that unfairly makes agents sound like sleazy
businesspeople who have no interest in the welfare of their
clients. The use of bonuses (no need to use the pejorative
'kickbacks') paid to retailers by suppliers is not unique to the
travel business, as I am sure you know.
"And you must surely be aware that the U.S. government has on
occasion looked at overrides paid to travel agents trying to
determine if they affect airline competition in some way that is
harmful to the consumer, and those reviews have found overrides to
be mostly neutral. This is probably because agents know what keeps
them in business -- not merely happy customers, but repeat
"I suggest that the matter of the role of commissions, overrides
and service charges is more complex than your January articles
would suggest, and it is a disservice to your readers as much as to
agents if you do not revisit the subject for a more nuanced report.
I suggest talking to a few travel agents for some of that insight,
I was not really trying to pick on the Consumer Reports Travel
Letter. The point is that the trade has an image problem, at least
some of the time. In the consumer press, sometimes you are the
customer's only chance of benefiting from unbiased recommendations
and from an insider's ability to shop for the best prices or to
offer unique recommendations. At other times, you are practically
villains for accepting bonuses or for being middlemen who run up
the price of travel.
The CRTL stories prompted Jon Brobst, executive director of the
Riverside Travel Group in Portland, Ore., to visit the offices of
Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio for a little quality time explaining
industry practices to an aide there.
Heading off hits to your reputation through good, ongoing
relations with your local press is better than having to react
after the fact. But if you have to react, Jon sets a pretty good