33

Update: After asking this TA whether he is a 'consolidator' he said he didn't know this word (apparently). Anyway I will accept Kate's answer for now as no one else has given a better answer.


Question:

A friend of mine told me about this travel agent (TA). The friend is buying tickets from this agent since 2 years.

The friend usually contacts the TA month or two in advance and the TA gives him a flight itinerary with HK (Holding Confirmed) category/number. These tickets are much cheaper than the ones we see online, usually 10-15% cheaper.

  • The TA does actual issuing of tickets 12 hours - 2 hours or so before the travel. The TA says he issues the tickets for every client (who travel on the same day), at the same time (i.e. issues tickets of the whole group at once).

I want to understand what kind of business model this is. The TA says he is an authorized travel agent.

  • The TA did not explain to me why he waits for so long and issues tickets a few hours before the flight to get the special cheap ticket price.

  • TA says he does not contact airline at the last minute and the tickets are already confirmed.

  • TA says he does something in his "system" to issue the tickets (without contacting airline). He did not explain further.

I don't understand why he does it this way. Do you know why some travel agents give HK number months in advance but issue tickets a few hours before the flight?

41

Sounds like a consolidator. They buy the tickets from the airline and assign them to the actual flyer at the last minute. They typically have a contract with the airline for a set number of seats per flight, so they may lose money some days and make it other days. The airline does this because they know that they will get a certain revenue no matter what. Generally they expect their price-sensitive customers won't know how to find or work with a consolidator.

I knew someone who used one and said it was a good approach if you flew regularly (eg a trainer who flies to various cities to deliver courses.) Often you could get business class for what economy would otherwise cost you. Good thing too, because you wouldn't get status miles or the like that would earn you goodies from the airline - but then again you wouldn't need them, because you get those goodies anyway when you're in business class.

If you're worried whether it's legal or not, keep asking the agent. There is a legal business model that operates as you've described. If you're worried your flights won't be issued on time, and that you might not be able to fly even though you paid the agent, ask what guarantees they provide to prevent that. This article has some tips to help you feel confident working with non-standard ticket issuers.

  • 9
    this is like asking how banks or grocery stores or shoe stores operate. Different ones do things different ways. You seem really suspicious of or worried about this one. I doubt a 10-15% saving is worth that for you. Other people, working with other travel agents, feel less worried for many reasons, including when the tickets get issued, and so using those agents is a good choice for them. – Kate Gregory Oct 31 '18 at 7:25
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    @user87466 Sometimes it's simply a matter of the airline wanting to make the process difficult or weird so that people who are willing to pay more, especially business travelers, purchase through the normal methods. Compare to those sites that don't tell you the name of the airline/hotel until after you've paid. – user71659 Oct 31 '18 at 7:37
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    If the seats are sold to the consolidator anyway, why would the airline care whether it is easy or hard for customers to work with the consolidator? – eirikdaude Oct 31 '18 at 11:31
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    @eirikdaude those x seats are sold to the consolidator anyway, but they may still have other tickets that have not been sold. If it is hard to work with the consolidator, then it is more likely a given person would buy from the airline directly, and therefore more likely the airline sells more seats overall. – Mr.Mindor Oct 31 '18 at 18:08
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    I've bought tickets through online consolidators, and I get the ticket confirmed right away, so the waiting till the last minute is by no means a mandatory feature. – user61942 Oct 31 '18 at 22:15
2

My close friend (who is a licensed travel agent) tells me that "last minute bookings for cheap" means that the agent is trying to offload seats that they have already paid for, as Kate mentioned.

Husband of a colleague (who is a hotel / vacation travel agent) tells me that hotel agents do the same thing. They buy bulk allocations (blocks) of rooms and then offer them cheaply (usually bundled with high margin addons like transfers and tours) in order to sell the inventory.

In the days before online bookings, my father used this "hold a reservation" trick all the time when we wanted to book our summer vacations. He would book the travel in January, with travel dates in July / August through his travel agent.

The actual payment happened a few days before our departure.

  • Thanks What do you mean by "offload seats", and already paid by whom (some other customer?) – user86225 Nov 1 '18 at 20:36

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