Consolidators Today Consolidators have come a long way since those early, often risky times.Airlines now see consolidators as a reliable distribution channel, negotiating annual contracts with them, establishing revenue targets, and tightly controlling ticket sales through a specific kind of booking class, or "bucket." If you were wondering, consolidators and bucket shops are essentially the same thing, though the name, like the practice, has been refined over time.Because consoldiators don't actually buy the seats, they're usually granted their window of opportunity early in the booking process (to fill up a limited number of seats to hedge the airline's bet on passengers) or late (to make up for the passengers the airline estimated would book, but didn't).Your travel agent can even find consolidator business class seats last minute, for up to a 50% discount. You may think that because you're getting a bargain basement price, your consolidator ticket will be nonrefundable, non-changeable, won't allow you to make advance seat assignments, won't let you earn miles - a heavily restricted "use it or lose it" ticket.If you bought it and the airline then closes out the consolidator's "bucket," you won't be able to change it, even if the airline still has "T" class tickets of its own to sell.IF the consolidator has similarly restricted tickets like "L" or "K" class, you might be able to swap them, through your agent, but only if the consolidator's window is still open.They generally can't - or won't - sell the ticket straight to you, but will offer it through a travel agent (including an online travel agent such as Travelocity or Expedia), or agencies such as the ones that advertise in Sunday newspaper travel sections.
Rather, they pull availability from their assigned class until the airline decides to close the window.According to Bob Harrell of New York airline consultancy Harrell Associates, the airlines employed plenty of tactics to get around pre-deregulation rules about tariffs, which required large numbers of seats sold this way to be part of a tourism promotion."They'd print up five brochures, pass them around, and call it a tour," he says.And just because they're specially negotiated deals doesn't mean you might not be able to find a better published fare on your own.The Backstory To understand what consolidator fares mean today, you'll need a little history.