I’ll stop ragging on travel magazines now and point out that even the most annoying ones do usually contain a few good nuggets of wisdom each issue. A recent Conde Nast Traveler issue had a helpful piece, “Rock-bottom airfares come with some caveats.”
While researching Traveler’s Tool Kit: Mexico and Central America with Rob Sangster (out in February), I found that things have definitely changed since I lived in New York and routinely bought overseas airline tickets from some bucket shop, from ads placed in the Sunday New York Times. As this article points out, those deals are still around, but they are harder to find and they come with lots of restrictions.
In short, these consolidator tickets are sold by specialized low-profile travel agents, usually serving an immigrant community. One may specialize in flights to Eastern Europe out of Chicago, another may specialize in flights to India from New York or Latin America from L.A. The savings can be significant as the agency is usually buying excess inventory or has a special bulk pricing deal with the airline. The downsides are plenty though. You may have to pay extra to use a credit card (but you should do it to be protected), you won’t earn frequent flyer miles, and the airline doesn’t have to put you on another carrier if there’s a major delay–even if it’s their fault. If you get sick and have to delay your flight, too bad. Use it or lose it.
If you are sure of your plans though or are getting a ticket at the last minute, it’s worth checking into, especially if you are in a major city in the U.S. or Europe. The test the writer ran in the story linked above showed that the consolidator won on price every time, sometimes beating out what was on Kayak.com by a couple of hundred dollars. To find these “ethnic travel agencies” check the Yellow Pages, the local foreign language press, or the flyers posted in ethnic food stores. Happy hunting!