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DOJ Moves to Block Acquisition of Farelogix by Sabre.
The Department of Justice in the United States has sued to block the acquisition of Farelogix. The DOJ's complaint points to the likelihood of the acquisition resulting in a lessening of competition, an increase in prices for booking services in the United States and a reduction quality, service choice and innovation for booking services. The DOJ also takes the position that Sabre's GDS agreements have restricted Farelogix's ability to compete.

T2RL's view is that there is a broader market to consider in connection with the merger and that a combination of Sabre and Farelogix would permit Sabre to compete more effectively with Amadeus in the provision of IT solutions to airlines outside the United States in particular. Farelogix would provide the ability to replace some of the core technology that underpins the GDS and PSS infrastructure specifically accountable documents including ancillaries, real-time availability processing and commercialization of the schedule. Farelogix would accelerate Sabre's transformation to new generation systems.

At the core of the DOJ argument is a different definition of a market. T2RL does not understand how the DOJ came to assess booking, ticket issuance and the channel chosen by customers as distinct market places. To call out traditional agents and online agents and booking services in those channels as markets will undoubtedly be part of the upcoming dispute. Airlines ultimately appoint travel agents to issue tickets and the GDSs contract with travel agents to supply technology services. Other channels are available to consumers and corporations in the US and other geographies making this part of the argument a little more complex. The channels available to airlines (assuming they have the IT infrastructure to support this) include direct channels and APIs (NDC flavoured or not) and travel agents choose to work directly or indirectly with the airlines according to a set of their own criteria, including customers and passengers needs. It is also clear that some airlines can and have negotiated their GDS agreements which contain the right to charge fees and pass those fees on to the customer to incentivise them to move to the direct channels. This has certainly been the case in Europe with IAG's airlines, Lufthansa Group and Air France / KLM.

Elsewhere airlines are developing private channels which see incentives paid by airlines for bookings to the travel agent. There is no doubt that the market definition will be debated by both parties in the coming weeks and months as Sabre responds to the complaint and pushes to obtain a judgment to go ahead with the purchase. The exact timing of the litigation is not currently known, as the parties will be working on a protective order (i.e., determining what information will be kept from public court filings) and a timeline for the proceedings.

Typically the hearing before the judge in such cases is held within a 2 to 6 month time frame. If Sabre fail to win the battle there will be a long queue as others will seek to purchase Farelogix including a list of private equity houses.

Published: 22/08/2019

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