Travel Information is everywhere. But where can you turn for guidance?
Hundreds of websites tout booking tools for air travel, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, home rentals, and more. Information abounds, but where is the wisdom? These days, nearly everyone goes online to search for travel alternatives. Without the expertise of a trusted travel partner, you could end up paying more, and getting less.
We've all heard the tale of the corporate travelers who, complaining enforcement of travel policy, claim they could have gotten much cheaper fares booking on their own. It's ceretainly true there's anecdotal evidence lower fares can be found, beating the corporate agency's rates. As we all know, traveling on our own dime, we're all lot more likely to accept a 6:00 AM departure or midnight returns than when we're on company business. And some airlines, most noteably Southwest, have special fares which can only be booked on their own websites.
When accessing the website of a travel supplier, you should assume that company has thrown some srious programming dollars at creating an environment designed to extract as much money from you as possible. Legacy carrier airline websites often suggest circuitous routings designed to keep you in their seats. Should you go back online to the same site to check on a fare you've already sourced; the cookies you've left behind might even end up costing you more for the same flights.
Airlines run complex algorithms to change fares and seat availability second by second. As a practical matter, there's no way to ever guarantee you've gotten the lowest fare - it's strictly a matter of real-time availabiliuty at the time of search. But there is one thing you can be sure of: No supplier will EVER tell you a competitor has a better option on their own website!
Even though we're down to four major airlines and three major hotel copanies, it could take you (or an employee) an hour or more to sort through the options for a simple business trip. What is your time worth? Should your employees be focused on more important questions? Do airlines and hotel companies even deserve your loyalty? That's why you should seldom book on a supplier's direct website.
More useful can be the travel aggregators - Pricelinem Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak, Cheapo Air and others do a better job of presenting options across multiple platforms. Especially with respect to flights, you'll have more choice during requested departure times. If your preferred carrier does not fly nonstop, you'll have a better chance to find an airline which does. You can then make an informed decision with pricing across multiple carriers at multiple times.
Using super-aggregators, such as Skyscanner and Trivago, takes your search one step further across multiple aggregator platforms - including hotels and car rentals. These companies earn their commissions by referring customers through links to primary suppliers.
Knowledge is power. A quick online seach makes sense when you know what you're looking for, especially for simple domestic round-trips. When things get complicated, a consultation with your trusted travel advisor makes more sense. For corporate travel, the modest charge for professional service is easily justified.
Your travel advisor has prefessional tools that cut through the clutter. You'll save time and improve the quality of your travel experience. With a little flexibility, there's a good chance you'll save money too. It's likely you'll discover other cost-saving alternatives not found on supplier websites.
No longer should you waste time considering a flight from New York to Denver via Miami, unless you're trying to cash in frequent flier miles for htat elusice "free" mileage ticket.
Rob Lipman is Executive Vice President of Summit Management Services, an international meeting planning company specializing in pharmaceutical research and incentive programs. He logs approximately 200,000 miles a year and visits at least five continents annually. He is an avid Cranky Flier reader and professes to be in search of “new airline experiences” and the perfect flight.