Lufthansa’s middleman fee draws attention to existing distribution models

GERMAN carrier Lufthansa’s announcement of a 16 euro (US$18) surcharge on all bookings made through intermediaries is reigniting long-standing debates on the distribution model for travel.

The fee will take effect from September this year and applies to bookings on all airlines in the group, including Brussels Airlines and Swiss International Air Lines.

Distribution has been a bone of contention for traditional travel suppliers, including airlines and hotels, in an age where the Internet has spawned a raft of OTAs and price-comparison sites. GDSs have also been criticised for failing to live up to expectations.

Airlines and hotels have in turn pushed back and are now actively encouraging direct bookings.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Lufthansa chief executive, Carsten Spohr, as saying that despite shelling out more than US$100 million in annual fees to middlemen like Amadeus, the airline remains dissatisfied by the technology offered.

The same report said Lufthansa is not the first to implement such charges – US’ Spirit Airlines charges US$10 extra for tickets bought through third parties, while some carriers including Delta Air Lines are no longer selling on certain travel sites.

Air France-KLM is also mulling introducing a similar surcharge, said The Wall Street Journal.

GDSs Travelport and Sabre have meanwhile branded Lufthansa’s action as harmful towards the interests of the travelling public.

Indian travel consultants have also made clear their opposition to the new surcharge, with several intending to boycott sales of Lufthansa and other airlines belonging to the same group.

“Our managing committee is meeting this week to discuss the fallout of the Lufthansa move, which is very harsh on travel consultants. We are getting calls from large number of consultants,” said Travel Agents Association of India president Sunil Kumar in a press release.

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