New Year Getaway – Picking An Online Travel Agent
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.
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.
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