Advantage has signed a landmark deal with TUI Travel to sell Thomson and First Choice products for the first time in nearly two and a half years.

The two-year deal represents a sea-change for the 700-strong consortium, which effectively switched off Thomson Holidays when the operator slashed agency commission payments to 7% in November 2005.

Advantage head of commercial Julia Lo Bue-Said said the deal offered agents “enhanced commissions”.

She said: “In terms of the mass market TUI is still extremely important in terms of doing what is right for members. This deal is the first step. It’s a case of managing the relationship and seeing where it goes.”

She admitted there had been a mixed response from members, some of whom remain bitter about the way Thomson and First Choice treated third-party agents.

“Agents will still be wary. We have given agents an opportunity to earn more money from selling TUI product. Ultimately the decision is theirs to make.”

She denied sales of rival Thomas Cook, which did not cut commission, would suffer. “The focus will always be on Thomas Cook – it rode the storm with us,” she said.

TUI Travel refused to comment on the deal but chairman Michael Frenzel (Travel Weekly, April 25, 2008) admitted agent partners were now important.

One observer claimed the move could cannibalise sales through Thomson’s own shops, which sell a high proportion of inhouse product. “It will kill their retail estate in the fullness of time,” he warned.

The TUI deal follows the decision by Triton members Advantage, Worldchoice and Global Travel Group to drop jointly-negotiated commercial deals.

This week Advantage also signed a two-year deal with Gold Medal Travel, which represents the biggest investment to date in joint marketing activity.

It gives agents access to overbranded Dubai and Middle East brochures, exclusive product, and endorses Gold Medal’s Travel TV plasma screens, used by 45 Advantage agents in store.

Gold Medal sales and marketing director Ruth Connor said: “We’ve always been strong partners but with industry consolidation, it’s up to us to secure future distribution.”

Advantage is negotiating a broader deal with Travel 2/Travel 4 and last week sealed a deal with Allbury Travel Group.