Cheaper Air Travel

by Sally Lewis

Air transportation can be one of the most costly elements in planning a trip. Airline pricing policies, rules and procedures are complicated and confusing. Many people in the travel industry believe in keeping consumers uninformed in order to increase their own profits. Armed with some basic knowledge and some inside information, travelers will understand how easy it is to save money every time they travel.

The goal of every airline is to sell all their seats at the highest prices possible. Airfares have very little to do with the airline's cost of doing business. In reality, airlines price their seats on perceptions of what the public is willing to pay. For example, an airline knows that if you have to be somewhere at the last minute, chances are you will be willing to pay a premium price for that seat. This is the reason many business travelers pay significantly higher prices for last minute flights.

Another factor to consider when you are shopping for airline tickets is the issue of restrictions associated with a particular airfare. For example, a restriction may be that the ticket has to be purchased 21 days in advance or include a Saturday night stay-over. In most cases, the cheaper the ticket, the greater the number of restrictions associated with that ticket.

Consolidated tickets are one of the best kept secrets in travel. Here customers can save up to 70% on their international flights. But what is a consolidator and how do these consolidated tickets work exactly? To be an approved member of IATA (International Air Transport Association) airlines must "publish" their fares and keep their competitors informed of their pricing. IATA does not allow airlines to discount these published prices but they place no limitation on the amount of commission an airline pays an agent for selling a ticket. In order to sell "discounted" tickets, the airlines establish high commission sales contracts with a few "special agents" or "wholesalers" called consolidators. By contract, these consolidators must rebate part of those high commissions to the consumer...this results in a consolidator or discounted ticket. When you buy a ticket from a consolidator, often the IATA price will be printed directly on the ticket. If you were to subtract the amount a customer pays from the published IATA price, in reality the difference in savings is the amount of agent commission that is rebated back to you. Because these "commission rebates" stay fairly stable throughout the year, consolidator tickets offer the biggest savings during the high season when regular published fares are the most expensive.

Regular travel agents have been buying tickets for their clients from consolidator companies for years. The agents would add on a nice profit and would re-sell them to the public who were none the wiser for it. Travelers were usually pleased because in most cases these tickets were still less expensive than buying directly from the airlines.

Have you ever noticed that it is usually cheaper to buy a package deal for your vacation than it is to buy the airfare and hotel accommodations separately? Again, airlines offer special "commissions" or "discounts" to tour operators in a similar fashion as described with Consolidator airfares. These are the absolute cheapest flights you can find anywhere but they come with the restriction that the flight must be sold in combination with hotel accommodations In some cases, tour operators, resort manager or hoteliers even charter their own planes to transport people to a particular destination or property. Charters are another way to save big with your travel costs.

Promotional fares, Airfare price wars and Ticket Sale Prices can be found in the central reservation systems used by travel agents or at online web sites. Usually when one airline publishes a sale, competitive airlines in that particular market usually follow suit and you will see a domino effect with many sale fares. This is most prevalent in the off season. Be aware, these fares are by far the most restrictive and availability is usually very limited.

Another off beat way to save money on international flights is to become a courier. If you agree to accompany cargo (usually documents), on scheduled airline flights, air freight companies will agree to subsidize all or part of your flight. Courier flights are available in certain, limited cities and there are restrictions. In many cases, travelers are only allowed to bring carry on luggage. These flights are limited and highly restrictive but if one fits your travel plans, the savings can be phenomenal.

Sally Lewis is the Director of Marketing for the site Since the launch of in Jan. 1996, she has consulted with hundreds of travel agencies, tour companies and hotels helping them build effective sites online. Most recently she has been involved in strategic planning and launch of the new dynamic page systems at 1travel. She can be reached for questions, comments and feedback at or 800-901-0600.

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