Saturday, February 23, 2008

Consolidator Fares to Europe

Well, today is the day we pick up the XC90 in Charlottesville, and it's great to be able to say that after two years of casual looking and two years of off-and-on test driving, we've finally found The Car, the one that we can hold onto for years to come. Who knows? JieJie and MeiMei might be learning to drive on this one. It's heartening to me when I see ancient Volvos still trucking along, and all of the Volvo owners we've polled seem to have an attachment to the brand. We've even heard such True Believer lines as "I'd never drive anything else, especially with kids."

You may recall that we had gotten interested in Volvo partly because of the Overseas Delivery program, but opted to by a used one locally instead. It means that when it comes to our Belgium trip this summer, we're responsible for our airfare (which would have been free under the OSD program).

And airfares are...gulp...not cheap right now!

And when I asked Carlson Wagonlit Travel's local office to do some research for me, the best they could come up with was $1100/person flying JFK-Dublin-Amsterdam. I was told it was more expensive to fly into Brussels, and that there were no competitive fares from Dulles, our first-choice airport.

Then the CWT rep said something that made my eyebrows wrinkle. When I said "of course the kids' fares will be discounted from that, right?" He didn't seem to know anything about this common practice. So I realized, I'm on my own. Travel agencies make more from selling tours and packages anyway, so you have to understand that they're not going to bend over backwards to get you a good airfare when that's all you want.

Luckily, I know about Consolidator Fares. Consolidators buy empty seats from airlines and sell them at a discount. You have to pay attention to restrictions and other fine print, but these can be really good deals. For example, we bought tickets to China in 2002 through Lotus Travel by purchasing $1300 travel certificates redeemable for roundtrips (business class) from LA to Guangzhou. Full disclosure: I liked Lotus so much, I actually work for them marketing heritage tours to China for families, adoptive and non-adoptive, who would like to explore China together. But Lotus is an Asia-focused agency, so when it comes to Europe, I'm on my own.

I Googled "Consolidator airfare Europe" and came up with, and some promising discounts. A cursory search from IAD to BRU on our desired travel dates came up with $984 for an adult ticket and $895 for a child ticket. This is a NON-stop on Lufthansa that wouldn't require us to leave or arrive at bizarre times. Similar fares were available on United.

I'll be researching for the next few weeks and we expect to purchase tickets in late March or April, and I'll let you know what I turn up. For great articles on gaming the airfare system, I highly recommend Rudy Maxa (NPR's "Savvy Traveler" or Rick Steves (his PBS counterpart), both of whom have extensive travel-oriented websites.


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You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...