Cook confirmed the move on the Thursday before Christmas after initially launching “pricing trials” in October, which led to some huge differences in prices available to agents compared with online.
Phil Gardner, Thomas Cook sales and e-commerce director, confirmed the new pricing policy, based on variable web discounts, saying: “With more customers looking for deals and buying online, we need to compete on a level playing field with other operators and online travel agents.
“As a result, we will be strengthening our web pricing to make sure we offer our online customers the best price possible.”
Cook confirmed to TTG that agent commission levels hadn’t changed and Cook agents and independents alike would have to fund any price match they offer.
Many independent agents had anticipated the move after the pricing trials were first announced.
Of the many angry responses online, one travel agency owner said: “You’ve [Thomas Cook] just alienated at least 2,000 indie agents who have had your back for the last few years... Jet2 will clean up now.”
Other agents branded the move “predictable” and “no surprise”.
Holidaysplease director Richard Dixon said while his company was “not trying to move business away from [Cook]”, if a policy disadvantages Holidaysplease, then “it has to be [evaluated] on a case-by-case basis”.
Tailor Made Travel chief Simon Morgan was sympathetic. “This must have been a very hard decision. Time will tell if it’s the correct one,” he said. “We will continue to support the product and hope that a reasonable margin will still be attainable after matching from commissions.”
One homeworker added: “I do not think it unreasonable for Cook to do this – they own the product and they can decide how to sell it.
“As agents we will see more and more of this and maybe we need to look at how we run our businesses so as to remain relevant in an industry using technology more and more.”
Speaking to TTG before the move was confirmed, Gardner insisted any policy changes did not mark Cook’s departure from third party agents.
“It’s not the start of a phasing out,” he said. “I think there’s some great opportunity commercially and in terms of customer proposition for a lot of people out there.”