ASTA will hold a briefing September 1 on air travel merchant fees to update media and Congressional staff on United Airlines’ efforts to shift the cost of merchant fees and the associated risk to travel agents and consumers. United previously announced that it would no longer allow certain travel agents to use United's merchant account when booking any United product, effective Monday, July 20, a deadline which has since been granted a 60-day extension. Representatives of the National Tour Association and Business Travel Coalition will attend.
“United’s actions amount to the offloading of its credit card fees onto consumers through the back door onto travel agents, many of whom may be forced out of business should United succeed," ASTA said. "Agents will have no choice but to increase the fees they charge consumers to cover costs. What’s more, in 10 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Oklahoma and Texas), travel agents and other retailers are prohibited by state law from passing on surcharges to consumers, forcing agents to shoulder these burdensome costs.
“While these increased costs are worrisome, the larger issue is that of shifted risk. Under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act, consumers have the right to dispute credit card charges in cases of non-delivery of purchased services," ASTA continued. "Under United’s new policy, these protections would be diluted as consumers would be forced to abide by the terms of travel agencies’ credit-card agreements rather than the airline’s agreement. In case of an airline bankruptcy, flight cancellation, or any other service dispute, consumers’ only recourse would be against the travel agency, which never had control over the delivery of the service and will have already remitted payment to the airline in cash. The result for the travelling public—fewer choices and a near-total elimination of consumer protections—at a higher price."
ASTA expects representatives of U.S. Representative Michael A. Arcuri to attend along with Anne Fortney, former associate director for credit practices, Federal Trade Commission/Bureau of Consumer Protection. Other attendees include Chris Russo, president and chairman, ASTA; William Maloney, CEO, ASTA; Kevin Mitchell, chairman, Business Travel Coalition; Steve Richer, public affairs advocate, National Tour Association; Olga Ramudo, travel agent, Express Travel, Miami; Paul Ruden, senior vice president, legal and industry affairs, ASTA and Colin Tooze, vice president, government affairs, ASTA.