Last Minute Ticket Counters At Airports: How Do They Work?

Last Minute Ticket Counters At Airports: How Do They Work?

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I can’t be the only one who has ever wondered this… or maybe I am.

Frankfurt Airport’s last minute ticket counters

As much as Frankfurt Airport is a hot mess (minus the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, of course), I can’t help but have a soft spot for the check-in hall, and especially the traditional flip board flight status monitors. There is one thing I’ve noticed in the check-in hall a countless number of times over the years, and I’ve always been curious about it.

Frankfurt Airport Terminal 1 check-in hall

Between the check-in desks that belong to airlines, there are all kinds of counters for different companies claiming to sell last minute tickets for travel on all airlines. Interestingly they all have different branding, suggesting they each belong to a different company. I’d say the desks are occupied more often than not during busy periods, though I rarely actually see anyone approach the counters.

Last minute ticket desks at Frankfurt Airport
Last minute ticket desks at Frankfurt Airport
Last minute ticket desks at Frankfurt Airport

What purpose do last minute ticket counters serve?

I’d be fascinated to know who these last minute ticket counters are targeting, and what they’re actually offering:

  • Are these businesses targeting those who may have missed their flights, or just those looking for a last minute deal? I would think that most people looking for a last minute ticket would go online, rather than saying “let me go to that last minute ticket desk in the terminal”
  • Do these last minute ticket desks actually have deals better than what you can find online, or are they basically just offering you what’s publicly available online? I know airfare consolidators exist, but advertising that you can offer last minute tickets on all airlines suggests that the deal aspect of this might be limited
  • I could see the value in something like this in a market where in-person ticketing is still common, and where people pay for travel by cash, etc., but Germany isn’t really a market like that (especially in a bigger city like Frankfurt)
  • Are these companies just working on commissions, or do they charge fees for ticketing?
  • Why are there so many companies doing this, and how different are the offerings between them? Do people comparison shop between them?

I have to imagine that these businesses make some money, or else they wouldn’t be renting space at the airport and paying people to sit there. But I also feel like I must be missing something, because I can’t make sense of this.

OMAAT readers collectively know just about everything, so I’m hoping that’s the case here too. Please enlighten me.

Bottom line

Frankfurt Airport’s last minute ticket counters in the check-in hall have always piqued my curiosity. There seem to be several companies selling last minute tickets on all airlines. But in the age of electronic ticketing and online travel agencies, what point do these serve? Are these companies just travel agencies that can book you at the standard cost on any airline, and it’s meant for those who aren’t tech savvy, or is there more to it?

Anyone have any insights? Am I the only one who has been curious about these counters (please, even if you’re not a frequent commenter, I’d be so happy to hear that I’m not the only one who wonders about these kinds of things)?

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  1. Anon Guest

    I used to run a small profitable business just like this in the 90's & 2000's.
    We literally can pull seats out of nowhere, trust me. Although some flights run on overbooking there are such things as dup bookings, fictitious PNR's, TBA name changes all happening on high density routes at peak times.
    Sell or switch sell a few a day and you've gotten yourself a living!

  2. STEFFL Gold

    @Stefan pointed things out mostly right!
    . . . the counters you saw Ben, are usually owned and run by ex Turkish people, but most of the counters on the Level you've been to are OLD Ticket Counters from "former" Business Travel Agencies from the 70's-90's, way before E-tickets existed, so huge Companies had a representative at the Airport, if somebody booked a flight maybe the day of the departure but did not have...

