There are basically 4 types of booking/reservation websites
- Virtual Travel Agencies
- Travel Agencies
- Tour Operators/Travel Providers/Airlines
- Larger service providing websites that also offer flights as well as other services
All offer different levels of backup with a human. It can be assumed that the cheaper the price, then the more expensive/harder to reach the backup human is to contact.
There are also price comparison websites. Some are general sites that promise to save you money on any consumer goods and others are especially for travel. They are not booking websites, and may gain their revenue from affiliate links or by advertising.
If you are travelling alone, ensure that you only search for the price for one person. The website might default to search for two passengers. I talk about Fare Classes on another page. Fare classes mean that there are only so many seats at a particular price.
If there is only one left and you have searched for two seats then you will automatically be given the higher price. Likewise if you are searching for a group, don’t just search for one ticket and multiply the cost.
In any search you need to be able to search for flights only. You will probably find that most do not allow you to depart from a non UK airport. If you are looking for flights starting from another country then the airline’s own site is probably the best place to start looking.
The option of including charter flights would be useful, although this is rare. They will be little chance of having ‘no-frills’ airlines either. In fact in 2009 Ryanair threatened to refuse boarding for any passengers found not to have used Ryanair’s own website in booking their flight.
A flight searching/booking website should show the full price. It used to be common practise to only show the ticket price and then to add taxes and other fees on afterwards. This practise has nearly died out after action by the European Union.
Another useful function is the ability to show the prices for flights on adjacent days. It should also be easy to find the luggage allowances, but this is normally buried in the small print and can be difficult to find.
If you need to know who flies to which destination check out www.skyscanner.net. Alternately, visit the website of your departure airport. They will be either an interactive map of all the destinations, or a search option.
Don’t leave it until the last minute to book; it is very rare for the price to go down, although you may get lucky with a charter flight. Once you have found your route and airlines, sign up to their newsletters so that you get a heads up when a special offer is on.
Always read the small print.
There are loads of hidden ways that the airline can increase its profit by catching its passengers out, such as excess baggage charges.
For example for some flights from London to Cape Town on 14/6/12 returning 28/6/12, using Expedia’s website (www.expedia.co.uk search carried out 15:45 on 2nd April 2012).
With the direct flight with South African Airways you would leave Heathrow at 21:00 and arrive in Cape Town at 10:05 on the 15th. The journey would take 12 hours and 5 minutes. Whereas, with the indirect flight with KLM, you would leave Heathrow at 20:25, and arrive at 21:35 on the 15th. Your journey would take 24 hours and 10 minutes, but it would be saving you over £120.
Check your financial cover should there be any problems if the airline goes bust. If you book direct and your airline does collapse the chances are that you’ll be at the end of a very long queue of creditors. If you paid by credit card and the ticket was more than £100 then your card provider may refund you.
Multilayer paper tickets are now a thing of the past for most airlines. Most scheduled flights from the UK use paperless tickets. These are called E-Tickets and may be emailed to you after the transaction is complete, or you will have the option to print out the number from the website.
In theory you just need to quote your booking number when checking in, but in practise you will probably print the ‘e-ticket’ using your own printer for some reassurance. I think that they’re called paperless tickets as the airlines don’t use paper, not that paper is not used.
Please be very careful when booking online.
A misspelt name can be expensive to change, as I mentioned in my introduction. If you remember, a business contact who booked his girlfriend’s ticket in the wrong name. It cost £150 to change this. So always have all the required passports to hand when booking online.
Don’t just tick the ‘read and understand the terms and conditions’ box. Make sure that you are happy with them before handing over your card details.
So how do you get a good deal? The first way to save money is to book early.
There are also stories on the Internet that prices are launched at midnight, so the cheapest prices are around then, although I have not tried this myself.
You should also avoid holiday weekends/special events/festivals/etc.
The most expensive times to fly from the UK are:
1st July until 31st August
10th December to 8th January
Heathrow to New York JFK
Departing 30/6/10 flying back on 7/7/10 £369.79
Departing 1/7/10 flying back on 8/7/10 £599.79
Both flights are economy flying with Virgin Atlantic. Prices checked 13:00 7/12/09 on www.triton.co.uk
If price really is a priority, then use two price comparison websites, and up to three booking/reservation agency websites. It will also be worth checking the airlines own website as well.