Choosing to work with an airline consolidator is one of the best decisions you can make as a travel agent. Just like everything else in life, you want to make sure the company you work with is reputable. So how do you determine if an airline consolidator is trustworthy? There are several different ways to vet a consolidator before you work with them.
What is an airline consolidator?
Consolidators make their business through the purchase of bulk airline tickets from airlines. After which, they resell those tickets to travel agents at a discounted rate, often as much as 40-60% off published fares. In this way, agents can earn a good commission for themselves while nabbing clients a great deal on the price of airfare. When an agent has thousands of dollars of commissions on the line, it’s important they have a consolidator they can trust. Here are some of the ways you can tell if a consolidator is reputable:
Length x depth x breadth
This may sound like the measurement for a new book shelf, but it’s also an easy way to remember three important factors to consider when researching an airline consolidator.
As in length of time the consolidator has been around. The longer they’ve been in business, the more experience and knowledge they’ll be able to offer travel agents who work with them. Additionally, keep an eye out for the consolidator’s presence at industry trade shows. Is the consolidator willing to put themselves out there and make connections in the travel community?
How deep do their relationships with airlines run? If a consolidator is only working with a handful of airlines, you may want to consider a different company. For one, you will be very limited as to the destinations, frequent flyer memberships, etc. If a consolidator is partnered with many different airlines, that gives travel agents a large pool of fares and destinations to choose from, and it demonstrates that the consolidator has taken the time to foster good relationships.
What is the scope of their services? How many countries, seating classes, and services do they offer? Many clients are happy to secure a cheap seat in coach, but there are just as many who insist on flying in business or first class. As a travel agent, you don’t want to lose their business. Having a reputable consolidator, who can accommodate the needs of all travelers, ensures you earn commissions on all manner of seating.
Also, if a consolidator has not branched out to offer fares from a variety of different countries, it raises some questions. Maybe they aim to play it safe and only offer fares to common destinations. This won’t help you when a client wants to visit somewhere off the beaten path. Make sure to do thorough research on the types and number of destinations offered by an airline consolidator.
How to Tell if a Consolidator is Trustworthy
There are several key features that tell you if an airline consolidator is reputable.
In the era of online reviews, it’s easy to see what people are saying about a company. Google, Yelp, and Facebook all allow customers to post reviews. However, most people are only interested in posting negative reviews. If someone has a positive experience, most of the time they will go about their day, not really interested in sharing their satisfaction with the world. When a company treats someone poorly, this is greater motivation to write a review. After all, you don’t want others to make the same mistake in putting their trust in a bad company.
People are also prone to exaggeration. If someone is slightly dissatisfied with a company, they may blow their experience out of proportion in their review. This makes it difficult to decipher the ratings of an airline consolidator. Here are some other ways to tell if a consolidator is trustworthy:
Does the airline consolidator have individualized email addresses for their employees or a general email like firstname.lastname@example.org? Companies that create personalized email addresses for their employees are more trustworthy because it gives you a more personal (read: human) point of contact.
Are there physical offices you can visit? If not, how can you be sure the company is legitimate? No physical offices should raise a red flag. Being able to go in person and make connections with a consolidator is crucial. Some consolidators, like Sky Bird Travel & Tours, have as many as a dozen offices across the country.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that an airline consolidator is reputable is whether or not they are members of industry organizations, as well as third party accreditation services. ISO-9000, for instance, rates companies across a variety of industries and judges their performance based on strict standards for excellence. While this accreditation is not specific to the travel industry, consolidators who achieve the ISO-9000 certification have gone to great lengths to ensure the quality of their services.
Several accreditations to lookout for include:
The United States Air Consolidators Association requires all members have at least two years of uninterrupted service to travel agencies. Most members have over 10, some as much as 40. Additionally, you must have a good history of working with travel agents and meet specific financial and business requirements.
The American Society of Travel Agents is the largest group for travel agents in the world. Its members must adhere to a strict code of ethics for all members. Its mission: “facilitate the business of selling travel through effective representation, shared knowledge and the enhancement of professionalism.” ASTA has helped block legislation that would pass on fees to travel agents and their clients. They’ve also helped defeat regulation that would be a detriment to agents. As such, being a member of ASTA shows that a consolidator is committed to helping their clients not only secure airfare but also succeed in other aspects of their career.
The United States Tour Operators Association’s primary goal is to promote integrity within the tour operator industry. Its mission is to foster trust in the traveling public – something travel agents need in the era of online travel when anyone can book their own airfare, lodging, and cruises. Like ASTA, it requires members to follow a strict set of industry standards, one of which is concerns ethical conduct. All members must accurately present info on tours and prices. Consolidators that are members of USTOA should therefore be upfront about taxes and fees when you book through them.
Always do your research and make sure the consolidator you choose to work is trustworthy. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – a reputable consolidator will be able to show you all their accreditations and certifications. Consider things like the consolidator’s age, the number of airlines they work with, the scope of their seating classes and destinations, and how frequently they interact with the travel community via tradeshows. If you’re still unsure, consult a travel agency and see why they put their trust in a particular consolidator.