New booking procedures implemented by three U.S. legacy airlines have made it more difficult for travelers to find bargains on multicity itineraries.

Under the policies, consumers or travel agents who are searching for airline tickets to more than one destination are only quoted a fare for fully refundable tickets, rather than for the cheapest flights available. American, Delta and United made the changes last month. They apply to GDS searches as well as searches on the carriers’ websites and on OTAs and travel search sites.

In an interview Monday, American spokesman Joshua Freed said that the carrier implemented the rule in order to prevent travelers who are going on a standard roundtrip from adding a targeted stopover to make the fare cheaper.

For example, Freed explained, American might be offering a one-way fare discount from its hub at New York Kennedy to Los Angeles and it also could be offering a fare discount from Los Angeles to Los Cabos, but such discounts would be intended for direct travelers. Before the change, however, savvy travelers (or their agents) who are going from New York to Los Cabos would have been able enter a three-way New York-LAX-Los Cabos trip into a ticket search in order to pay a lower fare than a direct New York-Los Cabos trip.

Such a search would now yield only nonrefundable fares, and not the one-way fare discounts.

In a statement, United spokesman Jonathan Guerin also said the change is designed to prevent flyers from combining two one-way discount segments to create a cheaper roundtrip. In an online statement, Delta noted that the new policy is not intended to have an impact on legitimate “circle trips,” in which a flyer is actually visiting two destinations.

Nevertheless, the new search policies don’t distinguish between travelers who are actually stopping in two destinations during a trip and those who are looking for the least expensive fares.

Freed acknowledged that an unintended consequence of the new policy has been the impact it has on travelers who are actually making a multi-destination trip.

“We have done some things to adjust that and have that make sense,” he said, but did not provide specifics.

Vicki Rush, CEO of A&I Travel Management in Memphis, noted that the policies have a workaround. A travel agent or a sophisticated traveler can still take advantage of bargain one-way offers by booking each leg of a trip as a separate itinerary. Doing so will take only a little extra time for agents working in the GDS, she said. The main disadvantage is that travelers with three separate bookings would be subject to three, instead of one, change fee, with the cost of each change often amounting to approximately $200.

Rush predicts that the policies would actually have a negative effect on the airlines, as the high price of refundable tickets will scare away less sophisticated travelers, who don’t realize that they can find cheaper multi-destination fares by booking one-way segments.

“At the end of the day they are going to cannibalize their customers anyway with a price that makes no sense,” she said.

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