Qualifying consolidators

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Want to make good money selling air? Then use consolidators, who can provide "more profit for you, and more flexibility for clients," according to Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles.Cartoon of an airplane equaling the dollar sign.

With either net fares or (often) higher commissions than airlines pay directly to agents, consolidators give agents "a high profit margin product," said Tanzman, speaking at ASTA's Eastern Regional meeting, held at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket, Conn., earlier this month.

Since there's usually no advance purchase needed, you can use consolidators for last-minute tickets. "That's where you can really help your clients," said Tanzman.

But agents need to be extra careful with this segment of the business, she added. She recommended developing a notebook of preferred consolidators that you've checked out extensively. Designate one person in the office to keep the notebook up to date, asking consolidators the following questions:

  • How much play do they offer you in pricing? Do they provide net fares or pay commission? If it's the latter, what's the commission? With net fares, you can usually add 15% to 20% and still have a low enough price to make the consumer happy.
  • What destinations do they serve? Which airlines do they have contracts with? Ask for references at the carriers and actually call to check them out. Conversely, if you're interested in specific carriers or destinations, you also can call your airline reps to find out who their preferred consolidators are.
  • Do they offer business and first class tickets?
  • How long have they been in business? Three to five years is preferable.
  • What are typical yearly sales? "If they've only done one or two million, they're very small," said Tanzman. "You have to wonder if they have clout or if they can get you tickets that you want when you want them."
  • What associations do they belong to? These affiliations -- from ASTA to the Airlines Reporting Corp. -- bring credibility. For Tanzman, "belonging to the United States Tour Operators Association is the best seal of approval."
  • Ask for references of agents who work with them, and call the agents as well.
  • Do they sell directly to the public? If yes, don't deal with them -- they're competing directly with you.
  • Will they allow changes on tickets? And how much will they charge for each change? Ask the company to send you every possible restriction they have in writing, by fax. This is important because fees for cancellations, etc., can be so expensive that they wipe out the savings on the ticket. Ask about advance purchases and Saturday-night stays -- two requirements for regular air tickets that are waived in many cases with consolidators.
  • Do they give clients frequent flyer points? If the answer is no, many clients will say no thanks to consolidators.
  • Will the agency receive credit for sales with airlines? Surprisingly, many airlines will allow credit on consolidator sales. Even if they don't, you should still keep track of carriers you sell through consolidators. When it's time to talk to the airlines about overrides, "you can say, 'Look at what I sold for you, not just on the CRS but also through consolidators.' You can use these sales as a bargaining chip to get better overrides," said Tanzman.
  • Will they accept credit cards? "If they say no, I'd be nervous about using them for an expensive ticket," said Tanzman.
  • Using the credit card is one more leg of protection for the client and for you, since with a credit card, clients can get a refund if they don't get service. In fact, if clients don't book with a credit card, Tanzman recommended getting a waiver from the client "since the extent of your liability just went up," she noted. For example, if someone doesn't make a meeting due to problems with a flight, the potential liability includes not just the cost of a ticket but the loss of revenue from missing that meeting.

  • When is a flight confirmed? It can be at the time of the initial booking or when the consolidator receives payment from the client.
  • Is the fare that you the travel agent paid shown on the ticket? If it's a net fare, "that could be embarrassing," said Tanzman. "You don't need to be put in that position with a client -- you'll lose credibility."
  • Tanzman also provided a list of some of the favorite consolidators in her notebook:

  • Air Tickets, New York, (800) 207-7300
  • Brendan Air, Van Nuys, Calif., (800) 491-9633
  • DER Travel Services, Rosemont, Ill., (800) 717-4247
  • Picasso Travel, Los Angeles, (800) 742-2776 or (310) 645-4763
  • Jetset Tours, Los Angeles, (800) NET-FARE or (323) 290-5800
  • Japan & Orient Tours, San Diego, (800) 877-8111 or (619) 282-4124
  • She also said she'd heard of a consolidator that had net fares on Virgin Atlantic Airways to London -- San Francisco-based Celtic, (800) 789-8555.
  • Ways to make money on air

