Booking travel online is big business these days and on the plus side puts a lot of power in the hands of the consumer to reserve their own travel arrangements. But it’s critical you know 5 things to get the best deal and discount available. So before you begin your travel research and booking online start here.
ALL TRAVEL WEB SITES ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL
When booking travel online they’re two types you can use: the traditional travel web sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity, and what are being called these days Travel Search Engines, which include SideStep and Kayak.
The main difference is in the search capability. A travel web site like Orbitz only searches its own database of available flights, hotel rooms, and car rentals. So the search is restrictive. But you’ll get more search features and booking travel services offered at these sites.
At travel search engines such as SideStep, the results will include selections from airline sites, travel web sites, and other databases containing flight, room and car rental availability. The drawback is a more “spartan” search capability, and you won’t get many of cool features you’ll find at a travel web site.
IT REALLY DOES PAY TO COMPARE AS MANY AND AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
If you want the cheapest fare or room, always check out multiple sites before booking travel online. Many travel web sites negotiate and purchase large blocks of fares and rooms directly from airlines and hotels, and then pass the savings onto consumers. But because the reduction varies between sites, the quoted rate for the same seat on a flight, or room in a hotel, can vary dramatically… and many times from day-to-day. So it not only pays to check and compare other sites, but if you’ve the time, to do it often.
TRAVEL WEB SITES DON’T ALWAYS GET THE BEST DEAL
Because of the competitiveness of the travel industry these days here’s another worthwhile step to take before you press that “submit” button at your chosen online booking site… hop over for a final check at the airline, hotel, or car rental company web site for any special offers or lower rates you may get if you book directly. Sometimes the best deals are reserved for their own online customers or preferred clients, and you’ll even avoid fees.
BEWARE OF TRAVEL WEB SITE SERVICE AND TRANSFER FEES
Booking travel online at travel web sites usually involves a service fee. In most instances it’s not outrageous and is usually around $5 per ticket or booking. Recently, I’ve seen some fees nudging up around $20 and there’s no need to pay that much. But the fees to be aware of are transfer fees when you change itinerary or cancel. It can cost you $100 or more to change after you’ve booked a flight. And if you want a refund, then it can be very frustrating, as you’ll likely spend hours on the phone to get to somebody who can authorize it.
The travel search engines make money from paid advertising and a referral fee from the airlines or hotels, so usually you don’t pay a fee when using them to book. But this is changing so always check for fee disclosure before booking.
Generally, the fees should never be hidden from you, but in a rush to book you may easily overlook a charge that wasn’t obvious before. The profit margins for online travel sites are low, and they can be very creative in their fee structure if you don’t pay close attention.
THE HIDDEN LINK THAT CAN SAVE YOU MONEY
Many of the travel web sites have a link on their page that allows you to become part of their affiliate program for no cost. It’s usually at the bottom and not obvious. By becoming an affiliate you can earn a small commission for everybody you refer to them that purchases a ticket, reserves a room, or rents a car.
But before you rush out and quit your day job and set yourself up as a home-based travel agent, be aware you’ll have to send thousands of people to make any decent money. But there’s an even better reason to become an affiliate. As an affiliate most sites will allow you to purchase your own tickets and still get paid the commission. It’s effectively a discount. Be sure to check the fine print on the agreement just so you’re familiar with the restrictions if any, and how they’ll pay you. But if you do a lot of booking travel online then check it out to see if it’ll work for you.
The travel industry continues to adjust to the advantages of the Internet. Billions of dollars have been invested in online travel booking systems, and new players continue to enter the market every year. Armed with these tips you’ll be better prepared to navigate through the maze to the very best deal for you. And there’s still that travel agent in the mall if you just can’t be bothered with the whole game of booking travel online.