Q: I read about consolidators all the time. Which ones are reliable? What are the negatives in using one?
A: Consolidators (also known as ticket wholesalers) do indeed sometimes have lower fares than you'll find with a retail travel agency such as Travelocity or your local travel agent (although sometimes these agents can sell you consolidated tickets).
But there are drawbacks. Consolidators have a history of going out of business without a trace. Indeed, a very large and well known consolidator based in Washington DC went out of business several years back, leaving passengers stranded. This agency had been in business for many years and then just went poof.
So if it can happen to a big agency, it can also happen to the hundreds of smaller mom and pop agencies out there.
Consolidator fares tend not to be so much lower during peak travel periods or seasons, and the best fares are in the shoulder or off seasons when travel slackens.
Also, consolidator fares don't come with the same "rights" or protections that full retail fares have. You may not be able to collect frequent flyer miles or get advance seat selection. And should you miss your flight or need to cancel or change it for any reason, the ticket may have no value whatsoever--you can just rip it up. This happened to a reader of ours who arrived at the airport for an international flight with just 60 minutes to spare due to a traffic jam. He and his wife were told that although there were seats available on the next flight out (he had missed check in for his original flight), they'd have to buy full fare last minute economy fares.
And, if the airline cancels or delays your flight, they probably won't "protect" you on another airline flying the route, as they might with a "real" ticket. You'll have to wait for your original airline's next flight with space available.
It's kind of like buying electronics or a camera on the "gray market." You just don't get a full USA warranty!
Besides which, if you track our lists of unadvertised "retail" fares and our airfare blog entries, you'll find deals that even consolidators can't match, without the risk. See our best deals from your city.