United exec: Commission on ancillaries a possibility

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Travel journalist Peter Greenberg interviewed Dave Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales at United Airlines, during Tuesday's general session at the ASTA Global Convention.
Travel journalist Peter Greenberg interviewed Dave Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales at United Airlines, during Tuesday's general session at the ASTA Global Convention. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

RENO, Nev. -- Dave Hilfman, senior vice president of worldwide sales at United Airlines, called the possibility of airlines paying agents commission on ancillary product sales "a fair discussion," a discussion that is one United would have with individual travel companies.

Travel journalist Peter Greenberg was interviewing Hilfman on stage during Tuesday's general session at the ASTA Global Convention, here, when the topic of ancillaries came up. Hilfman said that while United does sell to consumers directly on its website, as do other carriers, it has made an effort to make its Economy Plus product available to agents via GDSs. He also said there will likely be more ancillaries made available via GDS.

"I think there's more coming, whether you're able to charge [for] Wifi or you're able to pre-sell a number of things, and of course people want to know, are they going to end up getting compensated for them?" Hilfman said. "That's a fair discussion."

After Greenberg asked if United was planning on paying commissions on ancillary sales, Hilfman said "it's a discussion we have" with individual travel companies.

Hilfman said though airlines' relationships with agents have changed over the years and "there have been ups and downs," it is a relationship that United values.

"For United, the majority of our revenue is represented by the agency community, and we appreciate that," he said. "Our highest margins are through the agency community, both corporate and leisure."

The carrier is working to ensure agents have the tools they need to easily book their clients on United, Hilfman said, like technologies that make bookings faster and easier to do. United is focused on "things that help our agents do a better job handling mutual clients."

Greenberg also asked Hilfman if, in a world where United values its relationship with agents, everything should be commissionable.

"I think what we always try to do is figure out a way to ensure we're showing we ... respect the relationship [we have with agents]," Hilfman said.

Also on Tuesday, United won ASTA's Domestic Airline of the Year award, which was presented to Hilfman on stage after his conversation with Greenberg.

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