Consolidator airfares are a great way to take care of your clients’ ticketing needs while increasing your sales and profits. Through the course of the sales and ticketing process, you will inevitably find the consolidator agent to be indispensable. These agents are specialists in air consolidation, and without their knowledge, efficiency, and attention to detail, it would not be possible for home-based agencies like mine to build substantial business in airline ticketing.
For that reason, I see great value in investing the time and effort to build relationships with consolidator agents. Here are a few ideas to consider:
• Once you have identified consolidators whose policies and procedures are good match for your ticketing needs, find a particular agent at each vendor’s office that you work well with. This may involve some trial-and-error, but the choice of a consolidator counterpart is one of the most important decisions you will make in regard to your air ticketing business.
• Take the time to educate them about your ticketing needs, whether you serve a specialty niche market, focus on certain destinations, or have clients who are very particular.
• Reach out to these individuals:
* Ask about each consolidator agent’s preferences when it comes to itinerary requests and ticketing. For example, the agents I work with send me air itineraries with quoted fares. Once we agree on an itinerary and fare that will work for my clients, then I send the agent the passport names so they can place the seats on a courtesy hold. By contrast, some consolidator agents prefer service requests with the passport names provided upfront. Another example is that some consolidator agents like handling last-minute ticketing requests, while others may not. Make sure you understand what works best for your counterpart, and at the same time, be sure that it works well for you. Clarity at the outset will help ensure that the work flows smoothly.
* Ask for the agent’s work schedule and the time zone they are in. Always keep it in mind, and give them your same information in return. Nothing is more frustrating than being faced with a barrage of urgent voice messages first thing in the morning, or being pummeled with rush requests fifteen minutes before their shift ends. Your consolidator agent will appreciate your efforts to make their job easier, and he or she may be more apt to lend a hand when you need it most.
* Let them know you value their opinions and advice. Consolidator agents are a great resource, especially for home-based agents who may not have access to GDS systems. If you are not familiar with the airline or flight routing options for a particular itinerary, let them know so they can advise you. Always let the consolidator agent check the fare rules and any restrictions that might apply before you issue a quote to a client. If there is ever anything you are unsure about, ask. This is their area of expertise, and this is why we need them!
* Cultivate your consolidator agent relationships in much the same way as you would that of a client. Ask how their day is going, and get to know them as people. Email them your agency’s holiday greeting, and let them know if you’re going to be away on vacation. They will extend these same courtesies to you. As they get to know you, you will find that they will do whatever they can to help you ticket as many of your client requests as possible.
* Reward their efforts with repeat business. Loyalty counts, and when a consolidator agent offers you a great fare that helped you secure a sale, send that person future requests. When they help you ticket, they are also making a commission, so if you do not send them requests, they are missing out on the potential to earn. The more ticketing you do with one consolidator and specific agent, the more incentive they will have to give you low fares or offer special assistance in the future.
My experience may be atypical, but I am offering these tips because I have seen them work first-hand. I believe in investing in these one-on-one relationships with consolidator agents because it really is a win-win situation. The more airline reservations they are able to help you ticket, the more everyone makes.
I have consolidator agents who care so much about me and my agency that they email me on their days off just to make sure everything I need is taken care of. One agent sometimes calls me from her cell phone after hours on the East Coast to ask if my e-ticketing confirmations came through. These same agents have stayed late to help me complete last-minute ticketing, guided me through countless harrowing itineraries and changes, called international airports to help resolve clients’ issues while traveling, and stood up for me even in the most seemingly-impossible situations. I am proud to call these agents my colleagues and proud of the business they have helped me build.
From my perspective, I see international air ticketing is a division of service that could become the very core of a travel business. For travel agents who handle air arrangements for clients, working with a consolidator is a great way to increase productivity, sales, and overall profitability. Investing your time and efforts to build strong working relationships with your consolidator agents will prove to be a key element in your successful air ticketing business.
Adrienne Mitra is the owner of Celebrations International Travel, Inc., an independent agency focused on serving a number of niche markets, including culinary travel, cruises, tours, all-inclusive resorts, and group travel.