Travel: Agencies Foresee Little Effect On Airlines’ Passenger Volume
With increased charges for changing bookings and multiple layoffs indicating a possible recession, business travelers will have to become increasingly organized and savvy about their arrangements.
So say executives at local travel agencies that focus on corporate business. Last month, many of the major airlines increased the charges for altering arrangements on non-refundable tickets.
After hovering around $75 in recent years, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest, TWA, United and US Airways are now charging $100 for changes.
The increase is unlikely to affect the volume of travel, agents say.
If anything, the change fees are a minor problem, said Richard Meyerson, president of Traveltrust Corp. in Encinitas.
Neither the increase, nor the charge itself, are substantial enough to really affect business-oriented travel plans, Meyerson said.
What could be far more problematic, however, is if airlines limit how many times tickets can be changed, he said.
Often dependent on clients’ mercurial schedules and the needs of their own customers, corporate travelers are expected to make frequent adjustments, Meyerson said.
Now that it comes at a higher cost, it’s more likely the changes won’t take place as often, he said.
“You’re going to have to change your habit, or that’s going to be a problem otherwise or you’ll send someone else who doesn’t change as much,” he said.
Right now, it’s difficult to know how the increases will affect travel, Meyerson said.
With the holiday season just passed, business travel and travel in general tends to be slow at this time of year, he said.
The high rate of layoffs in recent months and possible slowing of the economy indicates a drop in travel overall, said Brian Robinson, president and CEO of Expert Travel, Inc.
According to Gil Saidy, president of Aer Travel, Inc., a lot of companies are looking very closely at their spending for business travel , more closely than ever, in fact.
“They are more cognizant and planning ahead, because they’re being a little more savvy,” Saidy explained.
Rather than sending four people on a trip, they might send two, for instance, he said.
The increased change cost affects only business travelers who book far enough in advance to get a lower-cost, non-refundable ticket, Saidy noted.
The lower-cost tickets often require staying past a Saturday night, which isn’t appealing to most corporate travelers, he said.
Cutting Back Expenses
However, non-refundable tickets are an option that more business travelers will look at to save money, Robinson said.
Robinson agreed that although corporate travelers’ arrangements will always depend on their clients or potential clients, the travelers will have to become more specific about their plans with the clients in advance.
Whether business travelers buy advance, non-refundable tickets or the more expensive tickets, the prices are rising either way. Regular fares have increased several times in the last 18 months, Saidy said.
Rising costs notwithstanding, agencies are confident corporate travel will continue to be a necessity for many businesses.
“If you’re a salesperson and it means a substantial enough contract or commission, you’ll do it,” Meyerson said. It’s why prices are so high for last-minute tickets often bought by business travelers, he said.
Another recent change to San Diego’s travel industry is Southwest Airlines’ decision to discontinue its flights to San Francisco.
Agents expect it to affect international travel from San Diego, where Southwest’s flights offered low-cost access to many international flights departing San Francisco.
Robinson expects local travelers will instead be routed to Denver or Los Angeles, or other cities where the ticket would be cheaper.
For agents, the changes give them additional responsibility.
“It certainly affects us in terms of having to be more creative in making sure that our client gets the best bang for their buck,” Meyerson said.
Agents used to be more of a go-between for airlines and customers, and now have to be more proactive for clients, because the airlines keep “throwing wrenches” into the works, he said.
Saidy, who has been in the business for just over two decades, is as unruffled.
“You know, of all the stuff I’ve watched change in this business, it’s the same as it was 20 years ago,” he said. “It’s still people traveling last-minute, making changes, hurrying to get to this or that connection, flight delays and cancellations.”
And airlines’ various changes haven’t affected that too much, Saidy said.
“People have cut down,” he said, “but planes they are still pretty packed.”