Airline, credit card CEOs refuse to testify at US Senate hearing

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 11:29 AM

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The CEOs of American Airlines, United Airlines, Visa and Mastercard will not testify at an April 9 hearing on credit card competition, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Thursday.

Senator Dick Durbin in February invited the executives of the firms that have fought his legislation seeking to reduce fees charged by Visa and Mastercard on transactions by requiring competition, while airlines say the bill could force them to stop offering rewards credit cards that give consumers frequent flyer miles for making transactions.

“They’re just too darned busy to come and explain the major source of profits for their businesses,” Durbin said, saying killing his bill remains a top priority for opponents who have spent $51 million lobbying against his bill.

The airlines and credit card companies declined to comment on Thursday.

Durbin, a Democrat, said the bill co-sponsored with Republican Senator Roger Marshall could save merchants and consumers $15 billion annually in fees charge for credit card transactions, while businesses pay more than $100 billion in so-called swipe fees annually.

Durbin’s office said he has no plans to cancel the hearing and all options remain on the table to having the CEOs testify.

Airlines generate billions of dollars annually in fees for branded credit cards and Durbin called the carriers “basically credit card companies that own some planes.”

Reuters reported in December the U.S. Transportation Department is scrutinizing the frequent flyer programs of major U.S. airlines for potential deceptive or unfair practices.

In October, Durbin and Marshall asked the Transportation Department and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about “troubling reports” of unfair and deceptive practices in airlines’ frequent flyer and loyalty programs.

Airlines say there are at least 30 million U.S. airline industry credit card holders, and the cards “make travel more accessible and affordable.” They cite Federal Reserve data that 97% of total credit card spending is charged to various rewards accounts.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Aurora Ellis)