11/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Airline Tickets To Fight AIDS: Flyers Can Donate Money With Each Purchase

MINNEAPOLIS -- Travelers who buy airline tickets already wrestle with add-ons like cars, hotels, or planting a tree to make up for the jet fuel planes burn. Soon, they may be able to donate to fight AIDS in developing countries, too.

The three major ticket distributors -- Amadeus, Travelport and Sabre Holdings Corp. -- announced on Wednesday that they've agreed to make donations of $2 or more an option for ticket sellers and buyers starting early next year.

The money will go to the Millennium Foundation, which works with United Nations-funded UNITAID to supply low-cost drugs to the developing world to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. They're calling the donation effort MassiveGood.

It's optional for everyone involved, including online travel sites, travel agents and corporate buyers such as American Express Business Travel and Carlson Wagonlit Travel. Both of those firms confirmed they intend to offer the donation option to the companies that buy travel through them.

But the optional part could be the rub. While the ticket distributors are agreeing to allow and process the donations, travelers won't see the donation option unless it's offered by ticket sellers like Travelocity, travel agents and corporate travel. Tickets sold directly through airline Web sites aren't part of the program.

So it remains to be seen how often travelers will encounter the pitch to make a donation.
Sabre spokeswoman Pam Wong said by e-mail that Sabre is working on a pilot program "with a small number of agencies, with the goal of having a seamless process in place for travelers to make donations to the Millennium Foundation by early next year." She didn't say whether Travelocity, which is owned by Sabre, would be one of those agencies.

Travelport CEO Jeff Clarke said the option will be available for tickets sold in the U.S., the U.K., and Germany starting early next year. He said that for travelers it will show up like any other choice in buying the ticket, along with adding a car rental or hotel. "This is just one more choice for the consumer," he said.

He said there's nothing in it for the distribution companies, and they won't collect any of the donated money to cover what they're spending on programming and processing the donations.

"We view it as an investment in goodwill for our customers and the industry," he said.
The software to process the donations was developed by Amadeus. CEO David Jones said the effort is focused on travel purchases now, but the same transaction software could be used for other online shopping, too.

"If we can really mobilize the travel and tourism industry behind this as an industry effort, it's got colossal potential," he said. But "it doesn't have to remain limited to that. It could be any shopping basket, buying anything."

This is the first big fundraising effort by the Geneva-based Millennium Foundation, which was founded in 2008 to find innovative ways to finance UN health goals.

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