By Rhonda Abrams
Gannett News Service
This is the first of a two-part series on making travel reservations on the Internet. This week: Tricks and Tips. Next week: a review of the leading online services.
When a company gives you truly bad service, wouldn't you like to tell the world? I recently received such bad treatment from an online travel service that I decided to use this as an opportunity to discuss the ups and downs of booking travel online.
I travel a lot on business. I've used or checked all the major travel sites: the airlines' Web sites, Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire, etc. Overall, I've been pretty satisfied.
Most people judge an online travel service by:
Availability of low fares.
Ease of use.
Overall look and feel.
Remember one other critical factor: customer service. Sooner or later, you'll have a problem, and you're going to have to deal with the travel service rather than the airline.
If they don't offer adequate support, you'll have the kind of problem I had with Cheaptickets.com, owned by Trip Network, which also owns Trip.com.
The morning after I booked a flight, I realized I had made a mistake on the time. I immediately called Cheaptickets. I waited on hold for 47 minutes and still couldn't reach anyone. Finally I sent an e-mail to the address provided.
I called again the next day. Once again, I couldn't reach customer service.
Finally, the third day, I reached a customer service supervisor, who said no one could help me. Why? Because I failed to contact them within 48 hours of booking. I explained I'd spent two days trying to reach them. I could pay for the ticket or challenge the charge with my credit card company.
When I spoke with Kate Sullivan, manager of corporate communications for Trip Network, she was apologetic: "There was no excuse for this kind of treatment."
Whatever online site you use, here are a few tips and tricks:
Read carefully. Some sites automatically include neighboring airports (e.g., Newark for New York, Baltimore for Washington).
Click around. No one site seems to consistently offer the best fare.
Try other routes. Using a nearby airport or breaking one long trip into two shorter ones may be much cheaper.
Check the "vacation packages." On Expedia, I once booked a flight, hotel and car rental to Houston cheaper than the flight alone.
Get a seat. I can usually get a good seat when I book on the American Airlines site. When I book through a third-party site, I may not get a seat assignment at all. You can call the airline for a seat assignment no matter what service you use.
Last-minute limit. Some sites won't book flights within one to five days of travel.
Check nontravel sites. As a Costco member, I can often get cheaper car rentals at Costco.com than on a travel Web site.
When you find a great fare, grab it. It may be gone next time you check.
Finally, be patient, especially on a dial-up connection. This all takes a long time.
Rhonda Abrams is the author of "The Successful Business Plan" and "The Successful Business Organizer." To receive Rhonda's free business tips, register at www.RhondaOnline.com.
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