Travel Agents Resist Cuts in Commissions From Airlines : Tourism: Two of the largest in the industry announce they will start charging customers fees.

From Times Staff and Wire Services

Jenny Johz was in the middle of an East Coast vacation when she heard the latest news to hit the travel industry.

"Booking a flight with an agent may cost me more," the Los Angeles resident said during a holiday visit to New York. "Don't these things already cost enough?"

Like thousands of other air travelers, Johz relies on the convenience of travel agencies to purchase airplane tickets. Now, two of the biggest and most influential agencies in the business, American Express and Carlson Wagonlit Travel, will start charging customers fees.

The move, announced late Thursday, follows a decision by seven major U.S. airlines to cap commissions to agents on ticket sales. The airlines will now pay up to $25 for one-way domestic tickets and $50 for round-trips, instead of a 10% commission on each ticket.

"This may be how travel agencies have to deal with commission caps," said James V. Cammisa Jr., publisher of Travel Industry Indicators, a Miami-based travel management newsletter.

"But it could alienate customers."

Carlson Wagonlit said it will charge one-time, single-ticket buyers a $15 service fee.

Regular customers would be exempt under the plan, as would those who book hotel rooms or car rentals at the time of their ticket purchase.

Carlson also said it would meet with corporate clients to discuss how their travel costs may increase. The fees take effect April 1.

American Express will charge $20 for domestic tickets costing less than $300. The fee could also be applied to a cruise or tour package booked at company offices.

The service charges take effect March 6.

Meanwhile, travel agents are being invited to attend a protest rally being called in reaction to major airlines' decision to limit sales commissions.

The "travel agents crisis rally" is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency Irvine hotel, said organizer Betty Winkler, a Newport Beach travel agent.

"It's time for individual travel agents to show we have some courage and that we are not going to roll over and play dead for the airlines one more time," she said. "Everybody is scared."

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