“I saw it on the internet so it must be true.”
“Caveat emptor.” (Let the buyer beware.)
— Ancient maxim
The internet offers a treasure trove of ways to book your own travel. But which sites are mother lodes and which are pitfalls? Please accept some advice from a travel professional who has seen some sites which are helpful and others which can hurt as much as they help.
First, let me say that I do not use consumer websites for booking anything for clients. As a certified, agency-affiliated seller of travel, I use professional booking engines which connect me directly to the operators (airlines, hotels, auto rental companies). I know that the prices and availability shown can be trusted and reservations made there will be honored. I have a responsibility to you, dear clients and readers, to offer only legitimate quotes made through processes which we both can rely on.
Yes, this correctly implies that I do not trust all websites created for consumers. You who use them have probably had experiences of seeing a different price at the end of the transaction than you expected, or finding out that there are strings attached which you had not noticed earlier. But some websites can be very useful indeed.
Information websites are marvelous, some more so than others. If you are curious about an airline formerly unknown to you, offering a low fare to a faraway place, look them up on Skytrax. If you are unsure which upgraded seats (in which planes, on which airlines) will lie flat – or have any other question about the seat configuration on your flights, I recommend SeatGuru. These sites are comprehensive and objective in their comparisons, and often point out things which each airline’s website might try to gloss over.
TripAdvisor is a comprehensive information site which should be used with caution. Reviews of various hotels here are submitted by travelers who have experienced the hotel they evaluate. But this “anyone can comment” approach can fall prey to axe grinding guests who had bad luck and will not let it go. The site can also be used for puffery and self-promotion by guests who might have had incentives to write a glowing review. At the same time, reviewers might point out inconvenient truths which hotels will not bring up themselves (such as steep, narrow stairs or thin walls in the oldest part of the building). My advice for clients who read TripAdvisor (as I do myself) is to ignore the most critical and the most glowing reviews and base decisions on the rest.
Travel agents have subscription access to a comparable site called Travel42, formerly the Star Report. Reviews here are written by incognito reviewers who are familiar with the hotel business and with each city they examine (so they know what the competition offers). I would be happy to forward Travel42 reviews to anyone who has narrowed a search to a few properties.
Airline booking sites such as Expedia and Travelocity can be a good place to start researching your annual trip to Peoria. But when it comes to actually purchasing the tickets I recommend booking directly through the airline’s website. When push comes to shove, when thunderstorms have shut down O’Hare or hurricane Suzie has nixed all travel on the East Coast, Travelocity will not want to talk to you. If you have booked directly with the airline, you can bang on their desk immediately for re-accommodation. Of course I could help you in a jiffy if I sold you the ticket. But if you bought it through another vendor, I cannot touch your reservation. The same principle applies to hotel rooms booked through intermediate websites (HotWire, TripAdvisor). Book though me and I have a connection and leverage for resolving an issue; book through a consumer site and who do you ask?
Well-informed travelers make better decisions; please study up on your destination all you can. Then call me for final advice and to make the booking.
Without a travel agent, you are on your own.
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
12 June 2014