The Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) wrote to Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) President and CEO Michael Premo today requesting that ARC, on behalf of its accredited agents and participating carriers, process refunds due to overpayments on various U.S. excise taxes collected as a result of the lack of an FAA reauthorization imposing such taxes.
ARTA said its members are being repeatedly asked by travelers to provide these refunds as consumers perceive the travel agent as the "collector" of these taxes, even though the collector is actually the airline.
"In many cases, the amount of tax refund is considerable, and the media is reporting that any resolution of the FAA Reauthorization appears indefinitely stalled and little prospect for reenactment anytime soon," ARTA said.
For tickets issued on or before July 22, for applicable travel on or after July 23, a refund for overpayment of the affected excise taxes would likely be due, ARTA argued.
In its letter to ARC, ARTA pointed out that various sections of the U.S. Code support ARTA’s suggested approach that ARC process these refund transactions via the Area Settlement Plan (ASP) on behalf of ticketing carriers which collected and received the overpayments.
"Furthermore, while some may perceive this as an 'ATA matter' (Air Transport Association), largely affecting ATA member airlines, ARTA also pointed out that the 'International Facilities' tax (U.S. arrivals/departures) affects all ARC participating carriers when they are the issuing carrier for themselves or interline partners where transportation is to/from the USA. Thus, the matter far exceeds the focus on ATA member carriers," ARTA reports.
"As such, processing these refunds through the ASP, ARTA stated that ARC accredited travel agencies would benefit from more effective services offered to travelers, more efficient procedures in communicating and handling ticket transaction information, and overall faster processing of applicable refunds," ARTA said.
For corporate travel agencies, this would also have a positive impact on tracking and managing refund data, assuring refunds are returned to corporate payers, and reporting the impact of refunds on travel spending.
ARTA also made the point that for ARC participating carriers, not only would there be efficiency and reporting gains through electronic hand-off of these refund transactions, but most importantly, carriers would be able to recover the substantial credit card discount fees which were levied against the tax component of applicable tickets and paid by carriers.
In the meantime, and while ARC and ARTA discuss a procedure, ARTA is recommending that travel agencies make use of a "retention line" (a future date fictitious segment) to keep Passenger Names Records (PNRs) active in GDSs beyond the actual travel date.
"Most GDSs have PNR retention line formats. This would be particularly useful for travel agencies without a back-office system where these records may additionally reside. The retention line would greatly facilitate refund processing in ARC's Interactive Agency Reporting (IAR) through the GDSs," ARTA said.
"We are optimistic that ARC will see the benefits and value in facilitating these refund transactions on behalf of consumers, agencies, and airlines. We believe our request is not only supported by these advantages, but also by recent guidance from the IRS," said John Faulds, Vice Chairman of ARTA, and ARTA's liaison to ARC. ARTA said it will continue to keep its members informed.