American Airlines: “We want the customer to know what the total cost of the trip is”

By | December 24th, 2010

Cory Garner is the director of distribution strategy for American Airlines. You may have heard about American removing its flights from Orbitz this week and Expedia’s subsequent action to “de-emphasize” American’s fares. I wanted to find out why – and how it might affect customers. Here’s our interview.

Why did you remove your flights from Orbitz?

It’s important for us to be free to customize our product offerings to improve the customer experience, and to distribute our products in a way that doesn’t result in unnecessary costs.

Unfortunately, we were unable to reach an agreement with Orbitz on this point and determined it would be better to part ways, for now. We’re open to talking with them to reach a viable, mutually beneficial agreement and hope to one day return to their site.

How about yesterday’s action by Expedia to de-emphasize your fares?

We’re disappointed that Expedia is making American Airlines flights and fares more difficult to find on its website.

This discriminatory action is unwarranted, especially considering that American has taken no action against [it] and continues to operate in good faith with Expedia.

While tickets for air travel on American remain available for purchase on Expedia, its favoritism toward other airlines’ airfares may lead consumers into believing that they have fewer choices, even in situations where American’s fares are lower, and schedules are superior, than other airlines that are listed first.

Let me get back to Orbitz. Are you saying that the way you were distributing tickets through Orbitz was too expensive and too limiting?

Our desire is to continue distributing American Airlines tickets through travel agencies. We just want them to include new items.

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What kind of new items?

What we’re trying to do through what we call Direct Connect provides a level of content, including fares and optional services such as checked baggage. It provides greater transparency at the initial point of sale. It also gives us the ability of tailor the offers on the basis of customers’ needs.

Can you give me an example?

Sure. A family of four traveling on a vacation has very different needs than person traveling on business. The family may be more concerned with full access to overhead bins, food, early boarding – we’d be able to make offers based on their needs.

Contrast that with a business customer. They may be concerned with having onboard connectivity.

With Direct Connect, we’d understand the customer and be able to make that kind of customized offer.

Does Direct Connect allow customers to customize their own fares – in other words, to always choose a fare with a checked bag and a meal – or would it only allow American to do the customization?

Yes, the customer can also drive the customization.

Does Orbitz have access to that information now, and was it unwilling to display it? Or is it incapable of displaying it?

Orbitz could have that access now by signing up for our Direct Connect – something that have not agreed to.