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Published vs. Private Airfare: What's the Difference?

Published vs. Private Airfare: What’s the Difference?

Why is there more than one fare type?

How is it possible that two people across the aisle on the plane can pay totally different prices for the same row? It may simply be that one person purchased their ticket far in advance. But another possibility is that one traveler was able to get a private, discounted fare. The complex and vast variety of fare types is one of the greater mysteries of the airline world. It’s not something an airlines talk about. And you can’t really compare fare types through a simple Google search.

The answer lies partially with airline consolidatorsAn airline consolidator is a company that has contracted rates with multiple airlines to sell tickets to qualified travel agents. These private airfares are usually low enough that a travel agent can build in a markup to the fare and still pass along significant savings to their client.

What does a consolidator do?

An airline consolidator contracts with airlines to buy specialized airfare in bulk. These “private fares” also known as consolidator fares, net fares, or bulk fares, are a specially negotiated fare between an airline and a consolidator.

Operation “Fill the Plane!”

But why would an airline offer consolidators fares that essentially compete with their published prices? The short answer is that it helps them fill their planes. Selling excess inventory to consolidators at a wholesale price helps airlines avoid totally missing out on revenue with empty seats. Airlines win because they fill the planes. Travelers win because they get a great fare. Travel agents win because they have a chance to earn more on every sale. As Michael Scott would say, it’s a “win-win-win.”


But even if you’ve been in the travel industry for a while, it can be hard to sort through everything that’s available in a consolidator’s airfare search engine.

How can you get private fares and when should you use them? How can I save my clients money on published fares?

To answer these questions it helps to know a little bit more about these fares and how they work.

What is a private fare?

A private fare, also known as a consolidator fare, net fare, or bulk fare, is a specially discounted fare contracted between an airline and a consolidator. You can’t find them by doing a search online. You can’t even get them by going to an airline directly. Only a qualified travel agent or travel advisor can access these fares through an airline consolidator.

When do private fares offer the best savings?

1. International flights

It’s hard to find great, discounted fares on the lower-priced domestic flights. Your greatest private fare savings will be for international fares sold via an airline consolidator.

2. Very early or last-minute reservations

This one is tricky to predict because it is subject to the fluctuation of sales. Several months before departure, the private fares offered are usually a little bit cheaper than published fares. As the departure date approaches, a published fare may be cheaper if the flight is selling well. But if the airline is struggling to sell seats as quickly as they want, you can often find a great private fare. The published fare will continue to rise for last-minute purchases, as airlines hope to reach business travelers who will pay anything to get on the plane. Meanwhile, the private fare will generally stay the same, even for the last-minute purchases, and often has no advance purchase requirements.

3. One-ways

Typically, there is a huge discrepancy between private and published fares for one-way tickets. One-way private fares are often deeply discounted and have great potential for travel agents to make money! Just be sure to check one-way restrictions for the country your client is traveling to. Some require proof of onward travel to enter.

What is a published fare?

Published fares are available for immediate purchase through any vendor. They are called published fares because the prices are published, or visible to the public. They generally increase in price as you approach the departure date due to advanced purchase requirements. If no discounted, private fares are available for your clients, there are still a few tricks you can use to help them get the best, published rate possible.

How can I save on published fares?

1. Encourage flexibility

Encourage your clients to be flexible both with their dates and airports. Sometimes the difference of one day can result in huge savings. Try offering a quote for exactly what they want along with a flexible option with a lower price. They may find the flexibility worth it!

2. Book a stay over a Saturday night

Airlines know a business traveler on a tight schedule is willing to pay more than a family on vacation. Since business travelers typically only travel on weekdays, sneaking in a Saturday night stay can help keep the ticket price down.

3. Book round-trip

Consolidator fares are a great option for one-way tickets, but a one-way ticket on a published fare is usually pretty pricey. Book round-trip when you can or try an open-jaw ticket.


If you’re ready to start making money on consolidator fares, sign up with Centrav here! Qualified travel agents will receive access to our special consolidator, cruise, and student fares as well as tips and training resources on how to make money selling air!

Are you offering airfare to your clients every time? Here’s why you should!

Shawna Levet

Shawna is passionate about helping travel agents grow their business and expand their knowledge as travel experts. She has been in the travel industry since 2011, helping agents and travelers alike find the best negotiated airfare and travel coverage to meet their needs.


  • I love Centrav’s “cruise fares” book them often for folks embarking on the other side of the pond. Great way to make some extra money as these fares are often much cheaper than published rates. Split the savings and you and your client can both make money. Plus, you look like a magician pulling rates out of you hat that they cannot find anywhere.

  • Shawna Levet, thank you for sharing this very interesting post. Frequent fliers are always eager to get the best rates for their flight tickets and the tips you have shared here are sure to help them understand how. Thank you for enumerating the differences of private and published airfares.

  • I absolutely love working with Centrav. Their cruise fares are the most amazing fares in the industry. Even if you have your own contracts, I doubt you have access to cruise fares. You must have a cruise booking made to book these fares. Business Class travel prices under cruise fares come in just a little more than economy publishes fares. Lots of money can be made and you look like a superstar.

    • Thank you, Beth! We so appreciate your kind words!

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