Is the travel-agency model sustainable?

When was the last time you used a travel agent? I asked that question in my book “Decoding Air Travel.” Last month, President Obama asked it, too, and the American Society of Travel Agents speedily protested. So let’s examine the modern — or perhaps not modern enough — travel-agency system and the value it brings.

Many young people don’t even remember the time when using a travel agent was the only practical way to book a trip. While many consumers today book their own travel, using travel agencies is still quite prevalent in the corporate world. However, many business travelers I know are unhappy with their company’s travel agency. It’s clear the current system isn’t working well anymore for a variety of reasons. Without taking sides, let’s look at those reasons from the perspective of travel agencies and their customers…

American wins first battle in data war

The new airline data distribution model I predicted in February has just become a reality. Expedia, the most popular online travel agency, agreed this week to carry American Airlines data hosted by the carrier’s “Direct Connect” channel. Expedia’s consolation prize is that it will use Global Distribution System (GDS) aggregation technology.

Since Dec. 31, when its contract with American expired and it decided not to renew it, Expedia had been resisting the airline’s attempts to move to a direct channel. Why? Because it wanted to continue to receive sizable kickbacks from Sabre, the GDS it uses to display and book flights. American insists on “Direct Connect” for two reasons…