The Brancatelli File



September 1, 1995 -- Desperately seeking discounts on international airline tickets during this year of the weakened dollar? Ask your travel agent to help you find a bargain-priced ticket from an "airline consolidator," the travel industry's equivalent of a factory-outlet store.

Unknown to most business travelers, consolidators are the last resort for airlines with too many empty seats. Carriers sell their excess inventory at wholesale prices to consolidators, who then resell the tickets to travel agents and travelers.

Consolidators can save travelers as much as $450 a ticket on roundtrip flights to Europe, says Gary Marshall, vice president of sales at Jetset, a large consolidator with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Bargain hunters headed to Africa, South America, or Asia may save even more. Gary Topping, president of Gulfstream Travel (800-844-6939), a boutique travel agency, recently saved one customer about $1,500 on a roundtrip flight between Los Angeles and Nairobi, Kenya.

Buying tickets through a consolidator does have drawbacks, however. Some consolidators specialize only in flights to one geographic region. Others deal only with selected airlines. The best consolidators won't even sell directly to individual travelers. And, depending on the consolidator, there may also be some annoying travel restrictions:

--Consolidator tickets might not be eligible for advance-seat selection, which is always a problem for business travelers who like to choose their favorite aisle or window seat.

--Changing flight dates and departure times or securing refunds on consolidator tickets is difficult--and sometimes impossible.

--Consolidator tickets might be "non-endorsable." That means you can't transfer your ticket to a competing airline even if your carrier cancels or delays your flight.

--Consolidator tickets might not earn frequent-flyer miles, and almost none allow you to use miles or upgrade coupons to upgrade to business or first class.

The safest way to negotiate this mystifying maze of rules and conditions is to ask your travel agent to buy consolidator tickets for you. Agents know the restrictions--and the vagaries of the consolidator market--better than any traveler.

"Do business with consolidators through your travel agent," urges Marshall of Jetset. "Even the best consolidators can't answer all of a traveler's questions." Howard Goldberg, a San Francisco based executive of Qantas Airways, agrees. "Having a travel agent between you and the consolidator yields an added measure of [financial] safety. Besides, if you want a real [business trip] with accommodations and land components, you need an agent. Consolidators can only get you cheap airline tickets."

Hertz (800-654-3131) now rents Ford Ranger pick-up trucks at 20 locations around the South and West, including the airports in Ontario, Orange County, and Santa Barbara. ... The 70-year-old Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York has closed for a 15-month, $55 million restoration and renovation. ... The "No Luggage Required" program at Four Seasons-Regent Hotels and Resorts (800-332-3442) helps business travelers replace lost or essential items on short notice. The program includes special hours at local retailers, an in-hotel staff to handle clothing alterations, emergency toiletries kits, and around-the-clock filling of prescriptions.

This column originally appeared in San Francisco Focus magazine.

Copyright 1993-2008 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.