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Purchasing Air Tickets
A regular ticket is also called full fare ticket or full priced ticket. It comes directly out of the airline's ticket pool. It is issued by any travel agency using an airline ticket pricing system or directly purchased from the web site or on the internet.
You can get a regular ticket either from a travel agent or directly from the airline, either on the airline web site or from the airline office.
As airlines are aware that they would not be able to sell every single ticket on every flight, they reserve a block of seats for 'consolidators'. A consolidator is an agency or company that has a contract with a given airline (or multiple airlines sometimes) to sell these consolidated tickets, that come from a special pool. Most of the times consolidated tickets are considerably cheaper than regular tickets, unless the airline is running a special/sale on regular tickets. Many times the airlines will be running special deals or price wars/reductions.
Consolidated tickets work out to be much cheaper for US<-->India trip and are mostly sold by travel agencies that are run by Indians (persons in India or persons in the U.S. but of Indian origin.) You can't usually buy a consolidated ticket directly from the airline. It may be possible that you can first make a reservation with the airline and then buy it from a travel agent. This may not always work, since airlines may be overbooked during peak periods. Some travel agents buy blocks of seats from airlines.
Some agents claim to be a consolidator even when they are not. There really is no good way to check if an agent is a consolidator for an airline. All consolidators sell to other agents. It doesn't make any difference if an agent is a consolidator or not.
You may buy a ticket either in India or in US. For India-US-India trip, it may be cheaper to buy a ticket in India if you are going to make payment in Indian Rupees. For US-India-US trip, it may be cheaper to buy a ticket in the US if you are going to make payment in US dollars. No harm in checking at both places though.
Unfortunately, unlike domestic travel in India, air ticket prices are not fixed and vary a lot from time to time and from agent to agent. Therefore, a person needs to do a lot of research, home work and shopping around to purchase airline tickets.
It might be safer if the travel agency has been appointed by "ARC" and "IATAN" and is a member of "ASTA" and has been in operation for a long period of time.
If you already have a booking, and you are just shopping around for a price, you should mention to the agent about the reservations you made with the airlines directly. You should just ask for a price quote, else you run the risk of that travel agent taking over your ticketing without your prior authorization. Of course, you have to check whether the price the travel agent is quoting is for the booking you made or for the new booking agent is going to make. Just because an agent quoted you a price, do not expect that price to be guaranteed unless you actually finalize the purchase. That means, you agreed to buy the ticket from the agent, at that price, at that time. Ticket prices can change, and most agents will quote you their current price, which may be higher or lower than what you were quoted earlier. You may mention the previous quote and see if the agent will honor it.
Make sure not to call several agents and give them your passenger list. If you do so, many agents will book you on the same airline, and that can result in multiple bookings which are automatically cancelled by the airline, through no fault of the agent.
Also, if one agents tells you that there are no seats available, first contact the airline and confirm that the flight is indeed full, then have one agent you trust put you on the waiting list, then just wait for it and take the chance if you intend to go in that airline on that day. Once you put yourself in the waiting list with one agent, do not call several other agents and let them put you in a waiting list with the same airline for the same flight. If that happens, you are wait listed for same flight multiple times. When your name comes up for confirmation, most airline computers detect your name more than once and auto-cancel you. Now you have lost your chance altogether.
Charging to Credit card
While purchasing airline tickets, it is safer to pay using a credit card. But many travel agents charge 3-4% for using credit card. It would be extremely difficult for a good travel agent to offer the same price to you whether you pay cash or with
a credit card. Every credit card company charges a transaction fee. And someone has to pay that fee. If you are looking for cheapest possible ticket, you have to pay the credit card processing fee, as that is the cost that is simply passed on to you. After all, a travel agent has only a limited profit margin and if he is offering cheapest ticket, he can't afford to pay credit card fees also. Otherwise those who don't want to charge are paying higher price because the cost of credit card processing will be added to every ticket. The practice of charging extra for credit cards may or may not be legal. You can report it to the local business authorities and the credit card company but it depends whether they will (or can) do anything.
However, it is possible to pay by credit card while purchasing a 'regular ticket' as in that case, airline is bearing the credit card processing fee.
Also insist on getting the credit slip (customer's copy) after you pay by credit card. This will help you with the paper work with the credit card companies, Better Business Bureau etc. in case you are owed a refund and the agent gives trouble.
To avoid paying extra on the credit card or for agents who don't accept cards, you may want to send the payment using the transaction checks that credit card companies provide, sometimes without charging any transaction fee. If you do this, check with the agent beforehand if they will charge extra or not. Also, many credit card companies treat these checks same as cash advances - you start paying finance charges the moment it is cashed. You may want to check with your credit card company as to their policies.
You should ask the agent to fax you the itinerary once you book your tickets. If the agent can't fax it to you immediately, you should ask them to read it to you to make sure there are no spelling mistakes in names, age, travel dates etc. Most airlines don't allow an incorrect name to be changed without a fee. However, if there is a minor error like letter is left out or incorrect, they may make an exception and charge you no fee. You should contact the agent if you realize the error after you get the ticket.
Insist on a computer generated ticket. Sometimes, airlines may not accept hand written ticket, especially in the U.S. Also make sure that the box marked 'Status' says 'OK'. If not, you don't have confirmed tickets. Insist that the agent give you confirmed tickets. Don't depend on the agent to confirm your tickets for you. If at all possible, before you pay the agent, call the airline and check if your tickets are confirmed if the agent claims they are. If they aren't, then give your agent a hard time. If they are, then save the confirmation number. Ask the Airline to fax you a copy of the confirmation. This will usually have your confirmation number on it. It comes in useful later if there is a dispute. When checking the booking with the Airline, make sure you check the passenger name(s) and flights/times. Always verify with the airline(s) that the entire trip is confirmed before you leave. Confirm each and every leg of the flight individually. Some travel agents have been known to lie about it.
If you pay by check, make sure that the address on the check is correct or the travel agent may send you the tickets at your old address. Make sure to strike off your old address on the check and write clear instructions to send the tickets to the correct address.
In most cases you need to keep calling the agent to remind him/her to mail you the tickets in time. It is best if you can pick up the tickets in person. Many agents send tickets by certified mail or courier service like Fed Ex, UPS, Airborne etc automatically, make sure that they will do that. And also make sure who will bear the cost of such mail service. Even if it cost $10-$15 more for you, it is well worth the money as agents are not responsible for tickets lost in the mail and it is too much of a headache to replace them.
Check the backside of the ticket to see if the ticket was altered by the agent in any manner.
Problems with your agent
If a travel agent owes you a refund and gives you a hard time about it, you may try approaching the Better Business Bureau. It works sometimes.
In case of a dispute with out-of-state travel agents, even if one wins the case in the courts of one's home state, one still has to move the case to the courts of the other state and try and collect there. Quite impractical. It is better to buy tickets from a travel agent who you can visit in person if some problem arises, even if it costs little more. It is well worth it.