In light of my recent four hour ordeal getting Expedia to fix a ticket that their ‘elite’ agent screwed up during re-issue, I thought it would be worth explaining why (and when) I continue using third party booking services like Expedia and Orbitz.
First, cash rebates. Sites like Big Crumbs will give me a cash rebate for my Expedia purchases, regardless of the airline I’m ticketing. They used to offer 1% but are now offering a flat $3.20, great for cheap itineraries and less rewarding for expensive ones, but multiplied out by tons of itineraries especially ones I book for family and friends, it adds up.
Second, Expedia’s own rewards program adds an additional 1% to 2% rebate for use on Expedia-booked travel. The more points you redeem at one time, the more they’re worth. The program launched just over three months ago and already I’ve booked about $25,000 of air travel through them. When I hit $50,000 I’ll redeem for a $1000 hotel stay. (I still book much American Airlines travel through the AA.com website and take advantage of Business ExtrAA points, I have enough of those for free AAdvantage Gold status and a free lounge membership for a year, even after gifting a friend a gold membership earlier in the year.)
Third, booking for others is easy. Their system will save a ton of different travelers’ info from date of birth for TSA requirements to frequent flyer numbers making it quick and easy, it saves a bunch of payment methods as well so I don’t have to re-type credit cards.
Fourth, and probably most important, I can mix and match carriers. Sometimes a codeshare flight will be cheaper and though I usually advise against booking codeshares I can substitute another carrier’s flight number instead of the airline’s own flight number and bring down price. Or I can combine multiple airlines in the same trip. It’s much easier to do on a third-party website than on the median airline site.
I actually like Orbitz’s ability to mix and match flights best, it will display multi-airline complete itineraries and let you grab a single segment and then give you all other choices (and their respective prices) that include the segment(s) you’ve already grabbed. I don’t like the rest of the Orbitz booking experience, they’ve only recently even made it possible to assign a frequent flyer number from a program different than the one belonging to the airline operating a flight for instance. And I’ve never much been a fan of the booking interface on Travelocity. I like the Expedia booking interface the best, even though I sometimes need to book via Orbitz for its more powerful pricing and flight selection egine.
Finally, price variance. Different booking engines are pulling availability from different computer reservation systems, and they may not all be in synch perfectly at all times, one booking engine may have availability in a cheaper booking class for a short while than another engine will. So the same flight may price differently on a different site.
On Thursday I booked a trip out to Seattle, I have to give a couple of talks at a conference, then meet my wife down in Florida, and if I did the whole thing on one ticket I could get the Florida piece in for very little extra money, so it made sense to ticket everything together.
I needed a US Airways flight back for the return to travel with my wife. I sure wasn’t flying US Airways for the whole trip to the West Coast. United for the outbound to use a confirmed upgrade instrument, but unfortunately the South Florida market I needed for the return has been taken over by Continental metal. I didn’t want to do Seattle – Denver on United and then Denver – Florida on Continental. And managing to stay on United would’ve meant a nasty long layover in Chicago. So I went with Continental all the way through from Seattle. I’m not confident of upgrades on Continental metal yet, especially during blocks of heavy business travel time, so I actually spent Continental miles to confirm the upgrade. I didn’t want a non-economy plus coach seat across the country for sure.
Three airlines, one ticket for price and it was no problem to upgrade the United outbound online at united.com, the Continental flight at continental.com, and then assign seats for the final segment at usairways.com (I’ll do the 899 miles in coach). After the upgrades the reservation appeared somewhat out of synch on the Continental site, but a quick call fixed that. I’m paranoid and do tend to check on my reservations after making any chance and then occasionally between booking and time of travel.
I do use Expedia, to a lesser extent Orbitz, despite of time-consuming outsourced customer service even when calling their ‘elite’ phone number. It’s far from perfect but it’s a necessary part of my arsenal.