    @Stefan pointed things out mostly right!
    . . . the counters you saw Ben, are usually owned and run by ex Turkish people, but most of the counters on the Level you've been to are OLD Ticket Counters from "former" Business Travel Agencies from the 70's-90's, way before E-tickets existed, so huge Companies had a representative at the Airport, if somebody booked a flight maybe the day of the departure but did not have the time to get into the city of Frankfurt or close by Wiesbaden or Aschaffenburg . . . . those Business Travel Agents had Counters at Terminal 1, for those passengers still needing to pick up there issued Paperticket for the flights booked, that's why those counters were originally opened, back then, but as Stefan pointed out, there purpose has changed now and usually is for Turkish people now, who had trouble with there original booking or even have bern bumped from a booked flights and have no cellphone or modern tech, but still try to fly home to family on the day they planned to fly, but unexpected things happened. Then, those counters sell tickets as they speak the language too at crazy prices to these mostly elderly and overwhelmed people and families, just to get where they want.
    But originally, those counters were for Business Travelers, still needing to collect there flight tickets (Paperticket area till early 2000's) and offered the Service, so the just minutes before the flight booked trip was ticketed while the client gets to the airport and the tickets then could be collected there, by the flying passenger. For Last Minute Vacation trips, which is still very common in Germany to book for same day departure (mostly to Holiday Destinations!) there is a ton of counters 1 level up in Terminal 1 at FRA. Called "Reisemarkt" all kinds of suppliers, that sell different packages and also flight only things, for sometimes amazing prizes! NOT for Ben! . . . 99% it's only Economy Flights. I myself once got a €99,- flight on SQ FRA-JFK-FRA, with set dates of course incl. all taxes, that was amazing, but also the only time i would ever put 1 foot on an SQ flight in my life. Absolutely TERRIBLE Crew, Service and so unprofessional from Check-in to Crew attitude and Service . . . I'll NEVER spend 1 cent on that airline again! https://atd-flugreisen.de/kontakt one example, but see the photo. That's why those counters downstairs on the departure level are there "originally". They're old, old, old . . . but as Stefan wrote already, taken over by 1 Turkish Travelagent "Gang" by now!

  3. D J C Guest

    I haven’t used these but I have bought last minute tickets at airports before. Airline websites often stop ticket sales 4-12 hours ahead of the flight time, so if you want to catch a flight immediately you have to just show up and buy a ticket there.

    That said, I’ve always used a counter that more or less seemed to be staffed by airlines or closely affiliated folks, whereas this looks like a more bad...

    I haven’t used these but I have bought last minute tickets at airports before. Airline websites often stop ticket sales 4-12 hours ahead of the flight time, so if you want to catch a flight immediately you have to just show up and buy a ticket there.

    That said, I’ve always used a counter that more or less seemed to be staffed by airlines or closely affiliated folks, whereas this looks like a more bad news sales office. I guess I will try never to end up in this situation in FRA. The other offices have all been very reasonable, price wise.

  4. Chris Guest

    I have been through that hall more times than I can count and I have also always wondered about those counters!

  5. Stefan Guest

    Lots of people write lots of BS in these comments which is more fascinating than the topic itself.

    To shine light on this: They are all owned by the same family (or wider circle) of Turkish immigrants that have been around for decades. They occupy so many counters just to push any competition out, even though there are more such counters with different owners on the upper mezzanine. Their business model has changed a bit...

    Lots of people write lots of BS in these comments which is more fascinating than the topic itself.

    To shine light on this: They are all owned by the same family (or wider circle) of Turkish immigrants that have been around for decades. They occupy so many counters just to push any competition out, even though there are more such counters with different owners on the upper mezzanine. Their business model has changed a bit over the years as the travel distribution market has evolved. Now they offer a range of services such as last minute package tours, flights at common rates plus ticketing fees and helping passenger issuing/applying for electronic travel authorizations (with a high fee involved as well). I have gotten quotes from them in the past, they were never competitive and always came across as unfriendly dodgy.

    If one really wants last minute deals and buy at the airport then look for the LTUR counter, probably still the most reputable Last Minute supplier in the German market.

  6. Sean M. Diamond

    Speaking from my experience at another German airport where I set up our airline's flight operations many years ago, these counters basically serve as customer support desk for package tour passengers on charter flights. You need to have rented space at the airport to get airport pass accreditation for your representatives, so these are the best way for the tour operators to achieve that. They can also do sales, but usually that is for last...

    Speaking from my experience at another German airport where I set up our airline's flight operations many years ago, these counters basically serve as customer support desk for package tour passengers on charter flights. You need to have rented space at the airport to get airport pass accreditation for your representatives, so these are the best way for the tour operators to achieve that. They can also do sales, but usually that is for last minute stuff like excess baggage collection, etc.. There is nothing special about the fares they can access at the airport relative to any other location. Most of these are set up for the bucket-and-spade tour passengers rather than for a sophisticated frequent flyer who uses scheduled airlines.

    1. Stefan Guest

      Nah those are different. The counters that support such customers are still there but usually they're branded with the various agency names that are still around. I remember in the old days when you had to "pick up your tickets at the airport" for last minute bookings and this might still be the case sometimes for hotel vouchers of package tours. The counters Lucky refers to are dodgy Turkish hustlers who occupied these lower floor counters since the 80s.

  7. iamhere Guest

    Agree with Chris about asking them. This article is pointless. You're just guessing what you think rather than asking the staff and customers. It is also probably for local EU flights.

