Every traveler wants a cheap international air fare…

and often a traveler wants to fly off to Europe or Asia now.

If airlines aren’t serving up low fares (and they usually don’t for last-minute departures), bargain hunters turn to the Internet to see what Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity are offering. But savings can be minimal, especially now during high season when planes are filled. So some savvy (and not so savvy) people then turn to consolidators.

Consolidators, sometimes called wholesalers…

help the airlines fill empty seats by contracting with carriers to buy seats in bulk at a deeply discounted and unpublished price. The consolidator can mark up the price of a ticket to make a profit and sell to a travel agent scouting a low fare for a client. It’s a legitimate system in which everyone wins. It helps airlines with their bottom line.

But as with everything else, you must know how the system works because the process can be aggravating. And you’ve got to ask questions.

Experienced travelers probably know…

that when demand is high and seats are limited (as it is now for travel to Europe), prices from consolidators are not going to be dramatically lower than what they can get from the airlines or online booking services. But travelers unfamiliar with consolidators–whose ads usually are little more than an inch or two, with no room for fine print–may not understand this.

The consolidator process boils down to what the airlines call inventory management, “Consolidators are given a certain inventory [by the airlines] that they can book. The consolidator will set the price, depending on the season, the competition and market conditions. And, of course, they look at their historical [sales] data. Every consolidator has a contract with an airline or several airlines. That way you can cover most of the world.”

Pricing consolidator tickets is a tricky issue. We will not sell directly to the consumer they only sell to a travel agent. “Travel agents get their special price. If I undercut my travel agent I’m cutting off my arms and my legs. Consumers usually are one-time buyers; travel agents are regular. We give the agent a margin to earn money, depending on season. When the seats are higher and tougher to get, our markups are much higher.”