Thinking of venturing abroad?

Travel consolidators offer huge savings on overseas excursions

Do you want to take a trip abroad but don’t think you can spring for the airfare and hotel costs? Discount travel consolidators may be your solution.

Consolidators are companies that buy large blocks of seats from airlines at steep discounts. They then sell those tickets to the public at prices below the published fares. Some consolidators also offer discounted hotel rooms and car rentals.

Airlines sell discounted tickets to consolidators because they know that they probably won’t be able to sell all of their seats at the published fares. Thus, selling to consolidators enhances the airlines’ chance of having full flights and enables them to get cash in their hands right away.

Consolidators generally beat the prices offered by discount travel agencies-though some consolidators actually have agency status-because many of the discount travel agencies rely on consolidators for tickets. Essentially, the discount travel agency is serving as a middleman, selling tickets only to the general public. A consolidator, on the other hand, might sell to the public as well as to travel agencies. Just remember: it’s best to use consolidators during the height of the travel season and for last-minute trips when published air fares are at their peak and seat availability is low.

“We have consolidated rates with 26 major airlines and offer international rates year-round substantially lower than those published,” boasts Amanda Madaglia of Atlanta-based Economy Travel. Recently, the firm offered a flight on United from New York to London for nearly 40% off the published fare.

So how can you connect with these discounted rates? Most consolidators have Websites that list reduced fares for various destinations on major and smaller airlines and allow you to book reservations. OnlineTravel (www.euro rail.com), a Rosemont, Illinois-based consolidator, recently listed discounts on flights to South America from several major U.S. airports for as much as 60% off published prices. It also offered savings of up to 67% on business class and first class seats to London from New York.

Bargains always come with a price, so before rushing to the Internet or the travel section of a major newspaper for the consolidator of your choice, be aware of a few potential drawbacks. For example, many consolidators deal with somewhat obscure foreign airlines. If you prefer to travel only on large domestic or European airlines, your choices could be limited and you may have to pay more. The advice here is obviously to only travel with airlines with which you are comfortable. Second, once you buy a ticket on a particular airline through a consolidator, you are typically locked into that airline. Very few consolidator tickets allow you to change airlines. Also, refunds are not always available to the traveler and, if they are, they are usually through the consolidator only.

There are remedies to ease your travel fears. Kelly Monaghan, author of Air Travel’s Bargain Basement (Intrepid Traveler, $9.95), suggests that travelers use a credit card to pay for the ticket to allow for a “stop payment” should problems arise. The author also recommends you find

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