Expedia Sues United Air in Fight Over Ticket-Distribution Costs

(Bloomberg) -- Online travel agency Expedia Group Inc. says United Airlines has threatened to withhold fare data as soon as next week as part of faltering contract talks between the companies.

Such a move would halt Expedia’s ability to sell United’s flights for trips after Sept. 30, the travel seller said in a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in New York. It would also threaten Expedia’s ability to change itineraries that are already booked. The agency has sold about 2,000 tickets for United flights after Sept. 30, according to the filing.

The lawsuit adds to a longstanding battle between airlines and travel agents over the costs of distributing tickets. Carriers have sought to entice more travelers to book directly, following the model at discounter Southwest Airlines Co. In 2017, JetBlue Airways Corp. removed its fares from a dozen online agencies to reduce selling costs.

Contract Talks

The United contract dates to 2012 and was “reaffirmed” after negotiations in 2013 and 2016, Expedia said in the lawsuit, which was partially redacted. In August, the airline “demanded to renegotiate” the terms of the contract, which had more than a year remaining, Expedia said.

Alleging that United has breached the contract, Expedia is seeking to restrain the Chicago-based carrier from removing its fare data.

United Continental Holdings Inc. said it expects its fares won’t be listed on Expedia sites in the U.S. and Canada as of Oct. 1. News of the lawsuit was first reported by Skift.com.

“For months, Expedia has refused to engage in constructive discussions with United about a new contract,” United said in a statement Tuesday. Travel agencies such as Expedia and meta-search sites such as Kayak sold 70 million United tickets in 2018, the airline said.

The case is Expedia Inc. v. United Airlines Inc., 19-cv-01066, Southern District of New York.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.