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Travel agents want EU antitrust probe into Lufthansa surcharges

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Travel lobbying group ETTSA, whose members include Amadeus (AMA.MC) and booking.com, on Wednesday urged EU antitrust regulators to investigate Lufthansa’s (LHAG.DE) surcharges and other allegedly discriminatory measures against travel agents.

FILE PHOTO: A Lufthansa Airbus A321-100 airplane takes off from the airport in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, July 29, 2018. REUTERS/Paul Hanna/File Photo

In its complaint to the European Commission’s antitrust unit, seen by Reuters, the association said Lufthansa’s fees have cost consumers using independent distribution channels more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) since 2015.

German online travel agent VIR is a joint complainant in the case. ETTSA’s (European Technology and Travel Services Association) other members are Odigeo, Opodo, ebookers, eDreams (EDRE.MC), Sabre (SABR.O), Travelport (TVPT.N) and hotels.com, among others.

“LH (is) leveraging its dominant position on air transport services markets in Austria and Germany to control and manipulate the present and future distribution channels for LH and ultimately other carriers’ tickets, severely penalizing consumers in the EU territory in the short term as well as in the long run,” ETTSA said in the complaint.

The association said Lufthansa refuses to make available its cheapest fares, such as basic tickets which do not include fees for checked-in luggage or a reserved seat, on certain flights to global distribution systems (GDS) providers.

“As the next cheapest tickets are regularly around 20 percent more expensive than those reserved to Lufthansa’s direct channels, this measure has the effect that when a customer searches on a price comparison site, LH.com always appears as the cheapest option,” ETTSA said.

It also accused Lufthansa of levying unjustified surcharges on rival travel agents and forcing them to use its own technological distribution systems instead of competing systems.

The complaint focuses on Lufthansa’s flights to and from its hubs in Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna and Zurich, and its subsidiaries Brussels Airlines, Swiss International Air Lines and Austrian Airlines.

The Commission confirmed receipt of ETTSA’s complaint against Lufthansa, saying that it would carefully assess it. Lufthansa said it does not comment on ongoing legal cases.

ETTSA’s grievances against Europe’s largest airline date back to 2015, when Lufthansa started charging a fee for tickets booked through third parties in a bid to boost profits and have more say over its prices. Travel agents threatened to sue while others saw it as a negotiating tactic.

Lufthansa sells around 70 percent of its tickets via third party channels using GDS from Amadeus, Travelport, Sabre and other providers.

ETTSA had previously complained about Lufthansa’s surcharges to the Commission’s transport department, saying that these breached the EU’s code of conduct on computerized reservation systems. That complaint was rejected.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott and Elaine Hardcastle

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