As a travel website editor and writer, one of the most common questions I’m asked in person and online, is what is the best way to book travel, online, with a travel agent or direct by phone. I have several answers for this, and it’s best to break it down by the type of travel you may be planning.
When we refer to online travel sites, we mean orbitz.com, expedia.com, travelocity.com and we also like kayak.com which combines many of them together. These majors also provide the booking engine for major sites like yahoo.com or aol.com. All these sites have good guarantees and strong customer service. You can read my other articles on which specific sites I prefer and why, but any of them will give you good and similar results.
Cruise or Extensive Tour
For these long and / or expensive sojourns I recommend an experienced travel agent. There are just too many potential problems and the investment you make in a big trip is too much to risk. If something goes wrong, I want a friendly human being to call who will say, “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” More importantly, an experienced travel agent will prevent problems, they have experienced them all before. They know which cruises are best, which dates are best to cruise and which cabins are best. They can also get better deals and better cabins than you can online or via the cruise line’s own site. We recently took a Royal Caribbean cruise to Mexico and our travel agent got us a better deal than we found online or by calling Royal Caribbean ourselves. They can book even basic travel too, and most are compensated by the travel provider, so their services cost you nothing.
Hotels are tricky. You can find good prices on the main travel sites but there are many horror stories about pre-paying for a room, then showing up and either the property has no record of your reservation or its a lot worse than what was promised, yet you’ve prepaid. Sure, orbitz or travelocity may back you up, eventually, but you still have to deal with the situation on your own, and find somewhere to sleep that night.. We recommend checking prices on the travel sites, but then do the booking with the hotel’s own website or by calling the hotel directly. Also remember you may do better calling the local hotel directly instead of dealing with a national call center.
Flights are OK to book via online travel sites. We find the best prices on these sites as opposed to the airline’s own sites. After booking airline reservations on a third party site, always call the airline directly with your information to confirm your booking details with the airline to avoid any surprises at the airport.
We recommend using online travel sites to book car rentals as well as the sites of the agencies themselves. Also search online for coupon codes or discount codes, we do that before we rent and have saved huge amounts via online discounts we would have never known about. These are real discounts offered by the car rental companies that may be obscure, local or not publicized.
Priceline lets you bid for flights and hotels at low prices, but you can’t see the airline or hotel until after you have paid. They are pretty good about delivering what they promise, we have used them for hotels several times with good results. Don’t bid blindly. Check out http://www.biddingfortravel.com which shows successful priceline prices so you know realistically what things are going for. There is a lot of information and a lot of tricks you need to use to really work the system in your favor. Its best to thoroughly read all the FAQ stuff before you put your credit card into priceline as things can happen fast. Its a bit like Las Vegas, only the strong who keep their wits about them survive.
It’s a war for your travel dollars. If you are taking a trip, you are going to pay for travel. Its your mission to pay the lowest amount for that travel and its the mission of the websites and travel providers for you to pay the highest amount. The more research you do, the more information you have, the better off you are.
Remember to print out all confirmations and receipts, keep a copy at home and bring a copy with you to show if necessary. These forms sometimes have confirmation numbers and other data the service provider can use to help you faster.
If you encounter problems or things not as they were promised, stand your ground, demand satisfaction, but do it respectfully. The person across the counter is a human being too, they’re probably not conspiring to screw you over and if you deal with them respectfully as a person, as you would want if you were in their shoes, you would be shocked as to the results and treatment you will receive.