I spent the greater part of a weekend booking an international trip that would encompass New Delhi, Dubai and the Seychelles Islands. In the end, I managed to accomplish the task online, but the process was long, laborious and at times frustrating.
There’s a reason why travel agents exist. If you need to fly to a city across the country and book a hotel and rental car, it’s a piece of cake. If you need to purchase an open-jaw airline ticket (the destination and/or the origin are not the same in both directions) or a series of one-way flights, along with hotels, transfers, day tours and more, the process is mind-bending.
Although online travel sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz—which all seem to have the same interface and e-commerce engine—can spit out results at Internet speed, they’re not necessarily displaying the best results or prices. Some airlines are MIA and others won’t display, despite the fact that they have routes to the desired destination and may be considerably cheaper.
In my case, Expedia displayed flights for Emirates Airlines that were about twice would I could pay flying Delta Air Lines. Delta didn’t show up in the results—or it was buried so deep in the list I couldn’t find it. Not surprisingly, I eventually wound up going to the Delta site and booking my flight there.
I then purchased a couple of one-way tickets at Expedia for other flights on the trip. After that, I was informed by Expedia that because I had purchased flights, I was eligible for special savings on hotels. The site claimed these savings were up to 65 percent off.
However, when I visited other hotel booking sites, the prices were often the same and sometimes actually lower.
Can you say extremely sour taste? So I wound up booking for hotels at multiple sites.
Sadly, I’ve seen online retailers and others pull the same type of shenanigans.
First, travel sites are really dumb when it comes to assembling an itinerary. Scratch pads that save searches help, but they don’t allow the level of automation and customization necessary. Sites need much better AI or cognitive computing features that simplify searches for flights, hotels and more.
Second, it’s obvious that major travel sites aren’t transparent or entirely honest. Perhaps they (and retailers) can get away with this approach for some time, but once a customer discovers that a site is manipulating results or claiming deals that don’t really exist, trust goes out the window. And loyalty follows.