The difference between finding cheap domestic and cheap international airline tickets


While the domestic airline ticket in the US is much more volatile (ie prices change much more often), the price difference between major travel sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia and airline sites is often no more than 10-20 %. Domestic airline ticket sellers largely fall into 2 categories: (1) airlines and (2) online travel agencies. There are several niche players, but they serve a very small market. Therefore, when shopping for domestic airline tickets, “when to buy” is usually more important than “where to buy.”

The opposite is true when an international plane ticket deal is guaranteed. “When to buy” is still important (because don’t wait until the last minute), but “where to buy” is much more important. This is because airline tickets to Europe, Asia, Africa and South and Central America are a bit more volatile (they may not change as often), but the price difference between different providers can sometimes reach 50% or more. There are several reasons why this is, but the two main reasons are (1) the type of tariffs offered and (2) the number of players in the field.

The type of tariffs

Without getting much technical information, there are basically 2 types of international airline tickets; published and unpublished. 97% of the prices for free time (giving or taking) are published on the domestic market. Published tariff, which you can specify as retail price. The airline creates the tariff and the rules related to it, and then publishes the information through a clearing house called ATPCo (Airline Tariff Publishing Company). ATPCo then distributes the tariff to global distribution systems. Online and offline travel agencies in turn extract these published fares through one or more of these systems. Everyone has access to the tariff. An unpublished tariff (also called a negotiation fee) is still released through ATPCo, but part of the “tariff rules” is an indicator of which seller is allowed to access and sell the tariff. In essence, this is a private tariff. Another difference is that published fares must be sold at the price set by the airline (without surcharges or discounts), while a private fare can be charged. That’s why you see that online and offline agencies add a service fee of between $ 5 and $ 50 to a published ticket. With an agreed tariff, the airline will receive a certain amount and the seller has the right to mark (add his margin) to this tariff. So the seller can negotiate a $ 300 fee from New York to London with X Airlines, then mark it and sell it for $ 345. Another visible difference between an agreed and published fare is the fact that on many (almost all) agreed airline tickets you will not see the actual price you paid for the ticket. Instead, you will see a much higher rate or just tax information. Published fare tickets will show exactly what you paid for the ticket (excluding service fees). As a general rule, negotiated tickets are often cheaper than published tickets (there are cases where an airline may have a “fire sale” that undercuts the levels of fares on agreed tickets) and therefore “where” is more important. from “when” when it comes to buying international plane tickets.

Travel Sellers

International airline ticket sellers fall into the following main categories:

(1) Major airlines

(2) Charter Airlines

(3) Online travel agencies

(4) Offline travel agencies

(5) Global consolidators that sell to the public

(6) Global consolidators that do not sell to the Public

(7) Ethnic consolidators or destination specialists

(8) Student Travel Consolidators

(9) Tour operators

Basic airlines

These are the carriers we are all familiar with, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM and many others. They offer airline tickets through their own website and many of the other vendors listed above. They can offer web special offers on their own site. They do not charge a service fee.

Charter Airlines

In Europe, this type of airline is much more common than in the United States. The charter is basically when a tour operator “rents” or “charters” a plane to fly to holidaymakers from the airport of the departing portal to the airport of destination. There are several airlines that offer services from / to the United States that have their roots in the charter business. They regularly offer year-round or seasonal service to / from several select airports in the United States to one country. They are approved by the FAA and must comply with all airline safety rules and regulations. What sets them apart is their business model, which allows them to sell seats cheaper than the big ones. Some of these alternative airlines are LTU, Condor, FlyGlobespan or Martinair, to name a few. They also usually do not charge a service fee.

Online travel agencies

Players in this category are Travelocity, Orbitz, Cheaptickets, Expedia, Priceline, Hotwire, etc. They sell published and unpublished plane 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 holiday, buying a package (where the seller will connect an air component with one or more ground components) can be an option and can save you money. In a future article I will look at the advantages and disadvantages of packages.

Offline travel agencies

Also called travel agencies for bricks and mortar, these are the traditional agencies in which you would enter, sit and book your trip. Depending on the size and target market, they can also double as an ethnic consolidator or destination specialist. They also have access to consolidator tickets 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 the broker” and go directly to the airlines to negotiate their own fares. This allows them to then resell them at a lower price without losing their margin. To get decent private tariffs, the global consolidator will have to offer $ 100 million + annual agency sales. Most of the agreed tickets are sold free of charge. If the consolidator sells a published tariff, they regularly add a service fee.

Global consolidators that do not sell directly to the public

In the days before online travel, very few agencies would act as their consolidator. Instead, they worked through intermediaries (consolidators) who negotiated deals with airlines. The consolidator will negotiate the same $ 300 deal mentioned above, add its margin and sell it to a retail agency. The retailer will then add its margin and sell it to the public. With the creation of the Internet, the agencies were able to reach a much larger audience and therefore gained the opportunity to negotiate directly with the airlines. However, there are still many agencies, offline and online, that offer airline tickets for intermediaries. Due to the huge amount of consolidators they can offer to an airline, these fares can still be advantageous even after a few surcharges.

Ethnic consolidators or destination specialists

These are probably one of the least known (by the general public) sources for cheap plane tickets. They are also one of the most difficult to find. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and ethnic consolidators traditionally serve their former patriots or immigrant communities. They were and still are the cheap sources for plane tickets back to their home country. Unlike global consolidators, which can sell more than $ 250 million a year, these ethnic sites can handle only $ 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, reliable connections are the reason why some ethnic mothers and pop operations can provide fares for plane tickets that are 20-30% lower than any of the online mega agencies. Destination professionals are similar to ethnic consolidators in size and style. They have become real experts in a country or region and have built relationships. The difference is that they are often targeted at the foreign independent traveler (FIT). As I mentioned, the bargain prices of airline tickets that some of these sites can offer are often difficult to win, but the challenge is to find them. Google and Yahoo and none of the other search engines often find them.

Student travel consolidators

As the name suggests, these are agencies aimed at students (and in some cases teachers). Just like a global consolidator, they turn to airlines and negotiate special discounts or private fares. The difference is that under the agreement with the airlines, they have the right to sell only to bona fide students (and teachers). Often students have to be enrolled in an accredited college or university, and high school students are not eligible. The same goes for teachers. Some agencies are better than others at ensuring that the person buying the ticket is actually a student.

Tour operators

Tour operators are entities that sell holiday packages such as all inclusive and others. They negotiate deals with airlines, hotels, ground operators, etc., package them together, label them and then sell them as a product to the public. Sometimes they will only sell plane tickets (at the lowest prices) to fill in the blanks on the plane. Because they have a fixed price that they have to pay to the aircraft operator, any empty space is a missed opportunity. The best chance to get one of these cheap places is usually in the Caribbean or Mexico.

Sources for international airline tickets are numerous. Finding the right one at the right time can change everything whether you get a good price or a lot. Although making a deal for domestic airline tickets is often the result of a (happy) moment, making a big international deal is often the result of knowing where to look.