(Corrects verdict amount to $5.1 million, not $5.01 million, in first paragraph)
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK, Dec 20 (Reuters) - American Airlines Group Inc on Tuesday was awarded nearly $5.1 million in an antitrust lawsuit that accused airline booking service Sabre Corp of harming competition and charging it grossly inflated booking fees.
A federal jury in Manhattan found Southlake, Texas-based Sabre liable for unreasonably restraining trade through contractual provisions, awarding a sum that under federal antitrust laws can be tripled to $15 million.
The jury rejected a separate claim that Sabre had conspired with its competitors to not compete with each other. The verdict was a fraction of the up to $73 million that American Airlines, suing under its former name US Airways, sought at trial.
Nevertheless, Chuck Diamond, a lawyer for the airlines, said he was “obviously very gratified” by the verdict, which came in a lawsuit filed in 2011 by US Airways prior to its 2013 merger with American Airlines, whose name the merged company adopted.
A spokesman for Sabre did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The case concerned fees that Sabre and other travel reservation systems collect from airlines to display flights for booking.
At trial, Diamond in his opening statement on Oct. 24 contended that Sabre used its power in the industry to “bully” airlines into paying unfair fees and signing unfair contracts that suppress competition and maintain its position.
The lawsuit claimed that provisions of a 2011 contract between US Airways and Sabre, including those governing what fares the airline makes available to a computerized network by Sabre used by travel agents, harmed competition.
The airline also contended that Sabre conspired with its two competitors in the industry to not compete with each other for airline content like flight and fare information at the expense of consumers and innovation.
“The lawsuit is here because of the way they went about maintaining their market power and then what they have done exercising it,” Diamond said in his opening statement.
Sabre denied conspiring with competitors, and said its contract with US Airways benefited competition. Chris Lind, a lawyer for Sabre, told jurors US Airways was far from powerless as it could leave the network, causing agents to stop using it.
“US Airways leveraged Sabre into getting actually the terms that they wanted and importantly the price that they wanted,” he said.
The case is US Airways Inc v. Sabre Holdings Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-cv-2725. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Lisa Shumaker)