Friday, March 02, 2007

BA to GDS: Computer says no

Well, well, well. It turns out that British Airways' tough-talking chief executive Willie Walsh is indeed a man of his word.

BA has undisputably proved that the days of the GDS dictating what the airlines will pay to distribute their inventory are very much over.

It has been three days since BA allowed its former GDS contracts to lapse without any kind of replacement in sight.

Britain's flag carrier has also snubbed those GDSs which had offered it a short-term extension - a sort of temporary peace offering, if you will - which would have allowed BA to keep paying a discounted distribution fee.

But no. Accepting anything from the GDSs would be a sign of weakness and Walsh will not show weakness.

Apparently, BA's strategy is to pay the maximum GDS "rack rate" in an effort to prove that it won't be bullied into a new contract.

Good strategy. Not!

In fact, in the interim the strategy could be said to have backfired somewhat. [Our news story here]

If I were a BA shareholder, I'd be less than pleased.

The maximum GDS "rack rate" BA faces is around £4 per segment, depending on the GDS, the route, and ticket type, but that is still about double what BA was paying under its old contract.

All of this money you're spending - quite unnecessarily - on GDS fees had better well be worth it in the long-term.

A source close to the negotiations agreed: "We can't seem to work it out. BA is gonig to spend a lot of money this month by paying a lot more than it needs to."

So what does Walsh have up his sleeve?

Sources close to the GDSs say they're stumped and, at this point, are not hopeful that a deal - at least a long-term one - is imminent.

As one source put it, "At this point, we're looking at a temporary solution".

Another source said, "We're not a million miles away [from reaching a deal], but we're not close either".

So now what? BA admits the higher GDS rates are "not sustainable in the long-term" and that it is, therefore, considering "a number of options should we not reach agreements with the GDSs in the near future".

As of today BA says all of its content will continue to be distributed via all the GDSs, but no one knows if that will be the case tomorrow or the next day.

BA has pledged to give its agency partners ample notice "should we need to implement any changes to the way we distribute our fares", but that is not an entriely comforting statement.

If anything, it seems to indicate that BA is well prepared to remove some of its content from the GDS.

There is also the question of how much agents will wind up paying for future access to BA's content.

For now, agents are not subject to surcharges but that situation could change quite easily.

The only thing that is for certain is that BA is prepared to fight to the last round to get what it wants.

We all knew Walsh would be a...well, you know. But I don't think anyone expected him to go this far.

Tricia Holly Davis, chief writer, Travolution

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