Three of Europe’s biggest airlines are “systematically discriminating against consumers”, according to the association of leading online travel agents and global distribution systems (GDSs).

Christoph Klenner, secretary general of the European Travel and Technology Services Association (ETTSA), says IAG-owned British Airways and Iberia, Lufthansa and Air France-KLM are discriminating by imposing fees on GDS bookings.

Air France-KLM became the latest airline group to announce a GDS-booking charge last week, to be introduced from next April.

The airline will levy a fee of €22 on a return fare.

IAG carriers BA and Iberia introduced a €9.50 (£8) per-fare-component charge, or €19 (£16) on a point-to-point return flight, on November 1.

Lufthansa has imposed a €16 fee per GDS booking on fares with group airlines Swiss, Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa since September 2015.

Writing for today’s Travel Weekly Europe, Klenner argues: “The three most-powerful airline groups in Europe now consistently and systematically discriminate against consumers who wish to compare fares across airlines in a neutral manner.”

He warns: “Consumers should be very concerned, as less transparency will eventually lead to higher fares.

“Smaller airline competitors should be equally concerned.”

The major carriers claim their GDS fees merely cover the higher costs of distribution through traditional channels.

But Klenner points out research published last month concluded: “There is only a very minor cost difference between direct and indirect distribution.”

He argues: “Cost savings are not the real reason why powerful airlines introduce these surcharges.

“After years of consolidation, these airlines see an opportunity to reinforce their market position by driving consumers to their own distribution channels, depriving them of the ability to compare prices.

“Europe’s most powerful airlines are jeopardising fair competition.”

MEPs slammed the airlines’ GDS charges in a European Parliament debate last month.

However, BA head of global sales Stephen Humphreys confirmed last week: “We’re moving away from a content strategy defined by our GDS relationships to one not restricted by the GDSs.”

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