Trade: EveryFare not for everyone

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NEW YORK -- Some agents think American's EveryFare program puts new writing on the wall.

Charlotte Weller, owner and president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Future Travel in Houston, is going to study American's EveryFare plan "inside and out," not because she is looking to sign on but because "we know all the airlines will do this."

She was not ready to pass judgment because EveryFare "affects so many things; it affects our relationship with customers and with the res systems."

Thomas Marsh, president of North Coast Travel in Erie, Pa., who called the American plan "intriguing," said he will be looking at the plan more closely because he, too, expects the other lines -- "the lemmings" -- to follow.

However, he said, if his $6 million agency ever had to pay an airline's GDS fees, he would have to take the cost to customers, which could make his fees prohibitive in his market.

Eric Ardolino, president of A&S Travel Center in Wallingford, Conn., and ASTA secretary, said he "needed to know more," but he could not see why any agency would buy into the deal.

Dick Knodt, president of Vacation.com, said agents book for clients at AA.com and elsewhere "all the time," and his members -- while quite interested in the subject -- don't necessarily feel the American EveryFare plan has much to offer them.

The move, he said, takes direct aim at the GDSs (which include Vacation.com owner Amadeus) and is designed for corporate agencies "at the outset." But in time, he said, this is something "we'll all have to address."

As for the specifics of the plan, ASTA said it was analyzing the 13-page EveryFare contract and warned members that it "contains some extraordinary provisions that all agents must fully understand before considering signing."

Travel attorney Mark Pestronk said it is "absurd" to think agents who pay little or nothing for the res systems would go for it.

He noted that American offers nothing shorter than a five-year contract, which he termed a "huge risk." The agency has to hope the single benefit -- unique access to Web-only fares -- does not disappear before Dec. 31, 2007. Those rates could be outlawed, he said.

And the agency has to count on getting a better deal from its GDS, but Pestronk said it's unlikely that GDS vendors would be motivated to offset an agency's obligation to pay a carrier's bills.

In any event, Pestronk noted that agents can get Web fares outside the GDSs. "Yes, that is a pain, but not a big pain," he said.

Bonnie Gutner, owner of Travel Inc. in Kailua, Hawaii, said she was "speechless," noting that "this is the only situation in any business where the agent pays to sell [the principle's] product. That is what it is coming to." And if this plan falls flat, she said, the carriers will "do something else."

"If we are willing to sell the carrier's product, we should have access to it and not have to pay its bills."

She added that any agency would have to be "mad" to sign a five-year deal, given how uncertain the typical agency's future is, even within the next few months.

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