The past few decades have seen a major sea-change in how people book travel. As of 2018, 82% of travel was booked with no human interaction. Most people now purchase airfare, accommodations, and cruises through a travel booking website. While this method of planning and paying for a trip can be incredibly convenient, it also has its pitfalls, most of which can be avoided by doing some research before selecting a site.
There are many different types of travel websites online and the type you choose has a huge impact on the travel products you can purchase, the price you will pay, the service you receive and the protections that you have in case you need to make changes to your trip or something goes wrong before, during, or after travel.
Travel aggregator sites, also known as metasearch engines, allow you to search a huge range of products, fares, and prices, all on one site. The advantage of these sites is that you can compare prices from a range of vendors without having to visit each brands sites individually. Aggregator sites can be particularly helpful if you are not wedded to a particular travel brand and instead are looking for the best deal or the most convenient scheduling options.
You might be at a disadvantage, however while using a metasearch site to book more complex travel itineraries, such as a cruise vacation, which often requires the booking of airfare. These trips can become even more complex if the port of departure is different from the port at which the cruise ends. In such cases, it may be best to work with a travel agent or a representative of the cruise line itself.
It's also important to verify that an aggregator site is legitimate before using it: Research the brand and make sure that you have the correct URL before entering sensitive information.
These are websites operated by travel vendors, such as airlines, rental car companies, cruise lines, or resorts. You can research options and book directly through these sites. In some cases, vendors may also offer travel package options, in which you can pair the vendors primary product with those offered by other companies. For example, you might be able to book your airfare, a hotel stay, and a rental car through your favorite airline's website.
The advantage to working with a vendor site is that you know exactly who you are working with and can avoid scams that result from using third-party aggregator sites. In addition, vendor sites are directly connected to loyalty programs, so if you are loyal to a particular brand and belong to its rewards program, claiming points or miles, or redeeming rewards, should be seamless.
The disadvantage to vendor sites is that you will not be able to compare prices between different vendors. As pricing for things like car rental, hotel rooms, and plane tickets are often dynamic, you may find yourself spending a lot more than you need to for your trip.
These are sites that are operated by major travel conglomerates. These conglomerates often specialize in selling leisure travel packages at a discount. These packages often include chartered flights, accommodations, some meals, and transportation to and from hotels and resorts. The advantage of booking through sites like these is that you can book your vacation through one service.
The disadvantage of booking through a conglomerate site is that they usually offer a fairly limited range of destinations and accommodations. For example, one of the best-known conglomerate sites focuses its business entirely on four regions in the Caribbean and Central America. Addition, they only sell travel packages that include major browned resorts, overlooking smaller properties that might offer a more personalized experience.
Well-known sites: Apple Vacations
Some membership clubs, such as auto clubs and warehouse clubs, offer travel services as a benefit to their members. These sites are very similar to aggregator sites, though they may have a dedicated team of sales staff and you may be entitled to additional discounts because of your member status.
Contrary to what many people think, travel agencies are alive and well and many people still choose to book travel through a travel agent. In some cases, travel agencies and independent travel agents have websites that incorporate search engines and booking requests. You can research travel options and either book directly online or submit your request to the travel agency. An agent will research your itinerary and provide you with options and price quotes. The advantage to this option is that a real human being can review your trip to make sure that it goes smoothly and can act as a third-party advocate in case you run into problems with a vendor.
The disadvantage of these sites is that it can be a slower process than booking directly. In addition, an incompetent or unscrupulous travel agent may fail to complete your travel arrangements or forward payments to vendors. Only work with travel agencies or agents that you have researched and vetted.
In recent years, a new model of travel vendor has emerged: The "sharing economy" vendor. Best known for roomshares, in which people rent out spare rooms or apartments using a third-party site or app, this concept has now spread to car shares, in which private car owners can rent their vehicles to travelers. The advantage to these sites is that you may have the opportunity to save a significant amount of money over what you would pay for the same service through a commercial travel vendor.
The downside is that these share sites don't have control over the quality of the room, apartment or car that is provided to you. There have been numerous reports of owners essentially scamming travelers, leaving them with substandard or no accommodations or vehicles.
Well-known sites: AirBnB, Avail
Deep discount travel sites offer extremely low prices on travel products such as airfare and hotel rooms. These fares and rates are often available for last minute bookings, making these sites extremely attractive to those who are faced with unplanned travel. This is because the travel industry historically offers the lowest fares to those who book in advance. The model on which these sites operate tends to differ between brands, so it is important to understand how a discount site operates before booking a room or a ticket.
Some deep discounters allow you to select the hotel, flight schedule, or airline that you book. In other cases, you provide basic information such as travel dates and locations, but you are assigned a flight or room without knowing the brand, times or even required connections before making a final payment. Because of the unpredictability of these sites, as well as the fact that many of them operate on a no-refund policy, booking through a deep discount or can be a risky proposition, particularly if you have special travel needs.
Another thing to be aware of is that booking travel through a deep discounter often disqualifies you from being able to earn airline miles, loyalty points or receive standard benefits offered to people traveling in your travel tier. While this may not be a huge deal if you don't travel often, if you rely on these perks, rethink booking through a deep discounter unless the savings warrents these concessions.
When booking travel online, there are several things that you should be aware of, regardless of the type of travel site that you choose to use:
1. It can be very easy to make a mistake when booking online. It is important to double check dates, destinations, airport codes and prices before submitting payment. Keep in mind that many airline tickets are nonrefundable and may require you to pay a hefty penalty before you can make any changes. In addition, federal guidelines require your name on an airline ticket to be exactly as it is on your government issued identification card or passport.
2. When you book travel online, you are often providing sensitive information, including your name, address, credit card information and, when booking international trips, your passport number. Always verify the legitimacy of any website that you use.
3. Not all travel deals are available at all websites. When planning a trip, allow yourself some time so that you can research your options, select the best dates for travel, and ensure that you and anyone you are traveling with are on board with plans and won't need to change them later.
Whether you are traveling for business or pleasure, choosing an online travel service comes with some element of risk. Still, most consumers do book all or some of their travel through online travel sites, and many go on to have successful trips. Understanding your options and researching the integrity of site owners can help ensure a successful trip.
Summary: Choosing the best travel site depends on your travel needs and preferences. Aggregator sites often provide the most choice and information, while deep discounters offer the best prices, even for last-minute travel. Those who are loyal to a particular brand may prefer to book directly with their preferred vendors, while inexperienced travelers or those who are planning a complex itinerary may wish to submit a request through a trace agency's site.
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