One of the complaints frequently levelled at OTAs is that they’re unresponsive to requests for changes to bookings. Also, that it can be almost impossible to find any customer service agent to contact, but that’s not always so.
Joanna Myers, a retired biochemist from Sydney’s Bellevue Hill, recently booked a return Air India flight through eDreams, an online travel agency based in Barcelona. As soon as Myers made the booking she realised she hadn’t included her middle name. Since that name is listed in her passport, the name on her booking didn’t match, and there was a good chance she wouldn’t be boarding her flight.
She wrote to eDreams and a consultant told her they’d contacted Air India on her behalf but the airline refused to make the change. Myers then contacted Air India and an agent told her she’d have to cancel the booking and re-book under her correct name. But there was no guarantee she’d be able to book her ticket at the same price, nor that seats would even be available.
In a last-ditch effort, she wrote to the chief executive of eDreams and the game changed. Just a couple of days later Myers received a message asking her to forward a scan of her passport, and an e-ticket arrived with her names corrected. Myers was resourceful in sleuthing the email address of the CEO, otherwise the outcome would have been different.
Book through a bricks-and-mortar travel agent
Sitting down with a real live travel agent and discussing your flights inspires confidence. They can tell you what the options are and find the flights that work for you. For anyone who might not be confident making their own booking this is the way to go. Best of all, if anything goes wrong you have backup, but not all travel agents are created equal.
Jane Inglis, a retired banker from Sydney’s Bondi Junction, asked her regular travel agency to book business class flights from Sydney to Tokyo and two weeks later, an onward ticket to London, returning to Sydney a month later. The agent came back with a quote for about $20,000. Inglis is a family friend and after some digging I booked her flights to Tokyo with Singapore Airlines, British Airways from Tokyo to London, returning with Singapore Airlines, all business class, for just under $14,000.
If I’m going to use a travel agent, I’ll do some research beforehand to find the flights and the airlines I want and a price I’m prepared to pay. If it costs a little more for the travel agents’ services, as far as I’m concerned that’s acceptable, the commission airlines pay to travel agents wouldn’t feed a hamster.
The DIY route
Confident? Know what you want and who you want to fly with? Then might as well make your own air travel bookings. That’s my choice. I pay for my air travel, it’s all work related and on a fixed schedule, therefore I don’t need flexibility and I’m happy making my own bookings.
My first port of call is an OTA to find out the best fare. If it’s a long-haul flight I’m looking for a premium economy seat on a quality airline such as Singapore Airlines, Japan Airlines or one of the Middle East carriers. A one-stop flight with a short connecting time gets a tick.
After I’ve narrowed it down to a single airline, the next stop is the airline’s own website and if the difference between their price and the OTA’s is within a couple of hundred dollars I’ll book with the airline.