The ticket processing fee American airline travelers pay to SATO will increase as early as February.

The $15 fee charged by SATO on each airline ticket — there is no added fee for rail or bus travel — was imposed in October to recover the 5 percent to 9 percent commission travel agencies earned, which most airlines have eliminated, said Thomas Kraus, operations manager for Navigant/SATO Travel.

In the United States, many airlines had eliminated the commission to travel agents for airfare by November 2001, according to information posted on the Web site of the National Commission to Ensure Consumer Information and Choice in the Airline Industry. The commission was created by the Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century and enacted in April 2000.

The SATO fee currently is $15 per ticket, not to exceed $50 for tickets for a family, Kraus said. If a family of five purchases airline tickets, the processing fee still is only $50.

However, the fee does not recover the amount of the commission that travel agents received in the past, Kraus said. A $500 plane ticket to the States would have earned SATO a commission of $25 to $45.

Kraus said that SATO is working with the U.S. military in Europe to determine how much the fee will increase in February or March. He could not estimate how much it would increase, he said, adding that German travel agencies charge an average of 30 euros for domestic and European flights, and 45 euros for intercontinental flights.

The elimination of the travel agent commission likely is the result of a struggling airline industry, Kraus said.

“It’s hard to imagine why airlines would cut the commissions, but some airlines were struggling before [Sept. 11, 2001],” Kraus said. “Since 9/11, business is even worse for some airlines.”

The fee has not caused major problems for SATO, whose agents inform their customers of the fee, rather than adding it to the total cost of the ticket, Kraus said.

In Bamberg, Germany, SATO travel agent Solveit Eelz said airline ticket sales haven’t changed since SATO began charging the fee.

“We explain to the customers why we charge the fee,” she said. “People don’t complain about it, and we are not selling less tickets because of it.”

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