By Allie Almario
Are those cheap airfare ads that pepper the back pages of the Sunday travel sections too good to be true? Yes…and no.
Like most travel companies, we work with select airline ticket consolidators. This allows us to provide our clients with lower international fares than those available from major carriers.
Even better, if an airfare consolidator is with whom we have a long-standing relationship with, the staff can help resolve tricky situations. When two of our travelers were bumped off first-class seats on a flight departing Guayaquil, Ecuador, the ticket agent at the airport told them they would not be able to get another flight until the next day. Our airline ticket consolidator stepped in and got our clients on a plane headed for home just a few hours later.
The downside? Consolidators are not regulated, which can lead to unexpected challenges, such as if the company fails to fully inform you of specific restrictions on your ticket or your ticket is not with a major carrier. Make sure you work with a consolidator that comes highly recommended by either your tour operator or a personal referral.
What is an Airline Ticket Consolidator?
An air consolidator is a kind of discount ticket middleman, and some are occasionally referred to as “bucket shops.” The consolidators have windows during which they can book seats on an airline at a discount of 20-80 percent less than the published fare. (These are sometimes called “bulk” fares.) A good consolidator typically has a relationship with several established carriers. The consolidator can recommend flights that cost less versus ones that are more efficient, and you can choose the one you prefer. The seats booked through an airline ticket consolidator are on regularly scheduled international flights. They are not charter flights.
The airlines don’t want to fly half-empty planes, and so it’s to their advantage to make some seats available to a consolidator at a discounted price. The consolidator adds a commission fee and passes the booking on to a travel company or, occasionally, an individual. The bottom line cost, even with the added commission, is usually lower than the fare published by the airline. If not, they can often match fares if you find one online that is lower.
5 Tips for Buying Airline Tickets from a Consolidator
When a traveler books a flight through Myths and Mountains, we can usually offer the seats at a price lower than that quoted by a particular airline. And because we understand what the rules and restrictions might be, we can clarify them for the traveler.
However, if the traveler chooses to shop around for themselves and buys from a consolidator they’ve found, we cannot take responsibility for that ticket, the airline, or any difficulties in the country that may arise while traveling.
Should you decide to purchase your ticket from a discounter, here are five important facts you need to know:
1. The ticket price offered by a consolidator isn’t always a bargain.
The price you read in the ad may not include taxes, service fees, baggage charges or anything else. When these costs are added on, the price may jump as much as $200 more than the one advertised.
Do your homework. An airline may be offering seats to a consolidator for the same price as the published fare. Check what several airlines are charging for a similar ticket, including add-ons. Watch, too, for sales offered by an airline. If the airlines’ ticket price is still significantly higher than that of the consolidator, you have a deal.
A airline will sometimes match a price you’re quoted from a discounter as well. It’s worth asking.
2. All consolidators are not alike.
As in any business, there are some unscrupulous companies. If it’s an online consolidator, do they provide a phone number and a help desk manned by a living person? A reliable company should have phone support. Also, be sure to check out the company with the Better Business Bureau.
3. Restrictions almost always apply.
You can’t upgrade with miles on a flight booked through an international flight consolidator, (However, you can get frequent flyer miles for the trip you’re taking provided it’s a major airline.) Your ticket may be non-refundable or not changeable or both; your flight confirmation should state all of these restrictions. It may be more than an airlines’ usual penalty fee. Ask about all rules and restrictions. According to airlineconsolidator.com, the lowest fare is usually the least flexible.
4. Prices vary with the season.
The least expensive consolidator fares will be during the off-season. However, during vacation times when airline fares are highest, booking through a consolidator may save you money.