The difference between finding a cheap domestic versus a cheap international plane ticket


Although US domestic airline tickets are much more volatile (i.e., prices change much more often), the price difference between major tourist sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and the airlines website is often no more than 10-20%. Domestic airline ticket sellers pretty much fall into 2 categories: (1) airlines and (2) online travel agencies. There are several niche players, but they offer a very small market. Therefore, when buying a domestic plane ticket, it is usually more important than “where to buy” than “where to buy”.

The opposite is the case when securing an international plane ticket. “When to buy” is still important (as is not expected until the last moment), but “where to buy” is much more important. This is because plane tickets to Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central America are somewhat less volatile (they may not change as often), but the price differential between different suppliers can sometimes be up to 50% or more. There are several reasons for this, but there are two main reasons for (1) the type of fares offered and (2) the number of players on the field.

Farat type

Without getting very technical information, there are basically two types of international airline tickets; published and unpublished. On the domestic market, 97% of leisure prices are published (give or take). Published ticket price you can call retail price. The airline creates a tariff and rules related to that ticket, and then publishes the information through a clearinghouse called ATPCo (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). ATPCo then distributes the tariff to global distribution systems. Internet and offline travel agencies, in turn, retrieve these published fares through one or more of these systems. Everyone has access to the fare. An unpublished ticket price (also known as a negotiated price) is still published through ATPCo, but the “pricing rules” section is an indication of which seller is allowed to access and sell the ticket. It’s basically a private fare. Another difference is that the published fare must be sold at a price set by the airline (no brands or declines), while the private fare can be marked. That’s why you see online and offline agencies adding a service fee anywhere between $ 5 and $ 50 for a published ticket. With the agreed price of the airline, they will receive a set amount and the seller is allowed to mark (add his margin) to that tariff. So, the seller can negotiate a $ 300 ticket from New York to London with X, then tag and sell it for $ 345. Another noticeable difference between the negotiated and published ticket price is the fact that on many (almost all) negotiated airline tickets you will not see the actual price you paid for the ticket. Instead, you’ll see either a much higher price tag or just tax information. Published Ticket Tickets will show exactly what you paid for the ticket (without any service charges). As a general rule, agreed ticket tickets are often cheaper than published ticket tickets (There are times when an airline may have a “fire sale” that lowers the bargain price) and therefore “where” is more important than “when” when it comes to buying an international airline ticket.

Travel vendors

International airline ticket sellers fall into the following main categories:

(1) Major airlines

(2) Airlines charter

(3) Internet travel agencies

(4) Offline travel agencies

(5) Global consolidators selling to the public

(6) Global Consolators that do not sell publicly

(7) Ethnic consolidators or destination specialists

(8) Student Travel Consolidators

(9) Tourism workers

Major airlines

These are the carriers we all know, like American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM and many more. They offer airfare through their own website and many other vendors listed above. They can offer internet specials on their own website. They do not charge a service fee.

Charter Airlines

In Europe, this type of airline is much more common than in the US. A charter is basically when a tourist operator “rents” or “rents” a plane to fly tourists from departures to the destination airport. There are several airlines offering service to / from the US that have their roots in the charter business. They regularly offer year-round or seasonal service to / from several select U.S. airports in one country. They are FAA approved and must comply with all airline safety rules and regulations. What sets them apart is their business model, which allows them to sell their seats at a cheaper price than the main ones. Some of these alternative airlines are LTU, Condor, FlyGlobespan or Martinair. They also usually do not charge a service fee.

Online travel agencies

Players in this category are Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire and so on. They sell published and unpublished airline tickets. They charge a service fee. They usually try to sell you other travel components such as hotel accommodation, car rentals, attraction tickets and / or travel insurance. If you are going abroad on vacation, buying a package (where the seller will purchase an air component with one or more parts of the country) can be an option and can save money. In the next article, I will talk about the pros and cons of the package.

Travel agencies

Also referred to as brick and mortar travel agencies, these are the traditional agencies you would enter, sit in and book your travels for. Depending on their size and target market, they can also double as specialists in ethnic consolidations or destinations. They also have access to consolidator prices 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

Many times these are travel agencies that have decided to “cut through an intermediary” and go directly to airlines to negotiate their own private tickets. This allows them to re-sell them at a lower price without losing their margin. To get decent private prices, the global consolidator would have to offer $ 100 million + in annual agency sales. Most bargaining tickets are sold without service charge. If the consolidator sells the posted price, they regularly add a service charge.

Global consolators that are not sold directly to the public

In the days before internet travel, very few agencies acted as their consolidator. Instead, they worked through intermediaries (consolidators) who negotiated contracts with the carriers. The consolidator would negotiate the same $ 300 agreement mentioned above, add a margin to it, and then sell it to a retail agency. The sales agent would then add his margin and sell it to the public. As the Internet evolved, agencies were able to reach a much larger audience and therefore gained the power to negotiate directly with airlines. However, there are still many agencies, offline and online, that offer tickets to consolidate intermediaries. Due to the expensive amounts of consolidators, airlines can offer these fares and may still be reasonably priced even after a few extras.

Ethnic Consolidators or destination professionals

These are probably one of the least known (by the general public) sources for cheap airfare. They are also the hardest to find. The US is a nation of immigrants, and ethnic consolidates have traditionally served their former patriot or immigrant community. They were and still are cheap sources for plane flights back to their home country. Unlike global consolidators, which can sell more than $ 250 million + a year, these sales units can only convert $ 2-5 million a year, but most can go to 1 or 2 carriers. They are highly specialized and have long-standing relationships with their preferred carriers. These long-term, trusted relationships are why some ethnic moms and pop operations are able to secure airfare rates that are 20-30% lower than any of the internet mega agencies. Destination specialists are similar to ethnic consolidators in terms of size and style. They have become real experts in a country or region and have built relationships. The difference is that they often target a foreign independent traveler (FIT). As I mentioned before, airline deals that some of these outlets can offer are often hard to beat, but the challenge is finding them. Google and Yahoo and any other search engine often do not find them.

Student Travel Consolidators

As the name implies, these are agencies that target students (and in some cases, faculty). Just like a global consolidator, they approach the airline and negotiate special discounts or private rates. The difference is that, by agreement with the airlines, they are only allowed to sell to trusted students (and teachers). Students often need to be enrolled in an accredited college or university, and high school students are not eligible. The same goes for college. Some agencies are better than others at ensuring that the person buying the ticket is actually a student.

Tourist operators

Tour operators are entities that sell holiday packages such as all inclusive, etc. They negotiate contracts with airlines, hotels, ground operators, and so on, pack them together, mark and then sell them as one product to the public. Occasionally, they will only sell the airline ticket (at the best prices) to fill in the spaces on the plane. Because they have a fixed price they have to pay the aircraft operator, any vacant seat is a missed opportunity. The best chance of getting one of these cheap seats is usually in the Caribbean or Mexico.

There are many sources for international aviation reviews. Finding the right one at the right time can mean a lot to you, whether you get a good price or a lot. Although contracting domestic aircraft is often the result of (happy) timing, getting a great international deal is often the result of knowing where to look.