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 consolidators. An airline consolidator is a company that has contracted rates with multiple airlines to sell tickets to qualified travel agents.
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. 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. Because these fares are contracted uniquely between an airline and a consolidator, once the airfare is sold, control of the ticket falls to the consolidator. This is why if a traveler goes directly to an airline to request a change the airline will direct them back to the “original ticketing agent.”
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 can offer their clients a full service. As Michael Scott would say, it’s a “win-win-win.”
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.
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 savings! 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.