Buying discount tickets online can be complicated and frustrating. Based on decades of travel, here’s a list of tips that we’ve learned to help to buy discount tickets online and avoid sneaky fees and other problems when booking.
There’s nothing quite like the flush of triumph that comes from finding discount airline and hotel rates online. And nothing can burst that euphoric bubble quicker than having an unpleasant encounter with an online third party booking agent when you try to lock-in that mind blowing deal.
Although travel has been throttled back during this unprecedented time period, common sense and experience suggest that soon enough those of us with wanderlust in our veins will be more than ready for a change of scenery. With the loss of income that many have seen during these troubles, the allure of using OTA’s (Online Ticket Aggregators) will be stronger than ever, as future travelers seek the best rates online.
Unfortunately, there are all too many nightmare stories about errors and flaws in the booking process that resulted in unexpected fees, some customers vowing never to use OTA’s again.
For many of us, using OTA’s is something we just can’t resist. We read the complaints and bad reviews and we know people who swear that OTA’s are actually out to swindle the innocent. But after checking with the airlines and seeing prices that are way beyond our budgets, we just can’t help checking out third party online booking agents and clicking that “Purchase” button.
We can use some of our time while much of the world is still “grounded” to learn a few tips for navigating the world of third party booking. As in all of life, there are no guarantees, but here are a few pointers that can help to get the best case scenario when using OTA’s and help you to successfully buy discount tickets online.
1. Read the fine print
It’s no secret that OTA’s earn a good portion of their income by charging additional fees for even the most minimal changes to your reservation, so please (!) read the Taxes and Fees section on the OTA’s website. It is your responsibility to be aware of what you’re getting into before clicking that “Purchase” button.
2. Book with an OTA only when you are sure of your travel dates
A major point of contention arises for travelers when they want to change their travel dates after booking and discover that date changes are not free. OTA’s can be even stricter than airlines, so stick with your original dates, or be prepared to face additional fees.
Important note: OTA’s often advertise a 24 hour time period after purchase during which you can cancel your ticket. Unfortunately, this does not always mean that the cancellation is completely fee-free (Think: non-refundable booking fees). Search the fine print details during booking to fully understand the offer.
3. Be sure to double-check the data you have entered before clicking
Many travelers report that they are sure they entered their chosen dates while reserving, but the confirmed e-ticket shows different dates. Dealing with an OTA’s customer call center to correct the error can be grueling, and an ounce of prevention truly can be worth a pound of cure.
Take a screen shot of your order before you click the “Place Order” button to document that you entered the correct dates. At the least, this will slow you down in the ordering process to double-check that your reservation dates are truly as you want. And if a problem arises, you will have at least a shred of evidence at your disposal to prove that the error was not on your side.
4. Make sure that you enter your passport details correctly
It may seem ridiculous to mention, but if the name on your ticket does not match your passport or ID exactly, this can result in denied boarding at the gate.
The form fields on an OTA’s website might use an ‘Auto-Fill’ function that automatically fills in the blanks and requires you to delete that information and type in your own. This can cause problems if you are purchasing tickets for more than one person, and the information that you input for the first person gets duplicated for the next person.
So, double and triple check each data field before confirming! Again, review your work and then take a screen-shot.
5. Research relevant visa and round-trip ticket requirements before purchasing
It’s your responsibility as a traveler to know where your passport allows you to visit, length of permitted stay and whether or not a particular country has a “proof of onward travel” requirement.
Do not expect the OTA to limit the purchase of any international ticket or to inform you of visa restrictions for your passport. If you run into problems during travel, you more than likely won’t get a refund.
6. Be sure that there is enough time between flight legs on “Self-Transfer” trips
OTAs often piece together trips that require travelers to collect and recheck their bags between flight legs on multiple-airline itineraries. These “Self-Transfer” trips hold the passenger responsible to meet the next flight.
OTA’s will not issue refunds if you miss your connecting flight(s) regardless of flight delays, lengthy distances between terminals or check-in lines. Pre-flight research can help to avoid the stress of being stranded in an airport with no option but to buy a new onward ticket at walk-up rates.
7. Before using your credit card, make sure that you are actually purchasing a ticket, not just making a reservation request
When you try to buy discount tickets online, some ticket aggregators rope you in by posting incredibly low prices. You select your flight, enter your credit card details and think that you just bought a ticket. Imagine your surprise when you are informed that the fantastic deal is mysteriously sold out.
You may then be given another offer at a much higher rate. If you cancel your reservation request, be prepared to wait for credit card charge backs, as OTA’s can benefit from holding your money for the entire 30-60 day refund window stipulated.
8. Don’t take out your frustrations on the hotel desk
Hotels owe a small commission for each night booked through third party booking agents. This means that any reservation change that alters your hotel bill must be made by the traveler directly with the booking engine, even if you are standing right at the hotel desk. You will probably have to phone the OTA to get them to release the hotel from their commission obligation. (if the hotel agrees to the changes, which they may not be able or may not choose to do).
9. Be wary of purchasing business class tickets from OTA’s
Some OTA’s provide business class tickets at highly discounted rates. Behind the scenes, OTA’s buy frequent flyer or award miles from other travelers and pass those miles on to you, taking a small commission.
Airlines will take swift action to cancel your ticket – before or even during your trip – if they discover a transference of airline credits that is prohibited in their Terms and Conditions. Be aware of this risk before playing “business class roulette” while buying discount tickets online.
10. Keep in touch with airlines for pre-flight updates
Whether you book through an OTA or directly with an airline, be sure to check the airline’s website for updates on flight delays or cancellations. OTA’s are not obligated to inform you of changes and they often skip that courtesy to keep their staff overhead low.
Attempting to buy discount tickets online can be fun or it can be a trying experience. If in doubt about purchasing through an OTA, you can always use online aggregators as a research tool to determine which airlines service your destination and then check directly with the airlines. If you have time to plan in advance, you might be surprised at the deals you can find these days.
Travel operations are resuming, and OTA’s want your business. Using this time to further educate ourselves can take some of the hassle out of buying discount tickets online, leaving us free to focus on the joy of travel.
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