Although US domestic airfares are much more volatile (that is, prices change quite a bit more often) the price difference between major travel sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and airlines sites is usually no higher. at 10-20%. National airline ticket sellers fall into almost 2 categories: (1) airlines and (2) online travel agencies. There are some niche players, but they serve a very small market. Therefore, when shopping for home air operations, the "when to buy" is usually more important than the "where to buy".
The opposite is true when getting an international business. The "when to buy" is still important (as you don't wait until the last minute), but the "where to buy" is much more important. This is because airfare to Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central America is somewhat less volatile (they may not change frequently), but the price difference between different providers can sometimes be up to 50% or more. There are several reasons for this, but the two main reasons are (1) the type of fees offered and (2) the number of players on the field.
The type of rates
Without being too technical, there are basically 2 types of international airfare; published and unpublished. 97% of leisure rates (gift or take) are published on the domestic market. A published rate that you can call a retail rate. The airline creates the fare and rules associated with that fare and then publishes the information through a clearing house called ATPCo (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). ATPCo distributes the fee to global distribution systems. Online and offline travel agencies recover these published rates through one or more of these systems. Everyone has access to the rate. A new fee (also called a negotiated rate) is still released through ATPCo but part of the "fee rules" is an indicator that the seller is allowed to access and sell the rate. It is essentially a private fare. Another difference is that the published fares have to be sold at the price determined by the airline (no markings or discounts) while a private fare can be marked. That's why you see online and offline agencies add a price for any service between $ 5 and $ 50 to a published fare ticket. With a negotiated fare, the airline will receive a set amount and allow the seller to set (add margin) to that fare. Thus, a seller can negotiate a $ 300 fare from New York to London with the airline X and then mark it and sell it for $ 345. Another visible difference between a negotiated fare and a published one is the fact that many (almost all) negotiated air tickets will not see the actual price you paid for the ticket. Instead, you will see a much higher rate or just tax information. Published fare tickets 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" that lowers the negotiated fare levels) and so "the place" it is more important than "the time" when it comes to buying international air tickets.
International airfare sellers fall into the following broad categories:
(1) Major airlines
(2) Charter airlines
(3) Online travel agencies
(4) Offline travel agencies
(5) Global consolidators selling to the public
(6) Global consolidators that do not sell to the public
(7) Ethnic consolidators or specialist destinations
(8) Student travel consolidators
(9) Tour operators
These are the carriers we all know as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM and many more. They offer air fares through their own website and many of the other vendors listed above. They can offer special offers on their own page. They do not charge any service fees.
In Europe this type of airline is much more common than in the United States. A letter is basically when a tour operator "rents" or "rents" a plane to fly tourists from their departure airport to the destination airport. There are some airlines that service from and to the US that have their roots in the charter business. They offer regular year-round or seasonal service to and from selected US airports to a single country. They are FAA approved and must comply with all airline safety rules and regulations. What sets them apart is their business model that allows them to sell normally cheaper seats than larger ones. Some of these alternative airlines are LTU, Condor, FlyGlobespan or Martinair to name a few. They also usually do not charge a service fee.
Travel agencies online
Players in this category are Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire and so on. They sell published and unpublished air tickets. They charge a service fee. They also often sell you other travel components such as hotel accommodation, car rental, attraction tickets and / or travel insurance. Going abroad for a holiday by buying a package (where the seller will include an air component with one or more land components) can be an option and can save you money. In a future article I will cover the pros and cons of packages.
Offline travel agencies
The so-called brick-and-mortar travel agencies, these are the traditional agencies you would come in, sit down and book your trips. Depending on the size and target market, they may also double as an ethnic consolidator or destination specialist. They also have access to consolidation rates that are not offered directly to the general public. Brick and mortar agencies almost always charge a service fee.
Global consolidators that sell directly to the public
Often these are travel agencies that have decided to "cut the middleman" and go straight to the airlines to negotiate their own private fares. This allows them to sell at a lower price without losing their margin. For decent private rates, a global consolidator would have to offer $ 100 million + in annual agency sales. Most traded tickets are sold without a service charge. If a consolidator sells a published fee they will regularly add a service charge.
Global consolidators that do not sell directly to the public
In the days before internet travel online, few agencies would act as their own consolidator. Instead, they worked through intermediaries (consolidators) who negotiated deals with the airlines. A consolidator would negotiate that same $ 300 deal mentioned above, add their margin to sell it to a retail agency. The retail agent would add his margin and sell to the public. When the Internet came to fruition, the agencies could reach a much larger audience and thus gain the opportunity to negotiate directly with the airlines. However, there are still many agencies, both offline and online, that offer intermediary consolidation overhead rates. Due to the low volume of consolidators that an airline can offer, these fares could still be a deal even after several hikes.
Ethnic consolidators or specialist destinations
These are probably one of the least known sources (by the general public) of cheap airline tickets. They are also some of the hardest to find. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and ethnic consolidators have traditionally served their former patriot or immigrant community. They have been and continue to be cheap sources for airfare back to the country of origin. Unlike global consolidators that can exceed $ 250 million in sales a year, these ethnic outlets can only reverse $ 2-5 million a year, but most can go to 1 or 2 carriers. They are highly specialized and have long lasting relationships with their preferred carriers. These long-term trust relationships are the reasons why some mom and pop operations are able to secure airfares that are 20-30% lower than any of the online mega agencies. Destination specialists are similar to ethnic consolidators in terms of size and style. They became true experts in a country or region and built relationships. The difference is that they are often directed at the foreign independent traveler (FIT). As I mentioned, the passenger deals that some of these outlets can often offer are hard to beat, but the challenge is finding them. Google and Yahoo and any of the other search engines often don't find them.
Student travel consolidators
As the name suggests, they are student-directed (and in some cases faculty) agencies. Like a global consolidator, they approach airlines and negotiate special discounts or private rates. The difference is that, according to the airline agreement, they can only be sold to bona fide students (and teachers). Often, students have to 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 at making sure the person buying the ticket is actually a student.
Tour operators are entities that sell all-inclusive vacation packages, etc. They negotiate deals with airlines, hotels, land operators, etc., packing them together, selling them as a product to the public. Occasionally they will sell only the plane (at prices below the rock) to fill empty seats on the plane. Since they have a fixed price they have to pay the aircraft operator, any empty seat is a missed opportunity. The best opportunity to get one of these cheap seats is usually to the Caribbean or Mexico.
Sources for international airfare deals are plentiful. Finding the right one at the right time can make the difference if you get a good rate or a lot. While getting an airline business is often the result of (lucky) time to get a big international deal, it is often the result of knowing where to look.