New Year Getaway – Picking An Online Travel Agent

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The bigger European online travel sites for booking late deals are all much of a muchness. Digging a little deeper, which fare fairer and which deal dearly ? Planning a Christmas break, I took a quick punt on Opodo, Expedia and the market-making Lastminute.com. My mission was to pick either a week in the sun or 7 nights in the Big Apple. Here briefly are my experiences:

Worst of the bunch – LastMinute.com

The golden calf reared by Martha Lane-Fox and Brent Hoberman was my first stop to seek a quick and inexpensive getaway. The simpler layout on hitting the site is welcoming and the Flash adverts draw the eye towards some interesting packages. However, the initial looks were deceiving. Having dug into New York breaks without luck, I was tempted by the many adverts for Egypt all-inclusive packages. Pre-Christmas, I skipped through the links to be presented with a tempting array of sun, sea and sand options at tempting prices. Once I got far enough to determine the particular combination – and this exercise had taken 15 to 20 minutes – I was maddeningly informed by the site that the selected package was “…no longer available …”. This outcome was so common that I was beginning to think the site had a major bug so I did a few random flight searches which succeeded. The ‘draw’ of the package deals, then, proved to be a set of frustrating mirages. Lastminute.com adds in insurance and Carbon Offset automatically to the final itinerary (can be removed) and whatever package I selected, the price always jumped by a few pounds from the original quote for no other apparent reason. As with prior experiences on this site when searching for theatre and weekend jaunts in the UK, I will steer clear of LM in the future.

Middling Opodo

As much an aggregator with a less sophisticated interface, Opodo.co.uk yielded results with a relatively simple mechanism to customise the selected combinations of flights and hotels. Slow but steady, the system initially told me it had “… no packages for New York City” but then going via its City Breaks links generated over 100 hotel + flight combinations at reasonable prices. More fool them that I had to persevere with the site to get what I wanted. Flight selections in particular were sporadic and complicated – sometimes including layovers where I had asked for direct only. A poor selling site, then, but with a reasonable yet slow interface.


Best of the bunch – Expedia.co.uk

Expedia was a snap. Straight to a list with a suggested package that, whilst not the cheapest, was pretty close to my ideal. I could quickly run through the hotel and flight combinations and adjust my booking to create the perfect package. The jump to hotel details was smooth and informative. The combined itinerary was well presented with options available but not automatically added (unlike Lastminute.com) so that the base price is what was quoted on the initial search. So impressed, I added in limousine collection and helicopter trips which were not especially cheap but added finesse to a reasonably good deal. (I plumped for this and committed my credit card. The limo service in particular was excellent and avoided hassling with cabs on reaching Newark – having arrived 2 hours late amidst the worst East Coast snowstorm this year.) The onwards links to airline, hotel and ancillary booking systems were seamless and for the most part, transparent.

Neatly executed, honest and clear. Expedia is to be recommended.

6 Comments

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GarrettSeptember 9th, 2010 at 7:06 am

Unfortunately, I would have to disagree with your Expedia recommendation, on everything, even down to the website design. And it looks like thousands (millions?) of people are agreeing with me every day.
Make one mistake with Expedia, and they won’t give you a refund. There is a design flaw in the website, namely the “guest” login, that actually allows you double book by accident. Once this happens, don’t expect Expedia to give you a refund for this mistake. They will blame you.
However, it doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or theirs, they simply will not do refunds.

Other issues I have seen: they do not correct many mistakes on their sites after complaining that their high rated hotels are actually hole in the walls. And they won’t give you a refund if this happens.

They have also found a way to cheat those that travel abroad on insurance for car rentals. Go to the rental place, find out that the insurance policy provided by Expedia is not covered with the company (namely Hertz). Once they find out that there is an insurance problem and some kind of conflict with the company, don’t expect a refund. They won’t give it to you.

Finally, let me just end by saying that the customer service is incompetent at best, liars, thieves and cheaters at worst. For four (4) months, they were completely unable to find a reason as to why they double booked me, making me end up paying twice. Their answer: A mysterious, magically appearing itinerary that no one, not even they had heard about. OH, and guess what? They didn’t give me a refund for it.
So yes, while some folks have luck with Expedia, that luck will soon run out the moment that you or they make an error. With no refunds.

Horribly executed, dishonest and hazy. Expedia is NOT to be recommended.

SimonSeptember 10th, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Well, all I can say is that my experience was good. I must admit that I had no hitches on the website so perhaps that is why I was spared the poor Customer Service you experienced. Interesting to get a counter-view so many thanks for taking the time to comment. My original review was linked from RateItAll – I would strongly recommend putting your experiences down on that site to warn future pleasure seekers (and to balance my positive review, perhaps). I would certainly agree that my experiences appear to be the exception – the majority of reviews I have read are scathing about Expedia. Oh well !

GarrettSeptember 21st, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Hey Simon! Actually, yes, I have checked out RateItAll (and you only have one review there. A shame, you write well).
The sad thing is that a long time ago, Expedia wasn’t so bad. I used them about 8 years ago, and actually had a good experience with the customer service when a problem occurred. I won’t go into it, but they corrected the issue right away. Those days are long gone.

A perfect example as to how the customer isn’t as important to Expedia is bringing up what happened earlier this year. Techcrunch decided to do the right thing and publish “My Bloody Valentine: Expedia”
http://techcrunch.com/2010/02/14/expedia-sucks/
In it, a writer had a really bad time with Expedia. Like many of it’s customers, including myself, this writer got the “I’m so sorry there’s nothing we can do for you” bit. Although it seemed liked they tried to appease him, it simply wasn’t enough. He was left stranded with his date. But after the story was published on a top viewed website, Expedia suddenly seemed very apologetic, not only attempting to reimburse him for the problem, but pay for the rest of his vacation’s expenses. Very nice. Do I have to be important, a top writer, or very rich to make Expedia notice me and give me the refund I deserve?

My favorite line of the story: “A simple Google search yields results that show I’m hardly alone in my experience. In fact, the number of hate sites specifically about Expedia is quite impressive.” It’s true, but I don’t want to seem like I’m targeting only Expedia. Travelocity and Orbitz probably will give similar problems, since they are middle-men.

I have had good experience, on the other hand, booking direct and doing a little comparison, or even asking outright for discounts. Prices seem to be almost the same as if I would have booked with an online travel agent. A bit more legwork with picking up the phone and actually asking for discounts, but I was surprised to find that some hotels and airlines actually would like you to be their customer! I haven’t tried that with car rental places, but I will soon.

jasmineroadtripMay 8th, 2011 at 12:47 am

I would like to post my travel blog on your site . Please advise how.

It is a unique site which in 2 weeks has over 2200 visitors from just friends telling other friends.

We are posting a travel blog of a 4 month road trip across the small back roads of Europe. We cover places, food, tips and personal experience with lovely photos for a memorable read.

Thanks
Jasmine

SimonMay 23rd, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Hi Jasmine,
Thanks for the post – I’ve accepted it onto the site and the link to your blog site is now visible. Thanks for visiting Babbletalk.
Kind regards
Simon

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