How to Use Consolidator Airfares:
"Bucket Shop" Fares Reviewed
Bucket shops, or "travel consolidators," are travel agencies who have arrangements with specific airlines to sell international tickets for considerably less than the airline's published fares.
You can indeed save money on bucket shop fares, and experience a completely successful trip abroad. However, this segment of the travel industry contains enough landmines that you should use bucket shops only if you follow the tips given in this article.
Although financially secure vendors like Priceline may match or exceed bucket shop international discounts, and provide you with a more comfortable purchasing experience, the consolidator option is still worth exploring. Their tickets often permit you to change your destination or dates for a fee, which Priceline 'Name your own price' tickets, for example, never allow.
But, study these guidelines and proceed with caution!
How to find a reputable consolidator:
You may see ads for consolidator airfares in major newspapers and on the Internet. However, even though the newspaper or website may have a good reputation, the consolidator which advertises there could be at best, disorganized, and at worst, downright dishonest.
Over the years, I have heard many tales of fly-by-night, shady bucket shops (and have had run-ins with several myself), and so I now use these only if I have a solid recommendation from:
One of the best sources for a reliable bucket shop referral is a friend from the same ethnic group as your destination. If it's comfortable, ask your friend to obtain the price quotation. On many routes, travelers whose families originally came from the destination country get the lowest quotes.
A Cautionary Tale: Follow these tips before using consolidators:
In addition, bucket shop tickets are often marked "non-endorsable." This means that if you miss a connection, you can't be rerouted on another airline. On top of that, you may not have the visa required to leave the airport terminal if you have to wait a day or two. So it's always best to fly with as few connections and airlines as possible.
Have I scared you off?
Some bucket shops are reputable and some are not. I am not promoting them, nor am I saying to stay completely clear. I have used them and saved money.
I just want you to be armed with the best strategies for protecting yourself and setting up a comfortable trip when you find a reputable one. (And, remember the best source is a trusted friend who has used the same bucket shop many times.)
Let's say better safe than sorry, rather than better save than sorry!