A consolidator rate or fare is a deeply discounted rate offered through a third-party travel provider, like Hotwire or Priceline. Airfares, hotel rooms and rental cars are time-sensitive products. If an airline doesn’t sell a seat before a flight departs, it loses the opportunity to generate any revenue from that seat, ever. The same holds true for unsold hotel rooms and unrented cars. Because their products have a hard expiration date, travel providers use sophisticated computer systems to monitor their bookings. These systems adjust pricing and offer other incentives if bookings are slow, with the goal of getting every seat filled, every room booked or every car rented.
But as good as these systems are, supply and demand are not always evenly matched. And travel companies – to protect their brand image and pricing models – are unwilling to offer last-minute fares of $50 just to sell a seat. That’s were travel consolidators come in.
When airlines, hotels and rental car companies have unsold inventory, they will sometimes let travel consolidators try to sell some of this extra space at lower rates than they would be comfortable advertising publicly. These prices are so deeply discounted that they are only available through “blind booking”. You will have to commit to a prepaid, nonrefundable rate before knowing the airline, hotel or rental car company. With airline tickets, you won’t know the exact time of departure, either – you’ll be able to narrow your search based on windows of time, but the full details are only revealed after you complete the booking.
Consolidator rates can make for a great travel deal, but come with the following restrictions:
- They are prepaid, nonrefundable and usually not changeable
- You’ll have to book blind, meaning you won’t know the travel provider before completing (and paying for) the booking
- You won’t earn frequent flyer miles or other loyalty program benefits such as upgrades or late checkout
(Mistakes do happen, and sometimes you’ll earn miles or points for a consolidator rate, but this is the exception, not the rule.)
Because consolidator rates do not accrue loyalty program benefits, I recommend using them sparingly. Sometimes the savings will be good enough to justify sacrificing miles and points, but usually not. The best use of consolidators is for rental cars, as discounts can be significant and you’re not sacrificing very many miles for the cost savings.
Have you blind booked on Hotwire, Priceline or other consolidator sites? What have your experiences been?