AirPlus International made available to all U.S. corporate
card accounts a new set of reports on ancillary airline fees. Company
executives conveyed during a Tuesday briefing that while these new reports are
not perfect, for now they're about as good as you're going to get.
Tested with some clients during the past several months, the
reports sort into five categories spending on hundreds of ancillary purchases
using data provided by all airlines from which U.S. AirPlus customers purchase
tickets. The reports rely on an "assumption engine" to fill in the
gaps. The five categories are "award," including loyalty program
mileage purchases, point redemption and club membership; "onboard"
items like beverages, meals, headsets and inflight Internet access;
"service," covering reissue charges, preferential seat assignments,
standby fees, ticketing penalties and the like; "miscellaneous" and
AirPlus is providing summaries and detailed reports that
break down charges by carrier and fee type, and list individual fee
transactions. That enables clients to "query specific transactions, if
they need to," said AirPlus product expert Matthew Talbot.
When asked to detail how the assumption engine works, Talbot
said, "That's our secret sauce. We have set up a whole bunch of rules, and
when a particular transaction falls out and does not get captured by any of
those rules—if the customer wants—we will use essentially price information to
make an assumption that it falls into that category. A good example is Delta.
With bag fees, that is not something we can identify, so if none of the other
rules captures a particular transaction and it happens to be a $23 fee or a $25
fee from Delta, we put in a first-bag fee. Delta charges $23 if you pay for a
checked bag online and $25 if you pay for it at the airport.
"Anything left over goes in a report called 'other
transactions,' " Talbot continued. "We recognize that we are not
capturing every transaction that is a fee, and we are making assumptions as we
AirPlus president and CEO Richard Crum noted that for bag
fees in particular, there is sufficient public information available to plug
holes. Line items in the reports derived from such sources—if the client
permits it—and generated by the assumption engine are marked with asterisks,
Crum said, "so that users of the report realize that all the other data
has been positively identified as exactly that type fee."
Which carriers are providing details rather than forcing
assumptions? "Continental Airlines," Talbot said. "When they
present a first checked bag they actually use a code that says exactly that. We
can spot that this is a first checked bag. At the opposite end of spectrum is
the Delta example. There is nothing in the data set that we can use to identify
it as a Delta bag fee."
Also, on bag fees in particular, AirPlus receives "more
details" from United than American Airlines, Talbot said. "For
American, we reported at the general bag level. That's the detail that American
provided to us, as opposed to United, which actually provides more detail—first
and second bags broken out."
Crum added that among airlines, "there are different
views about how and how much data to share. We are doing as well as we can and
will continue to refine our rules engine. If some carriers are going to make it
difficult on us, that will be obvious in the reports."
The new AirPlus reporting service grew out of the work
undertaken by the "party of three"—originally AirPlus, Continental and Concur—which had worked to define an end-to-end process for tracking
ancillary airline fees. From that effort, Crum said, "we have learned more
about exactly how the airlines today—even in the absence of a standard used
across the industry—are coding for and reporting and registering these different
fees, different types in the data that comes through the credit card system, in
our case the MasterCard network, where we issue our corporate cards."
Kobie Whisenant, Americas travel analyst for AirPlus client
Gambro Renal Products, during the press briefing said the types of reports she
has received during testing should help with airline contract negotiations.
"We can see where we may need to tighten our policy and address the
violators and cut back on the spending," she added. "It gives a clearer
picture as to what we can do as a company."
The AirPlus reports initially are available to interested
clients on a monthly basis, provided within the first week of the following
month, according to Talbot. While ad hoc reporting isn't something AirPlus has
considered, he said there is "nothing stopping" the company from
Source: The Beat