There Really Are Consolidators Who Will Sell You Airfare for Less

Most come ons for cheap tickets from airfare consolidators aren’t going to be real, or save you very much. But there actually are companies that can sell you tickets for less.

This is much common throughout the rest of the world than in the U.S.

And buying tickets abroad (for instance, buying a ticket for travel originating in Vietnam from an agent based in Vietnam as there may still be inventory restrictions on the lowest fares permitting locally sold tickets to access the lowest availability buckets while not permitting that on tickets issued in other countries).

There are also just cheaper places in the world to originate.

  • A roundtrip business class ticket between New York JFK and Colombo, Sri Lanka will cost $5000 – $6000 (assuming you’re unwilling to fly Kuwaiti Airways)
  • A roundtrip business class ticket between Colombo, Sri Lanka and New York JFK will cost ~ $1950 – $2150.

Same airlines, same seats and service, totally different pricing only because of which side of the world you started the trip on.

Nonetheless, there are also agencies that will offer negotiated rates on specific airlines for specific routes. These fares may not be upgradeable, or earn miles. But they can get you where you’re going comfortably if you’re willing to take the connections available.

Buyer Beware of Whom You’re Working With

Several years ago I had read that 1st Air was using some questionable ticketing practices to get premium cabin airfares down.

Now, I have no problem with throwaway ticketing if a consumer is aware of the risks and how to handle them. But it was suggested that they were:

  • Issuing tickets where consumers would throw away the first segment of an itinerary, which could cause itineraries to be cancelled or consumers to be asked to buy up to the ‘correct’ fare.
  • Not telling customers they were doing this.

Most Consolidator Fares are on Non-U.S. Carriers

Wendy Perrin recommends one service in particular.

I recommend contacting Al Thomas of International Travel Systems, a boutique consolidator with a high level of personalized service. Al negotiates low fares with about 30 airlines that he selects for their aircraft comfort, service level, convenient schedules, and quick layover times.

..His business-class fares save you between 30% and 50%, depending on how far ahead you’re buying them and the time of year you’re flying. Business-class fares are relatively low over leisure-travel holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and Easter, and relatively high from September through November and March through May (which are the two peak times of year for business travel).

Generally consolidator fares are only going to be available on flights that would be expected not to fill up at higher prices. So peak travel times are going to be a problem. And last minute there could be plenty of availability (if seats aren’t selling) or no availability (if they are).

Do Your Research When You’re Serious, But It Takes Time

First you need to know how much your tickets should cost to even know if you’re getting a good deal through a consolidator.

Many airlines offer discounted advance purchase business class tickets (that may be nonrefundable) for around half the price of full fare business. [That’s why American Express Platinum 2-for-1 tickets aren’t always a good deal, you buy full fare and pay about what you’d pay otherwise … although often with greater flexibility in changes.]

Then you’re not just going to be able to search airfare online. You’ll usually submit an inquiry form with your trip details and then the agency will get back to you with a quite, which will vary in its timeliness from agency to agency.

They don’t quote real-time both because of the IT costs involved to do real-time searches of their specialized inventory but also because they would otherwise be undercutting full fare business class ticket sales. The idea here is like Priceline, to give additional business to a travel provider that they wouldn’t otherwise get by segmenting the market rather than undercutting the price they would sell travel for anyway.

Some other companies to research are Corporate Express Travel and Executive Class Travel.

Or just play around with things yourself:

  • Consider flying to a different nearby destination besides the major business city you want to go to. Tickets into Brussels may be cheaper than Paris.
  • Consider a throwaway ticket with a segment you do not want to use on the return, this can be especially great for Canadians who can add a segment back to the US and fly into a cheaper market (like New York vs. Toronto) while saving fuel surcharges in the process (since those tend to be lower with US destinations than Canadian ones.

