During your travel searches, you may have heard industry terms and acronyms thrown around. Travel search terms like Consolidator, Aggregator, Metasearch, OTA and opaque fares. Ever wondered what they mean and how they differ from each other? Does it matter which you search to find the best deal?

Honestly, the terms are confusing with definitions of each constantly changing and sometimes blurred between each other. Here are descriptions of each to help de-mystify and navigate through the complex travel search world.


Consolidators are in effect wholesalers who buy blocks of seats at bargain prices from airlines and sell to travel agents at a mark up. Prices are typically locked in 6-8 weeks prior to travel dates. Consolidators buy tickets from airlines at special rates and resell them direct to travelers or to travel agents.

When purchasing from Consolidators, you may not be offered advance seat selection and you may not be able to collect frequent flier miles. What you lose in flexibility, you gain in cost savings.

Consolidators include:  Cheaptickets.com, Airfare.com, AirlineConsolidator.com


Aggregators collect results from travel sites and list them in one place for easy comparison shopping. However, for the final booking, aggregators send you to the airline, hotel, cruise, car rental or online travel agency to complete and buy the ticket. Aggregators generate revenue from advertising and referring searchers to online travel agents.

Aggregators include: Skyscanner, Cheapflights, Hipmunk, Momondo, Kayak

Metasearch engines

Metasearch engines compare, list or ‘screen scrape’ travel searches over various travel search engines. You can compare rates at-a-glance but metasearch engines, don’t sell inventory. When you book you’re contacting the hotel or airline and the metasearch engine receives a referral fee. Some metasearch’s are starting to provide options where you book the hotel directly (like TripAdvisor), offering the advantage of both metasearch and online travel agent.

Metasearch sites:  Travelocity, Trivago

But wait, it’s not that easy! 

Metasearch engines alias Aggregators

To add to the confusion, sometimes the travel search term ‘metasearch engine’ and ‘aggregator’ are used interchangeably — they both scour other sites to compile data in one place. Metasearch engines typically use dozens (sometimes up to 200) online travel agents, and other aggregators to find the best deals.

That’s why you may see Priceline and Expedia listed as aggregators in one place and as metasearch’s in another.


OTA stands for Online Travel Agent. It is a travel agency that actually does the booking and is the lone site responsible for everything you buy through them. Aggregators receive feeds from OTAs and list them with other options in one place. An aggregator sends the traveler to the OTA to purchase the ticket. OTAs pay aggregators for sending them clients.

OTA’s include: Priceline Group, now Booking Holdings (Booking.com, Priceline.com, KAYAK, rentalcars.com) and Expedia Group,Inc. (Hotels.com, Expedia) and TripAdvisor Inc (tripadvisor.com)

Opaque fares

When you can’t see the name of the hotel or airline while you’re shopping, that is an opaque fare site. Typically, the listing will read like: “Major Airline, departing between 4pm to 8pm.” After the purchase is made, the name of the airline or hotel is visible. These tickets are non-refundable.

Opaque fare sites: Hotwire, Priceline

So you can see, the travel search industry is complex and multi-dimensional. Having insight into terminology will help to understand which are best to check for your travel search.

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