Travel agents in Germany are calling for the return of a level playing field after Lufthansa eliminated booking fees for ticket purchases made on its website.
German agents typically charge a €10 service fee (about $13.12) for airline tickets. Until recently, Lufthansa did the same.
Now, small and medium-size agencies have the choice of either eliminating their own fees or being undercut by Lufthansa.
LH cites competition
Lufthansa said it made the move due to a competitive issue. The carrier was being undercut by third-party distributors and other large airlines operating in the German market, spokesman Boris Ogursky said.
Expedia.de, for example, does not charge a booking fee. Air France dropped its online fee some time ago, he said.
Ogursky said that early this year, a German consumer magazine published an article on where to find the best fares, and it urged readers to use Expedia rather than Lufthansa’s own site. That convinced the carrier that it had to make a change.
Trade group complaint
But Otto Schweisgut, vice president of Deutscher ReiseVerband (DRV), the German Travel Association, called Lufthansa’s move “discrimination against travel agencies that cannot be accepted.”
The airline’s claim that it can drop the fee because website bookings do not incur costs is “totally false,” Schweisgut told Travel Market Report.
“Distribution of tickets on the airline’s website incurs extensive costs for employees, the technical equipment and for marketing.”
Lufthansa’s move “distorts competition seriously,” he added.
Schweisgut said that when Lufthansa eliminated travel agencies’ base commissions eight years ago, the airline agreed that it would not undercut agencies.
He said travel agents’ acceptance of zero commission was made on the assumption that both sides would charge service fees.
Never meant forever
Lufthansa Ogursky said the carrier imposed the online booking fee eight years ago as a means of helping agencies transition to the new business model. But, he added, “we never said it would be forever.”
In addition to the competitive issues, he said, customer expectations have changed. Travelers do not expect to pay a “service charge” in situations where there is no assistance provided to the customer.
In channels where assistance is provided, Lufthansa has maintained the service charge, he said.