Airline Consolidator Programs

The airline consolidator industry has been around since the introduction of commercial aviation.  When airlines find themselves with excess inventory that they know they can’t easily ‘move’, they rely on consolidators as a means of both offloading the inventory at ‘distressed prices, while at the same time protecting their brand against commoditization and preventing losing control of their pricing ability.  Historically, consolidators were also used to reach traveler segments the airlines found either too expensive to market to themselves (e.g., the ethnic market).

At one time, airline consolidators operated in the ‘gray area’ of the travel industry, and to a small extent, that remains so today. Given the intrinsic nature of the consolidator industry’s opaqueness, many consolidators kept a low profile, despite the measure of their financial success. However, the industry was ‘outed’ (so to speak) in the late 1990s, when Priceline.com and then later Hotwire.com developed online versions of the consolidator model, and in the ensuing billions that were made in their IPOs, brought some level of legitimacy to the industry.

Typically, air tickets bought from a consolidator will be priced anywhere between 25% as much as 70% less than the ‘real’ price the airline publishes in their database or distributes to travel agencies through global distribution systems like Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus, or sells directly to the traveling public.  Pricing is dynamic, changing constantly, and is subject to seasonality. Often, this ‘off-tariff’ airline inventory consolidators offer to the pubic is referred to as ‘net fares’, that is, a non-commissionable and often non-refundable airfare on top of which the consolidator will add a mark-up (depending on the market, time of the year and competitive intensity, these mark-ups can range from as little as $5.00 to several hundred.

Most airlines do not allow travelers to accrue frequent flier miles with consolidator tickets. However, some airlines do…consumers should determine this prior to purchasing the consolidator ticket.

There are three distinct types of consolidators:

?   Ethnic – these consolidators focus on selling to ‘Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR)-type travelers (i.e., travelers who want to buy tickets to specific countries for leisure or personal reasons)

?   Tradeairlines use Trade Consolidators as their funnel to distribute off-tariff tickets to the various in-county retailers (like travel agencies, offline and online) rather than having to deal with the hundreds (if not in some countries literally thousands) of these resellers themselves.

The resellers who buy from trade consolidators resell those seats to their clients.  Generally, Trade Consolidators are large companies in their respective market.

?   Ethnic Resellers - typically, Ethnic Resellers are small operators, sometimes no more than one-person shops, who ‘flip’ consolidator tickets bought from larger Ethnic Consolidators to customers in their niche travel

Both the Ethnic and Trade consolidators mentioned above hold airline contracts, and are accredited by airline authorities like IATAN or Business Settlement Plans like ARC in the U.S., or are appointed by the airline itself to hold and issue an airline’s ticket stock.  In contrast, Ethnic Resellers do not hold these appointments.  In some situations, its not uncommon to see a consolidator ticket issued through its originally source change hands several times through resellers, and each time, the ticket is marked-up to generate a profit for the middleman.

Today, the consolidator industry remains fragmented; there are thousands of air consolidators operating around the world, many both in physical locations and on the Internet, while other operate in only one of the two mediums. In the US and UK, many of the larger air consolidators work only through travel agents and do not offer partnership opportunities to travel affiliates.

Below we list only several of the more prominent U.S. air consolidators that offer travel affiliate programs.

If you are a consolidator and you would like to be profiled in our listing, please contact us, and we’d be pleased to include your firm on our site.

The Players

?   Airfare.com - Offering more than 14 million discounted airfares, availability on some 700 Airlines, more than 30,000 hotels, and 25 car companies, Airfare.com offers a solid travel affiliate program.  Many of its consolidator fares are priced at 60% off of published rates, and apply to airlines and itineraries from the U.S. to destinations around the world.
Airfare.com notes that they are “…a fully bonded travel company, ARC appointed member of ASTA, and member of IATAN.”  That’s an important distinction, and one that affiliates should look for as a precondition for any consolidator program that they decide to participate in.

For details about Airfare.com’s travel affiliate program, click here.

?   AirGorilla.com - An online ‘consolidator of other consolidators’, this aggregator is positioned as an Online Travel Agency (OTA), but its clear once you read AirGorilla’s ‘About Us’ page that the thrust of their business offering is consolidator airfares:

“AirGorilla is a leader in Internet travel services. Our company was founded in February, 2001, and is located in the San Diego area in California. We combine discounted fares from multiple participating air consolidators with the published fares of hundreds of airlines to provide the best selection of low fares you can find. AirGorilla also has developed a great array of discount hotel, cruise, vacation, and car rental rates for customers to book.”

We’re not knocking AirGorilla, just underscoring the facts.  Speaking of facts, we actually like AirGorilla’s website and their product offering, which includes the standard air, hotel, car rental reservation services, as well as tour, cruise and even safaris!

To assess if AirGorilla’s affiliate program is right for your business, check out their affiliate page.

?   cFares - A consolidator that has merged the traditional industry model with a variation of  Priceline’s  ‘Name Your Price’ feature – dubbed  “Name-Your-Fare” by cFares, and a for-fee membership model (which has failed to take hold in the online travel space since the old Preview Travel tried it in the mid-1990s), this company has received the financial backing of renowned VC Guy Kawaski..

Whether Kawasaki’s faith in the venture’s business model will play out successfully in Silicon Valley or Wall Street remains to be seen; in the meantime, travel affiliates can earn commission if one of its customers opts to buy a ticket on cFares or pays to join the Platinum Membership plan.

If cFares model intrigues you, we suggest reviewing all the details of their travel affiliate program, which can be found at CJ, their preferred affiliate network provider.

?   FareBuzz - Whether looking for affiliate programs that include consolidator tickets, regular discounted airline tickets, hotel and car reservations or even package tours, FareBuzz.com is one option that travel affiliates should consider.

Their air consolidator program features low-priced coach, business and first class airfares, as well as last minute domestic specials, as well as ‘round the world fares’ and multi-city trips on up to 60 airlines.  Also, unlike some consolidators, FareBuzz does not impose any change or cancellation penalties except for those required by the airlines, and they do not charge the customer a ticketing or reservation fee.

FareBuzz also touts that it has “…created state-of-the-art, yet intuitive, booking engines that feature consolidator and bargain airfares, hotel and car rental.” And that “… FareBuzz also provides 24/7 access to online bookings, online payments and online reports.”

Click here to see if FareBuzz’s travel affiliate program fits with your travel portfolio.

?   TransAm.comReputed to be one of the largest U.S. consolidators in terms of sales, TransAm Travel has been in business since 1980, and operates five offices across the country in addition to its website and a call center.

With 36 U.S. and international carriers that funnel millions of consolidator fares through TransAm, including business class net fares, this long-time consolidator offers a strong travel affiliate program.

Check-out all of the details of TransAm’s travel affiliate program here.

Vayama – Describing itself as “Using the latest in web technologies …[Vayama] is a first-of-its kind travel Web site that gives Americans a whole new world of choice in international air travel.”

As best as we can tell, what Vayama does differently than other consolidators is that their booking engine pulls prices from all international flights originating in the United States, including those of low-fare carriers.  It also draws upon the considerable inventory available on Airtrade, its parent company, and the largest consolidator in The Netherlands.

Nonetheless, Vayama is looked upon by many as an ‘up and comer’ in the US consolidator industry.

Check-out Vayama’s travel affiliate program here to see if it fits with your travel sales strategy.

Vayama and Airtrade are subsidiaries of BCD Holdings NV, one of the world’s leading travel companies; among their other travel holdings is BCD Travel, the third largest travel management company (TMC) in the world, trailing only powerhouses American Express Business Travel and CWT.

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