The Group Rip-Off

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Group discounts are pretty standard in the travel business. Give a company a lot of business and they'll reward you with a better per-person price, right? Or so you thought.

With the merger of US Airways and America West Airlines, an interesting scheme called Commission Choice has been brought to light. For a couple of years now, America West has allowed travel agents to book groups through a special website created by airline, the There, agents have two options: Selling fares at the published rate and netting a small commission ($3 per flight segment); or charging a fare marked up 11 percent over the published rate, which brings with it a 10 percent commission. A flight that costs $200 if booked directly through the airline can be $222 through an agent using, and, as is often the case today, agents may charge a service fee of $25 or more on top of bookings.

People may never know that their fare was fiddled with. Commission Choice is the choice of the agent, not the client, and there's no evidence of price manipulation on the e-ticket itinerary. Customers are only alerted of the situation if the agent decides to tell them--and for obvious reasons, a lot of agents choose to keep silent. It's hard to tell how many people have been overcharged in this way, though it seems like it could happen a lot more often now that US Airways has begun offering Commission Choice to agents as well.

To protect yourself when booking a trip--for a group or individual--always compare a few different price quotes. Otherwise that special "discount" may wind up costing you.

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