Agents ask DOT to end Web-only air fares

Members of Travel Agents of America began filing letters with the Department of Transportation, urging it to require airlines to list all fares on all CRSs.
As of Jan. 4, the DOT had clocked in a dozen letters from agents in various parts of the country.

Virtually all of the letters claim it is discriminatory for the airlines to post fares on the Web that are unavailable to agents using CRSs.

The letters say the DOT should address the issue when it considers updates to the CRS rules in March.

Lawton Roberts, who launched Travel Agents of America last year, told Travel Weekly, “The No. 1 issue, beyond everything else [including] commissions, is the disparity in air fares between CRS fares and the airline-owned Web sites.”

Roberts said the difference between an Internet and a CRS fare could run as high as $1,500.


“I don`t care if [the airlines] pay 20% commission; if they don`t give us the fares or if the difference in fares is hundreds of dollars… , we are toast,” Roberts said.

He noted that the “public is learning” that Web-only fares exist.

“They are going to airline Web sites in record numbers,” Roberts said. “And I am not just talking about [visiting friends and relatives], I`m talking corporate [clients] as well.”

Roberts, who owns Uniglobe Country Place Travel in Lawrenceville, Ga., last made news in October, when he organized a march on Washington that drew about 100 agents from around the country.

The agents rallied on Capitol Hill before staging protests at the departments of Justice and Transportation.

Roberts views the TAA`s latest effort as part of an ongoing “war with the airlines.”

“The agency industry is waking up to the fact that the airlines don`t want us around anymore. They don`t want us to give people a choice—and that`s what we give to customers.”

Roberts also contends the airlines` fare model “is broken,” saying, “It makes no sense for them to discount a ticket hundreds of dollars ... and not make that same fare available to [agents].”

And because only travelers with Internet access are able to book Web-only fares, the airlines “are losing sales because we don`t have the fares,” he said.

“Some 40% to 50% of consumers don`t have access to the Web, and that includes a lot of senior citizens.”

He explained the TAA was borne out of his frustration with other travel agent associations such as ASTA and ARTA. 

Roberts said he is aware those groups have lobbyists working on behalf of travel agents in Washington. 

“This is not an attempt to bash ASTA,” he said. “I am just making a point that travel agents haven`t had a voice in Washington, and I am giving them a chance to have it direct. 

“I am coordinating it. I am telling them where to aim, how to aim, who to aim at—and they pull the trigger.”