    Susan Tanzman.More tips on profitable air and consolidator sales from Susan Tanzman, owner of Martin's Travel and Tours in Los Angeles:

  • See if your preferred consolidators can provide you with software offering direct access into their inventory. Using this software enables you do to an initial price check between the consolidator fare and the lowest price on the CRS -- and you might be able to add your price mark-up automatically to the consolidator's net fares, as well.
  • Approach carriers directly if you can give them consistent business. For example, Tanzman was selling 15 roundtrip tickets to Hong Kong every quarter, so she started bargaining directly with the carrier. Now she has good fares for her clients, as well as double-digit commissions.
  • It pays to establish relationships and find one key person to deal with at your preferred consolidators.
  • Think three times before using e-tickets with consolidators. With a foreign carrier going overseas, e-tickets are a definite no-no, said Tanzman, in case a problem comes up. But with a domestic carrier, "I wouldn't be as nervous."
  • Develop a form letter on consolidators that you can send to corporate clients, saying something like, "This is a way to save you money, but you need to follow procedures carefully." This tactic makes "you look extremely professional," said Tanzman. "You're helping them to manage their travel budget, an extra service for them."
  • Missing the train

    Richard Turen.All the industry experts are telling us to jump on the fast track to catch the train speeding down the Internet route. Thousands of sites are opening every millisecond, and 75% seem to have to do with travel. We don't want to be left at the station.

    But wait a moment. Aren't the majority of leisure travelers still 55 years of age and older and non-computer users? Sometimes, we can be more successful doing niche marketing than trying to appeal, with a Web site, to the entire universe of consumers. No one can deny the necessity of being Internet-savvy when it comes to research. But what about the more than 70% of affluent retirees who are not computer-literate?

    I have a feeling that service-oriented, old-fashioned, face-to-face leisure travel sellers will still be able to prosper by identifying that majority of consumers in the nontech niche.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a consulting firm, and president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

    Agent wins contest

    Linda Kirk, an agent at AAA Travel Agency in Sarasota, Fla., has a favorite cruise line -- Holland America Line. That's because she just won $1,999 in the Holland America Bucks Bonanza. An oversized check.

    Kirk booked $300,000 worth of Holland America products between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, 1998 -- the most of any agency in the country. She received her model of an enormous check and a bouquet of flowers during a special morning staff meeting.

    Pictured from left are Rosa Maduca, director of travel agency operations, AAA Auto Club South; Gary Lewis, regional director, AAA Auto Club South; Lynda Hines, division manager of the Sarasota Downtown Auto Club South office; the winner, Kirk; Jim Sweat, managing director of travel services, AAA Auto Club South; Heidi Jo Olsen, district sales manager, Holland America Line, and Gary Halloran, travel manager of the Sarasota Downtown AAA travel agency office.

    International car rental hints

    Imad Khalidi. Imad Khalidi, president of Portland, Maine-based Auto Europe, offers these tips for booking international car rentals:

  • Book ahead. It is always less expensive to book rentals before departure; you could save clients up to 50%.
  • Beware of bait-and-switch. Some rental companies do not quote all the mandatory surcharges, taxes and fees in their prices. Be sure to compare "apples to apples" when shopping for rates; make sure the cars are the same or comparable and that the same surcharges and taxes are included in the rates.
  • Warn clients they'll be getting smaller cars. Be sure your clients have realistic expectations about the number of people and amount of luggage. Cars in other countries generally have bucket seats in front, which can accommodate only two people.
  • Rental fleets vary from country to country. A car that may be considered an intermediate in one country could be classified as a compact in another.
  • Rental cars in other countries always have manual transmissions unless the voucher specifically states an automatic has been reserved.
  • When making a reservation, be sure to mention every country your clients will visit by car. There are restrictions on luxury models entering Italy, and most vehicles cannot be driven into eastern Europe.
  • In most cases, domestic one-way rentals have no additional fees. International one-way fees can be substantial; keep this in mind when planning an itinerary.
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