As an example, the unrestricted GSA fare between Seattle and Los Angeles is $79 one way. By comparison, the lowest fare we found on a quick Internet search was $138 and that one contained restrictions. The lowest unrestricted fare we found was $232 one way. So you can see, the GSA City Pair program does offer good pricing.
So how do contractors avail themselves of this low-cost alternative? It seems logical, especially contractors who are operating under cost type contracts, that the taxpayer would be well-served if contractors could obtain the GSA pricing. And, we know of cases where contracting officers and auditors have limited airfare costs to GSA rates in pricing situations and one case where a contracting officer promised to wield influence to allow a contractor to utilize those rates.
The short answer is that Government contractors are not allowed to book airfares under the GSA rates and any pressure by the Government to limit proposed amounts or reimbursement of costs to those rates should be rebuffed. Here is GSA’s policy on the matter:
GSA recognizes that contractors often sit next to federal employees, work on the same projects as federal employees, and travel with federal employees. However, contractors are not federal employees.
All of the major airlines have made it clear to GSA that because the contract rates are so low and the terms so favorable, the airlines would drop out of the City Pair Program (CPP) rather than extend the contract rates to contractors. GSA has made the business decision not to jeopardize the program nor the over $4.4 billion savings for taxpayers.
GSA cautions agencies that the purchase of contract fare tickets on behalf of contractors is a misuse of the CPP and could jeopardize its future success. In addition, invitational travel orders or the agency's Centrally Billed Account (CBA) should not be issued or used to allow contractors access/use of Contract City Pair fares. The numbering sequence on the government charge card indicates official government employee travel. If a contractor's commercial fare is put on a CBA, the CBA identifies the traveler as eligible for Airline City Pair contract fares.