UPDATED: Churning Chat And An Offer To Pay

UPDATE: Delta drops $50 per passenger per segment fee to align with Northwest policy.

Asked at The Masters Program this month whether they had been impacted by airline crackdowns on churn and duplicate bookings, one corporate travel buyer said no and a second said she heard it was a problem but had not been affected. However, Visa Inc. senior business leader for travel services Ann Kloepfer said, "We do have a problem with churn and duplicate bookings." [more]

Kloepfer was responding to a question by AdTrav Travel Management CEO Roger Hale regarding recent moves by some airlines to charge agencies for "unproductive bookings" in global distribution systems. Although carriers including American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US Airways more than a year ago had implemented $3.50 per-segment fees with $50 administrative charges, Delta is currently charging fees that the American Society of Travel Agents called "grossly disproportionate to any loss the airline might incur. If an agent makes a booking for a family of four, but accidentally holds a second reservation for even a few seconds before canceling the first reservation, the penalty is $50 per person per segment. As a result, the penalty to the agent for a four-segment flight is $800. We have even seen examples in which Delta's own automated schedule change system has created booking violations that were beyond the agent's control."

In a corporate travel context, frequent changes in plans result in cancellations and rebookings. Also "there are reasons we have for our business where sometimes we need to make duplicate reservations and we will pay for that--for example, the Olympics, where we know we'll need some space and have some requirements. More companies need to take responsibility for some of their decision-making and be willing to pay for that," said Kleopfer.

Visa is already paying in one way. Online traveler self-booking adoption at Visa is "in the 50s in a non-mandated environment. The tool works great for us," Kloepfer said. But "we do have a high-touch service level and a dedicated agent who monitors all the reservations. That was a worthwhile investment. She monitors those records, contacts the traveler and educates them."

Hale said airlines "coming back to us and charging sometimes as much as $50 a segment for a duplicate booking ... is one thing in an agent environment because you can ask agents not to churn records. But in an online environment where you have people who are not trained travel people making their own reservations, you have a high tendency for churn and duplicate bookings. It's becoming a major issue."