American Airlines Vacations is barring travel agents who don’t currently do business with the vacation packager from registering on its website.
The move came as American announced “direct connects” with Tourico Holidays, a wholesaler that sells through travel agencies and through its own customer-facing websites, and Bookit.com, an online vacation packager that sells directly to consumers.
Travel agents looking to register on the website of American Airlines Vacations, the packaging arm of the airline, are greeted with a terse message: “Thank you for your interest in American Airlines Vacations. We are not accepting new Travel Agent applications at this time.”
Barring agents' way
The closed-door policy seemed to be part of a pattern aimed at hindering agent business, said travel sellers who have booked American Airlines Vacations in the past. The vacation packaging operation company had become increasingly difficult for agents to work with, they said. As a result, many stopped booking AA Vacations over the last few years.
“We stopped working with them a couple of years ago. You had to call in and it took forever,” said Elizabeth Sherman, a travel counselor at Ultima Travel in Dallas. “We happily lost our log-ins with AA Vacations. It wasn’t user friendly.”
‘Frustrating and irritating’
Agency owner Kaye Horacek, CTC, said she too had stopped using American Airlines Vacations, even though at one time it had been a preferred supplier. “I had too much trouble with them,” said Horacek, whose agency, Vacations Unlimited, is in Waco, Texas.
Horacek cited difficulties with the website. “I’ll go in and it knows me. When I go back to check the booking, it doesn’t know who I am, and I have to call them. The next time it could be 11 at night, so I have to email them, and they never respond.”
Lisette Garrett, a travel agent at Miller Travel in Lakewood, Texas, said working with American Airlines Vacations had become “very frustrating and irritating.”
Commission policy an issue
“In the last five or six years, they have put one roadblock after another in front of agents. Now they've made this decision to not add any agents and are also not going to be paying agents unless they do a certain volume of business,” she said, surmising that they “are slowing getting rid of agents.”
Garrett was one of several agents who cited commission issues.
American Airlines Vacations pays commissions to agents only after they pass a certain sales threshold and only on the land portion of packages.
AA Vacations’ cold shoulder to travel agents is typical of the “new AA,” one former executive of both travel agencies and American Airlines told Travel Market Report.
“They give no logical reason for this – at least that I have read to date,” he said.
The executive, who asked to be quoted anonymously, called AA Vacations’ freeze on new agent signups another version of American’s Direct Connect strategy – or, as the executive called it: “We are not happy unless you are not happy!”
Preparing to outsource?
American might be preparing to farm out its vacations operations, just as Delta, United, Southwest and other airlines do. For instance, Minneapolis-based MLT Vacations manages multiple vacation package brands, including Delta Vacations; United Vacations, and Aeromexico Vacations.
American said the direct connections with Tourico Holidays and Bookit.com will provide access to the carrier’s “personalized fares, schedules, custom travel products and services,” such as its preferred seating and upcoming premium economy product, which are not available through GDSs. It noted that Bookit.com provides packages to many vacation destinations that American serves.
‘Committed to our customers’
American confirmed that it is not accepting new travel agent applications “at this time.”
In an email, a spokesman for the carrier said, “We continue to work with a number of agencies and remain committed to providing our customers with an exceptional travel experience.”
American did not answer questions regarding the future of the agency program and whether it was being phased out.
Michele McDonald, Nick Verrastro, Andrew Sheivachman, Maria Lenhart and Marilee Crocker contributed to this report.