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United to Distribute Premium Seats Through Travelport

Feb 07, 2014 4:42 pm

Skift Take

Airlines have been fighting with distribution systems over access to the new class of fares they are rolling out. This is another case of an airline making nice.

— Jason Clampet

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Eduardo Munoz  / Reuters

A worker from United attends to some customers during their check in process at Newark International airport in New Jersey. Eduardo Munoz / Reuters


Chicago-based United Airlines said Friday it has a deal to sell its extra-legroom seats through one of the large travel distributors, Travelport.

Travelport is a middleman connecting some travel agents, including Chicago-based Orbitz Worldwide, to airlines’ flight booking systems.

Previously, United’s Economy Plus seating, which offers extra legroom and seats nearer the front of the cabin, was only available to book through the airline’s website, united.com.

Travelport-connected agents in the U.S. now can access Economy Plus seat availability and prices, as well as book complimentary Economy Plus seats for qualified frequent-fliers, the airlines said.

United plans to connect its Economy Plus offerings through all three major middlemen, called global distribution systems or GDS, in the first half of this year, said Jim Compton, United chief revenue officer, during an earnings conference call last week. The other two major U.S. distributors are Sabre and Amadeus.

“This will allow our travel management company partners to fulfill the Economy Plus transactions through their normal processes. Importantly, we’ll be able to utilize the same dynamic pricing and offer the same rich information through the GDS providers as we do on united.com,” Compton said.

Chris Chiames, spokesman for Orbitz Worldwide, said the move is good for buyers and sellers of fares.

“We believe the wider distribution of premium services like seats and checking baggage benefits airlines and consumers alike,” Chiames said. “The more easily they can be purchased, the more they will be purchased — just like how Macy’s can make a gift card sale at Jewel-Osco.”

Extra legroom is among the ways airlines are increasing revenue through additional fees, called ancillary revenue. Bag fees and flight-change fees are other examples.

In November, United announced a goal to generate at least $700 million of additional annual ancillary revenue within four years, raising it to $3.5 billion a year by 2017.

United’s ancillary revenue in the fourth quarter of 2013 increased 18 percent year-over-year, led by Economy Plus sales which increased 31 percent, Compton said on the call. The company expects ancillary revenue to grow 8 percent this year.

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