Web fares? Continental Airlines doesn`t offer them.
That`s what Dave Bartels, senior director of corporate programs at Continental, told an audience of travel professionals attending a seminar called “Web Fares and Managed Travel” at the National Business Travel Association`s convention here.
“There are three fares on line,” he said. “Published fares that are available in the GDS, Web discounts that are 10% or less than a similar fare published in the GDS, and Web fares, which do not have a match in the GDS. Continental doesn`t do Web fares.”
Bartels explained that Web discounting, a common practice at Continental, reflects the airline`s savings in GDS costs when selling a ticket directly to an online consumer.
If a consumer discovers a Continental fare on the Internet that is hundreds of dollars less than a similar fare in the GDS, Bartels said the consumer might assume that it`s a Web fare.
But it`s not, said Bartels. He called it a “technicality.”
“There definitely are times when there are differences in fares because the GDS updates [at the travel agency and on the Web] at different times,” Bartels said.
Regardless of whether Web fares are intentional or unintentional, they create headaches for Bruce Finch, manager of travel operations at the Gillette Co. in Boston, a company whose annual air expenditure totals about $22 million.
Immediately after Sept. 11, Finch said Gillette implemented a new travel policy, forbidding employees from buying fares on the Internet because the company wanted to know the location of travelers in case of an emergency, and that knowledge could be guaranteed only if travelers booked through the contracted agency, WorldTravel BTI.
However, the economics of the airline industry after Sept. 11 combined with pressure within the company to cut costs prompted travelers to challenge Gillette`s policy, Finch said.
In one instance, a traveler discovered a fare on the Internet that was $1,200 less than Gillette`s contracted rate with the same airline. A competitor of that airline, with which Gillette also had a contracted rate, displayed a similar, discounted fare on the Web.
Finch called his representatives at both airlines, seeking an explanation.
“Airline No. 1 said it needed cash and dropped restrictions on the fare, and airline No. 2 said it needed to stay competitive in the market with airline No. 1,” Finch said.
Such occurrences prompted Finch to study the company`s top 35 domestic city pairs from February to April to determine how often a fare on the Web beats the lowest fare quoted by the agent.
“We found no consistent savings” with the Web, Finch said. “Overall, our contracts proved to be the most effective when considering the number of segments we were purchasing.”
Of course, Finch said, Gillette would welcome the opportunity to take advantage of distressed inventory on the Web, but unfortunately those deals aren`t immediately accessible to agents via the GDS.
“I think the airlines need to duke it out on how they need to set prices for Web fares, but I should be able to buy fares out there that anyone else can get without performing the dance of the seven veils,” Finch said.