  8. Geoff Guest

    On a similar, but unrelated note: Does anyone know what the companies selling “taxis” do at airports? I’ve seen several outlets, staffed, under a sign saying various things including “taxi to hotel”, “taxi to city centre” etc, but I’m not sure what they do or how they make money? Anyone who can shed some light will be my new hero

    1. Benjamin Perley Guest

      They get to rip you off on a taxi for a fixed price, but for way less than what an actual taxi driver would rip you off for. They also tend to speak multiple languages and write the destination down clearly. Seems pretty silly now in the age of smartphones and metered taxis.

    2. Kevin H Guest

      I use them all the time when arriving in BKK. I never found the price to be overly inflated and by paying up front I don't have to worry about the metered taxi taking the LONG way or any other kind of issues with the driver.
      Its also usually a bigger vehicle and they carry your luggage. After a Long Haul flight. Its nice not to worry.

  9. Alex Guest

    You can check their brochures, the sell last minute, meaning same or next day packages of tour flights. I.e flight to Crete with food and Hotel. Same as L‘Tur online, except u show with luggage and all travelers to pick a place that still has space.

    1. Alex Guest

      In Munich it’s on the rental car floor.

  10. Andy Diamond

    I think their main business are unsold package tours, i.e. packages including flight+hotel+transfers. This is not the way I spend my holidays, but some of my co-workers do travel with such package tours. Just to be clear: No points or status benefits …

    Since they are travel agencies, they can also book airline tickets and this is their second business line, in particular if travelers don’t want to compare fares themselves. Again, it’s mostly not...

    I think their main business are unsold package tours, i.e. packages including flight+hotel+transfers. This is not the way I spend my holidays, but some of my co-workers do travel with such package tours. Just to be clear: No points or status benefits …

    Since they are travel agencies, they can also book airline tickets and this is their second business line, in particular if travelers don’t want to compare fares themselves. Again, it’s mostly not those want to travel directly in premium cabins, but those who need to fly urgently and have a small budget.

  11. Ted Guest

    I would be interested to know who uses these as well and in what scenario. I guess it's kind of like buying your ticket from Expedia, but an in-person version? I always just book direct with airlines on their website, so it's an odd concept to me, but I suppose there must be some kind of market for this or else it wouldn't exist

  12. Dan Guest

    I used to work with a guy in London who used these desks for all of his vacations! He would show up at the airport with his bags packed for a particular type of weather, but no destination in mind or tickets booked. He'd walk to the counters and see who had cheap tickets to an interesting place and then go! He got married and his wife was ok with this (though finding two tickets...

    I used to work with a guy in London who used these desks for all of his vacations! He would show up at the airport with his bags packed for a particular type of weather, but no destination in mind or tickets booked. He'd walk to the counters and see who had cheap tickets to an interesting place and then go! He got married and his wife was ok with this (though finding two tickets was harder than one). Then they had kids - and still did this for family vacations!

    I think about him every time I see those counters.

    That's the only use of them I've ever heard of though. I always admired his sense of adventure (and ability to convince his wife this was a good idea)

    1. glenn t Diamond

      Mindboggling! Would never work for me as every detail of my adventure is thoroughlyl researched/planned/booked before I set foot on my aircraft!
      Adept at coping with unexpected curveballs though~ part of the aforementioned planning.

  13. Mick Guest

    Incidentally in NZ if you accept usd instead of nzd at an atm as the billing currency, the conversion rate is really good. Elsewhere in the world I’ve seen up to 15% differences!

    Recently at Frankfurt I saw quite a few people lining up for these counters.

  14. Brian G. Gold

    Don't know about FRA but at other airports, counters like that are often run by travel agents/charter companies. They're probably dealing with people that brought a package vacation in advance. But if somebody happens to walk by and wants to buy a ticket there is a travel agent that can sell them a ticket.

  15. Donna Diamond

    No clue about their merit, but the first thing that comes to mind is they would be roughly equivalent to currency exchange counters at the airport, that is, a complete rip-off.

    1. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Donna -- Hah, fair point. I think the difference though is that a vast majority of people come to airports with tickets, while many travelers don't come to airports with currency for their destination. It still amazes me how many people exchange money at currency counters, thinking that's the best option.

    2. SBS Guest

      @Ben -- While most airport currency exchange counters are a rip-off, I think Japan is an exception, as long as you go to a counter operated by a Japanese bank and not by TravelEx or any other multi-national company. You can usually tell by the buy/sell rate difference for the same currency. The one I used in Haneda (landside, after immigration and customs) had buy/sell rates for USD that were within about 3% of each other.

