American Airlines' Booking Battle Intensifies
Sabre Travel Network, which serves the majority of U.S. travel agencies, moved American's fares and schedules far down in search results.
Usually, flights with lowest fares and shortest travel times appear at the top of the list that Sabre agents see, but now agents will have to search harder for American's fares.
The move intensifies the battle between American and travel sellers, including Orbitz and Expedia.
Unless Sabre and American reach an agreement by early August, Sabre says it will kick the airline out of its system altogether.
The reservation system, used by about 55,000 travel agencies around the world, including many of the major agencies in the U.S., made the move in retaliation for American's attempts to require a new type of technology connection between the airline and both the online and traditional travel agencies that sell its tickets.
Orbitz and Expedia refuse to build the new connection.
American revoked Orbitz's ticketing authority last month, and Expedia stopped selling American tickets after its contract with the airline expired last week.
American continues to have talks with both Orbitz and Expedia.
Chris Kroeger, senior vice president of Sabre Travel Network, tells AOL Travel News that Sabre's role in travel includes ensuring that travelers and their agents can easily find and compare the best airfares.
He says American's strategy of requiring a direct connection between agents and its reservations system will make it harder for customers to comparison-shop.
For its part, American calls Sabre's action "punitive" and "anti-consumer" and says it has met all its obligations and continues to work in in good faith with Sabre.
Travel agents who use Sabre will still be able to book American flights – at least for now – but the change in how Sabre shows its fares and schedules will make their jobs more difficult when customers want or need to travel on American.
But Kroeger believes agents will support Sabre's move because American's strategy ultimately will affect all of them.
At least one Boston-based agents is directing her ire at American.
"This will make my job harder," says the agent, who asked not to be named. "I am always trying to give people what they need even if it's a pain for me. But if all things are equal and I see another airline is offering the same rate and I can book it easier I would go with them."
Sabre Holdings also owns online travel agency Travelocity, which hasn't made any changes to the way it displays American's fares, yet.
"Travelocity opposes AA's recent efforts to push agencies to a technology approach that would be bad for consumers, and we applaud Sabre's actions in support of travelers," says spokesman Joel Frey. "We have not made any changes to our site, but continue to consider available options consistent with our contractual obligations."
One of the ironies of this battle is that American Airlines founded Sabre and put the first travel agency version of the system into agencies in 1976. American's parent, AMR Corp., spun off Sabre as a separate company in 2000.
(Fran Golden contributed to this report.)
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