Mark Pestronk
Mark Pestronk

Q: Since the so called full-content GDS contracts began in 2006, we have had 80 cents per segment deducted from our GDS incentives for allegedly full content. More and more these days, we see lower fares on airline websites than we see in the GDS, for the same trip and in simultaneous searches. I have the feeling that no one at the airlines is even aware of their full-content commitments to the GDS vendors anymore, and I have the feeling that no one at the GDS vendors really cares. Basically, full content is a fraud. Do you concur? Do I have any right to refuse to have this fee deducted?

A: Your feeling is widely shared. As Mark Meader, ASTA's senior vice president, wrote in a guest editorial in Travel Weekly's sister publication the Beat earlier this year, "The disparity between fares available on carrier websites versus those available in the GDSs or other sources makes shopping arduous, complex and time consuming for TMCs and agents, adding to the cost of doing business. And the situation appears to be getting worse, not better."

You would have to look at your GDS contract for any rights to stop being charged the 80-cent fee. Taking the GDSs in alphabetical order, here is what I find:

In standard Amadeus contracts, the 80-cent fee is for something called Amadeus Content Plus. The fee "shall be based on the number of Segments booked by Customer on Suppliers participating in Amadeus Content Plus multiplied by the Content Plus Fee. Amadeus Content Plus participating Suppliers and all related Charges and other terms and conditions may change during the term of this Agreement upon notice to you."

So, as long as you book on a carrier that is "participating," you are subject to the charge. There is no definition of Content Plus and no actual promise of full content  -- in fact, no promise of anything.

In the standard Sabre Customer Agreement, you get charged 80 cents for segments on carriers in the Efficient Access Solution program. Efficient Access Solution means the "Program in which Sabre has negotiated with certain Program Carriers for Customer to receive ... full published content, including web fares made generally available to the public via the carrier's website or a third-party website as supplied to Sabre by Program Carriers."

So although Sabre promises full content including web fares, it does so only "as supplied to Sabre by the Program Carriers," which means that if the carriers don't supply full content, you cannot blame Sabre.

Travelport's standard subscriber agreement provides for the 80-cent fee for participating in the Content Continuity Program. The vendor's commitment falls short because the program promises only "protection against service fees of designated participating airlines." Further, "Travelport may revise the list of designated airlines or modify the Content Continuity Program, including the terms and conditions, in Travelport's discretion at any time." As with Amadeus, the contract contains no actual promise of, or even reference to, full content.

I don't know what, if anything, would happen if you tried to drop out of your GDS program now. In 2006, the participating carriers announced that they would charge $3.50 per segment to nonparticipating travel agencies, and they would not provide full content, but I don't know whether that penalty is still in effect, whether the carriers are able to fine-tune their fares to eliminate full content for certain agencies or even whether the carriers are set up to bill that $3.50 fee.

So, if you don't mind the risk, you can tell your GDS vendor that you no longer want its full-content program and then see what happens.

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