    3. Bagoly Guest

      Get a card from Wise or Revolut and you are looking at more like 0.5%

    4. Andrew Diamond

      Oh but there's little need to do that anymore. I always have my Suica loaded in my Apple Wallet, and I can use credit cards (Amex and MC) to reload the balance.

    5. SBS Guest

      @Andrew -- I have Suica in Apple Wallet too, but there are a few cases when cash is easier. Plus, I don't think you can get any leftover balance back from the Apple Wallet Suica before leaving the country (unlike physical Suica that can be refunded).

    6. Kevin H. Guest

      I don't use them because they are the Best option but because they might be my only option.

      I always carry local currency on me and sometimes before departing I still have more than $30 or $40 U.S. on me
      Too much to spend at the airport and certain currency you can't exchange easily outside the region.
      I made the mistake of bringing home some Lebanese pounds in 2015. They are basically worthless now.

  16. james leyerel Guest

    Wonder if they also can sell the last few seats on charter flights since they are not distributed directly through online services...even 10 euros to the charter operator is a plus to them within the last day before a flight, and they can add virtually any price on top of that just so they sell the ticket.

  17. Dustball New Member

    Great comment. Fascinating thoughts.

    1. Never In Doubt Guest

      Spam commenter commenting to spam commenter. The snake is eating its tail!

    2. Always In Doubt Guest

      So much doubt. You really should change your handle.

  18. Icarus Guest

    Do not use this company at Frankfurt or other German airports. They are a fraud and add huge fees on top of the ticket cost. They are a third party and not issuing tickets themselves.

    1. Denis Guest

      If they do sell the tickets then they are not really fraud, are they? It just seems that their target audience is travellers who are not only desperate but also don't know or cannot use the internet.

    2. Icarus Guest

      It’s a non iata company ( Turkish I believe) selling tickets booked via a travel agent, sometimes with a 300 percent markup and not disclosing to the customer. They are legally obliged to do so, but don’t. The airlines don’t have any agreement with this scammer.

    3. Anon Guest

      Just got scammed by one of these. They asked for my booking reference number after a missed flight and claimed my ticket was cancelled and then proceeded to re-book the flight without my explicit consent (she never asked if I want to proceed, just claimed to book a flight). I asked which flight it was she booked and it was the SAME flight I was originally trying to make sure I could board. Then charges...

      Just got scammed by one of these. They asked for my booking reference number after a missed flight and claimed my ticket was cancelled and then proceeded to re-book the flight without my explicit consent (she never asked if I want to proceed, just claimed to book a flight). I asked which flight it was she booked and it was the SAME flight I was originally trying to make sure I could board. Then charges a cancellation fee for that. I’ll be asking for proof that a flight was ever indeed booked, but they only ask for payment AFTER they book the flight not before.

  19. Chris W Guest

    Why didn't you ask them when you took the photos.

    1. Greg Guest

      LOL yes that would make too much sense

      Of course it's possible the agent won't give a satisfying answer, in which case asking here is great fun

      But yeah funny Lucky saw it so many times and wondered enough to take photos, yet never walked a few steps to ask at a counter with no one line

    2. Ben Schlappig OMAAT

      @ Chris W -- Fair question. I guess I'm not exactly sure what I'd ask without being rude? It's obvious what they're doing -- they're selling airline tickets.

      It seems kind of impolite to ask "how do you make money?" or "why would anyone want to buy a ticket from you?" That's why I'm looking for an answer here.

    3. Lune Diamond

      @Lucky, you could just go up and price out a few tickets and get a sense if the prices are good deals. No need to ask probing questions of their business practices, and frankly, if the ticket is a good deal, I don't really care how much is going to the agent as commission and how much is going to the airline :-)

    4. anon Guest

      You go up and buy a ticket, just like you do with any other airline or business you review!

    5. Tom Guest

      I think it would be easy to be polite but still find out what they are up to. Best guess is that they have some sort of deals on last minute seats that would otherwise go unsold. I think you could walk up to them and ask something like:

      "I want to go somewhere warm within a 5 hour flight, they could give you some options on same day departures." If they say they can't...

      I think it would be easy to be polite but still find out what they are up to. Best guess is that they have some sort of deals on last minute seats that would otherwise go unsold. I think you could walk up to them and ask something like:

      "I want to go somewhere warm within a 5 hour flight, they could give you some options on same day departures." If they say they can't do that, you could ask what type of tickets they do sell.

