While domestic air fares in the United States are much more volatile (that is, prices change much more frequently), the price difference between major travel sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and airline websites is often no more than 10-20%. National airline ticket sellers fall roughly into 2 categories: (1) airlines and (2) online travel agencies. There are a few niche players, but they serve a very small market. Therefore, when buying domestic airline tickets, the "when to buy" is generally more important than the "where to buy".
The opposite is true when entering into an international airline market. The "when to buy" is always important (as in don't wait until the last minute) but the "where to buy" is much more important. Indeed, air tickets to Europe, Asia, Africa and South America and Central America are slightly less volatile (may do not change as often), but the price difference between different suppliers can sometimes reach 50% or more. There are several reasons for this, but the two main reasons are (1) the type of rates offered and (2) the number of players on the field.
The type of rates
Without getting very technical, there are basically 2 types of international air tickets; published and unpublished. On the domestic market, 97% of leisure prices are published (give or take). A published rate that you can call a retail rate. The airline creates the tariff and the rules associated with this tariff, then publishes the information via a clearing house called ATPCo (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). ATPCo then distributes the price to global distribution systems. Online and offline travel agencies in turn retrieve these published fares via one or more of these systems. Everyone has access to the tariff. An unpublished tariff (also called negotiated tariff) is always published via ATPCo but part of the "tariff rules" is an indicator of what the seller is authorized to access and sell the tariff. It is essentially a private rate. Another difference is that the published fares must be sold at the price determined by the airline (no surcharge or reduction) while a private fare can be increased. This is why you see online and offline agencies adding service fees between $ 5 and $ 50 to a published fare ticket. With a negotiated tariff, the airline company will receive a fixed amount and the seller is authorized to increase (add its margin) to this tariff. Thus, a seller can negotiate a rate of $ 300 from New York to London with airline X, then increase it and sell it for $ 345. Another visible difference between a negotiated fare and a published fare is the fact that on many (almost all) negotiated airline tickets, you will not see the actual price you paid for the ticket. Instead, you will either see a much higher rate or just tax information. A published fare ticket will show exactly what you paid for the ticket (excluding service charges). As a general rule, negotiated fare tickets are often cheaper than published fare tickets (There are cases where an airline may have a "fire sale" which reduces the level of negotiated fares) and that’s why "the where" is more important than "when" when it comes to buying an international air ticket.
Sellers of international air tickets fall into the following broad categories:
(1) Main airlines
(2) Charter airlines
(3) Online travel agencies
(4) Offline travel agencies
(5) Global consolidators who sell to the public
(6) Global Consolidators who do not sell to the public
(7) Ethnic consolidators or destination specialists
(8) Student travel consolidators
(9) Tour operators
These are the carriers we all know, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM and many others. They offer airline tickets through their own website and many of the other vendors listed above. They can offer special web deals on their own site. They do not charge a service fee.
In Europe, this type of airline is much more common than in the United States. A charter is essentially when a tour operator "rents" or "charters" an airplane to make vacationers travel from their departure airport to the destination airport. There are a few airlines that offer services to / from the United States that have their roots in the charter industry. They regularly offer year-round or seasonal services to / from a few select U.S. airports to a single country. They are FAA approved and must comply with all aviation safety rules and regulations. What sets them apart is their business model, which allows them to generally sell seats that are cheaper than the majors. Some of these alternative airlines are LTU, Condor, FlyGlobespan or Martinair to name a few. They generally do not charge a service fee.
Online travel agencies
Players in this category are Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, etc. They sell published and unpublished airline tickets. They charge a service fee. They also try to sell you other travel items such as hotel accommodation, car rental, attraction tickets and / or travel insurance. If you are going abroad for a vacation, purchasing a package (where the seller will bundle an air component with one or more land components) may be an option and can save you money. # 39; money. In a future article, I will cover the pros and cons of packages.
Offline travel agencies
Also called physical travel agencies, these are the traditional agencies into which you enter, sit down and book your trip. Depending on the size and target market, they can also act as an ethnic consolidator or destination specialist. They also have access to consolidation rates not offered directly to the general public. Brick and mortar agencies almost always charge a service fee.
Global consolidators who sell directly to the public
Travel agents have often decided to "cut out the middleman" and go directly to the airlines to negotiate their own private fares. This then allows them to resell them at a lower price without losing their margin. In order to get decent private rates, a global consolidator would have to offer $ 100 million + in annual agency sales. Most negotiated tickets are sold without a service charge. If a consolidator sells a published rate, it regularly adds service fees.
Global consolidators who do not sell directly to the public
In the days leading up to online travel on the Internet, very few agencies acted as their own consolidator. Instead, they worked through intermediaries (consolidators) who negotiated deals with the airlines. A consolidator would negotiate the same $ 300 deal mentioned above, add its margin, and then sell it to a retail agency. The retail agent would then add his margin and sell it to the public. As the Internet took shape, agencies were able to reach a much wider audience and therefore gained the leverage to negotiate directly with airlines. However, many agencies, offline and online, offer intermediate rates for consolidators. Because of the volumes that consolidators can offer an airline, these fares could still be a good deal even after several increases.
Ethnic consolidators or destination specialists
They are probably one of the lesser-known sources (of the general public) of cheap airline tickets. They are also among the most difficult to find. The United States is a nation of immigrants and ethnic consolidators have traditionally served their community as ex-patriots or immigrants. They were and still are the sources of cheap airline tickets to the country of origin. Unlike global consolidators who can generate more than $ 250 million in sales per year, these ethnic outlets can only generate $ 2-5 million per year, but most of that can go to 1 or 2 operators. . They are highly specialized and have long-standing relationships with their preferred carriers. These long-term and reliable relationships are the reason why some ethnic mom and pop operations are able to get air fares 20-30% lower than all online mega-agencies. Destination specialists are similar to ethnic consolidators in terms of size and style. They have become real experts in a country or region and have established relationships. The difference is that they often target the foreign independent traveler (FIT). As I mentioned, the deals on airline tickets that some of these outlets can offer are often hard to beat, but the challenge is to find them. Google and Yahoo and other search engines often don't find them.
Student travel consolidators
As their name suggests, these are agencies that target students (and in some cases faculty). Like a global consolidator, they approach airlines and negotiate special discounts or private fares. The difference is that, according to the agreement with the airlines, they are only allowed to sell to students (and professors) in good faith. Often, students must be enrolled in an accredited college or university and high school students are not eligible. The same goes for teachers. Some agencies are better than others to make sure that the person buying the ticket is actually a student.
Tour operators are entities that sell vacation packages such as all-inclusive packages, etc. They negotiate agreements with airlines, hotels, ground operators, etc., package them together, mark them and then sell them as a single product to the public. On occasion, they will only sell plane tickets (at unbeatable prices) in order to fill the empty seats on the plane. Since they have a fixed price which they have to pay to the aircraft operator, any empty seat is a missed opportunity. The best chance of getting one of these inexpensive seats is usually in the Caribbean or Mexico.
There are many sources of great deals on international airfares. Finding the right one at the right time can make all the difference whether you get a good price or a lot. Although reaching an agreement on domestic air fares is often the result of (lucky) timing, obtaining an excellent international agreement is often the result of know where to look.