GSA sees air travel savings in new City Pair arrangement

The General Services Administration’s negotiating efforts lowered airline ticket prices for the government for 2013, potentially yielding an estimated $5.9 billion in savings per year, the agency reported Aug. 9.

Officials pre-negotiated the airline rates for the City Pairs program, and they expect to offer federal employees up to 73 percent off commercial airfare prices. The 2013 rates will become effective Oct. 1.

In June, GSA awarded a 15-year, $1.4 billion contract to launch the next generation of the government’s web-based travel management service to Concur Technologies. GSA’s E-gov Travel Service is a cloud-based service that more than 90 agencies use for travel booking and expense management. It’s the backbone of GSA’s governmentwide managed travel programs.

The next generation ETS2 will build upon the original service. It will help agencies consolidate online travel booking services and expense management platforms.

The City Pairs program also makes booking flights easier. All major U.S. carriers participate in the City Pairs program, and the program gives federal travelers the flexibility to book one-way, multi-leg, and round-trip airfare at the lowest cost possible. The program also offers dual fare markets to provide flexibility for immediate travel and discounted fares for booking flights early. Federal employees can cancel or adjust flights at no additional cost to the government as well.

Mary Davie, acting Federal Acquisition Service commissioner, chalked up the good prices to good purchasing strategies.

“By leveraging the government’s buying power, we are able to maximize cost-savings for federal agencies and save taxpayer dollars,” Davie said.

The government spent nearly $3 billion on air travel in fiscal 2011.

GSA is able to work out best-value pricing by using government travel data, the agency said. 

In January, the GSA inspector general’s office reported that FAS could improve City Pair to potentially save an additional $35.2 million based on recent years' travel spending numbers. GSA could save as much as $11 million if it increased competition among airlines. The agency could save $24.2 million if it eliminated the traveler's option of choosing between dual fares when they can get lower contract fares. In addition, the IG reported that GSA struggles with a lack of comprehensive data. Officials could improve the program by analyzing that data and using better performance benchmarks, according to the report.

GSA first awarded City Pair contracts in 1980, and they originally covered only 11 markets. They have expanded to over 5,000 markets in the last 30 years. In fiscal 2011, FAS awarded contracts to 13 carriers.

FAS officials agreed with the report's findings.

Today, officials said they considered a number of criteria for the City Pair program, including availability of nonstop service, total number of flights, flight availability, average elapsed flight time, and price of service.

 

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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