Or…. ask yourself why you’re paying for international business class at all, instead of just using points.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Gary

    Your assumptions are partially correct, but you leave out several variables in determining when a 3rd party provider (i.e.” consolidator” as you call it) should be used. So if you compile research over a 3-5 day period for fares to a particular destination, you may think you have an accurate idea of fair market value for the route. Say for travel between San Jose and Paris AA.com shows pricing of 6K, and a wholesaler has a price of $4,500. Sure, it seems like a 25% savings based on pricing TODAY (again TODAY is the key word). But what if you knew that AA sold business class fares between the same two cities (San Jose & Paris) for as low as $1,000 + taxes as recently as November? Does $4,500 still seem like a good deal? Sure, its 25% off of the pricing AA is listing on a particular day, but once you know the lowest a carrier is willing to sell for (i.e. 1K + taxes) the lowest pricing is almost always obtained when the carrier waves the “white flag” and slashes fares.

    It does happen

    The term “Consolidator” is from an era long gone. There was a time when there was competition in the airline space. The airlines have “consolidated” themselves. We entered a recession in 2008 with 6 major U.S. airlines. We emerged with 3 U.S. carriers. They may need a new description, but they’re NOT consolidators because they’re not consolidating ANYTHING. Carriers are all about trying different prices for a particular route and seeing what sticks. The next generation of travelers has come to believe everything they see on a public corporations website is gospel. If AA says 6K, then it must be 6K. A few will pay 6 K. BUT Very Very few. That leads to a second layer of distribution, formerly consolidators, that allow carriers to distribute seats at lower fare levels without interfering with their website loyalists. Most try to get to business class without really paying. Carriers know this and are in NO HURRY to fill the front cabin. There will always be people willing to upgrade, even a few hours before the departure.

    But the point is that 95% of the time pricing with the carrier and the wholesaler are overvalued. Very few people buy in. The real deals happen when the carrier “drops the pants” for a few hours or few days. In the San Jose Paris example, the wholesaler will still be asking for $4,500 but the carrier will sell for $1,000-$1,200.

    If you believed in the wholesalers price, then you grossly overpaid. Of course, if a particular flight is already in strong demand then the fare sale may not happen. Demand can be easily verified by checking the seat maps before you decide on waiting.

    I’m just saying, unless your leaving in 14-21 days, too few people today buy list business class fares. Wait for the pull back if you can. That’s where the real deals are

  2. I’ve used flightfox.com a few times. They do the entire search for me and always find a better deal than me. Don’t ask me how they do it but honestly I don’t mind as long as its cheap 😀

  3. @gary
    Has anyone ever heard of or used SKYLUX?
    I’m trying to find a flight for June in Biz to Europe and then Nice, but prices are like 7-8K, but these guys are showing me a flight at 4500$..doesn’t earn apparently same miles, but I don’t really care.

    But, can’t really find any info on them anywhere, FT or MP not.

  4. I hope you didn’t pay 8K or even 4K to go to France. In April, business class fares to Paris were slashed down to $474 round trip from New York. As I said initially, the price you find is only the price at that particular moment. If it seems to high, ask yourself “Am I the only one that thinks 8K to Paris is crazy two months before departure?” You are probably NOT alone. I got the Member Intelligence Report from http://www.passportpremiere.com and locked in. Hope you did the same

  5. Not sure if that last comment was spam or something, but yeah we had to lock in but the final was 4K for BA biz west coast, LHR and then european biz to France..I did see some prices come in late april, may as european travel bookings were off and some of the odd bird NYC or BOS to Europe for 1500$ at some point, but I could never get anything like that from West Coast. This summer will be cheap probably to GET to europe as the europeans are not coming over because of the strong dollar

  6. It’s NOT SPAM…It’s called market intelligence. Sorry that you ended up paying 4K. On May 5th, American slashed business class fares between Los Angeles & Paris to just $680. Delta countered with San Diego -London on also on Cinco de Mayo.

    http://passportpremiere.com/050515-memberreport.php

    But your example proves everything that’s wrong with fare distribution today. Airlines have turned travelers into traders, expecting you to make purchase decisions without having all the facts. Had you known that $680 was offered before and was likely to be offered again, you would have probably waited. But you didn’t know because the carriers don’t want you to know and no one has a vested interest in providing accurate fare valuations…Well, there’s always next year!

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