ASTA Thanks United for Rescinding Merchant Fee

Good news for travel agents: The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) expressed its thanks to the new United Airlines for the carrier’s decision to rescind its policy, adopted in June 2009, to restrict the access of some travel agencies to the United merchant account for sales of United tickets on credit cards. In letters sent to the affected agencies last week, United also waived retroactively any penalties that agencies had accrued under the policy, ASTA said.

“This action would seem to reflect the new leadership at United Airlines, namely Dave Hilfman in Sales and Mark Bergsrud in Distribution,” said Chris Russo, president and chairman of the board of ASTA.

“This is great news for all travel agents,” Russo emphasized. “It removes the threat that was perceived of an imminent expansion of the policy of all travel agents. It is also a strong sign that the management of the new United recognizes the value of the travel agent and we hope it is a positive omen for future dialogue and cooperation. A lot is changing in the distribution marketplace and we welcome this positive step from one of the most important airlines in the industry. Each side must recognize the interests of the other as we move forward."

The merchant fee restriction policy was applied initially to 28 agencies. ASTA initially secured a delay in implementation through the intervention of congressional representatives who shared the concern that the policy would adversely affect consumers. ASTA obtained letters signed by 17 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and two U.S. Senators asking for the delay. Thereafter, Congressman Michael Arcuri (D-NY) formally requested that the Government Accountability Office initiate a study of the consumer and industry issues that would arise if the policy were to be adopted throughout the airline industry.


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