      Maybe you'll find out that they can sell you last minute F seats on LH for 80% off!!!!

    6. Jack Guest

      Didn't you see the counters are all unmanned :)?
      Same at Hannover (HAJ) airport. Many counters and all unmanned.

  20. Thomas Guest

    I asked myself the same question and haven't found an answer yet. Maybe i simply go and ask the next time i'm in FRA.
    Probably just didn't care enough yet

  21. Creditcrunch Diamond

    I’ve used them at LGW after booking a last minute package deal to GOA and was told to collect the various hotel/transfer vouchers from one of these counters.

    1. Tom Guest

      Yes, these counters can perform a variety of tasks and services.

      It used to be the case that there was an airline sales and ticket office in every city centre, and they were useful. Now you have to go to an airport to find one.

      I once showed up at Atlanta airport and bought a one-way business class ticket to London, just like I was taking a bus!

    2. BuiltInYorkshire Guest

      Think it might be down to demographics, |'ve just come back from Senegal and stayed very close to a lot of airline offices in Dakar.

    3. Vernon Demerest Guest

      You sometimes can't even buy a ticket at the airport. Toronto is Air Canada's global hub and if a passenger shows up wanting to buy a ticket the airline tells them to go online or to call reservations.

  22. Jason Guest

    I wonder the exact same thing every time I pass through FRA.

  23. Reyyan Diamond

    I believe they only have to sell a few tickets a month to make the business work since they have hefty commissions on their tickets.

    I used them one time at Istanbul Airport a couple of years ago. Missed my flight from IST - AMS and I had to get a new ticket. Couldn't find a single ticket for that day since it was all booked up (online). I went to the official Skyteam...

    I believe they only have to sell a few tickets a month to make the business work since they have hefty commissions on their tickets.

    I used them one time at Istanbul Airport a couple of years ago. Missed my flight from IST - AMS and I had to get a new ticket. Couldn't find a single ticket for that day since it was all booked up (online). I went to the official Skyteam help desk/ sales office at Istanbul airport and they were unable to book a ticket because they told me that all flights were oversold. Went to one of those sketchy last minute ticket offices and they were able to book a one-way ticket for 500$ on the exact same oversold flight, I was so happy when I saw a ticket number with a seat assigned. I went back to the Skyteam desk and told them I bought a ticket a few counters down, they were stunned and had a huge argument with the sales office on how they were able to book the ticket.

    Eventually, the Skyteam desk rebooked me on a Turkish Airlines flight + I got a 150 euro flight voucher. So these ticket counters are the real deal and can do some magic that even airlines can't do sometimes :D

    1. OCTinPHL Diamond

      @Reyyan - what did you do with the $500 ticket you bought?

    2. Reyyan Diamond

      I purchased the 500$ ticket, but got 150 euro's back from KLM in flight credit and was rebooked on Turkish Airlines. In the end I still paid 500$ for the last minute ticket.

    3. LEo Diamond

      Likely those last minute ticketing desk have access to chartering leftover sells.

    4. Lune Diamond

      In your opinion, was the $500 a fair price or ridiculously expensive? I realize at that moment everything was oversold and you would have paid anything, but just curious, given the destination, class of service, etc. would you call it a fair price?

    5. Reyyan Diamond

      Fair price actually. I mean as a student back then it was a lot of money although it was my own mistake that I missed my flight.

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Chris W Guest

Why didn't you ask them when you took the photos.

6
Never In Doubt Guest

Spam commenter commenting to spam commenter. The snake is eating its tail!

4
Reyyan Diamond

I believe they only have to sell a few tickets a month to make the business work since they have hefty commissions on their tickets. I used them one time at Istanbul Airport a couple of years ago. Missed my flight from IST - AMS and I had to get a new ticket. Couldn't find a single ticket for that day since it was all booked up (online). I went to the official Skyteam help desk/ sales office at Istanbul airport and they were unable to book a ticket because they told me that all flights were oversold. Went to one of those sketchy last minute ticket offices and they were able to book a one-way ticket for 500$ on the exact same oversold flight, I was so happy when I saw a ticket number with a seat assigned. I went back to the Skyteam desk and told them I bought a ticket a few counters down, they were stunned and had a huge argument with the sales office on how they were able to book the ticket. Eventually, the Skyteam desk rebooked me on a Turkish Airlines flight + I got a 150 euro flight voucher. So these ticket counters are the real deal and can do some magic that even airlines can't do sometimes :D

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