Over the past month I’ve been planing an overseas trip and whilst all of it has been done online, I have found myself occasionally drifting into the occasional desire to actually speak to a human being, like one would have done in the not too distant past. What I found was the need to talk to someone, let’s say a travel agent, an airline representative or a customer care person at a hire car company comes down to one thing – wanting to trust, looking for security, hoping not to be ripped off. In the end those feelings were replaced by augmenting every online search with reviews for the company or service I was looking at.
Every trip begins with searching for airline fares, analysing routes, considering layovers, stopovers, making choices about airlines themselves. It’s a relatively simple undertaking to hit Google with relevant search parameters and then go through the results. Generally they will take you to a selection of booking sites – like Expedia or booking.com and essentially they offer the same results. I countered these searches by looking at New Zealand travel agent sites but I found them to be confusing – while they had the same results as the larger booking sites, they also charged fees for flights that did not originate in New Zealand and their prices were the same as Expedia or booking.com. In the end, after many hours online, I paid for flights directly via the airline’s site.
One tip – be very careful and don’t be dazzled by the lowest prices – they are for the bare minimum economy seats – no checked bags, no seat selection, and very limited fare change options, if at all. Personally I find it misleading and I imagine many unwary travellers find out they will need to add a couple of hundred dollars to the fares to be able to take luggage with them. I worked out most of this myself but some of it was learned from reading reviews on booking sites, airlines, and travel agents. In the end I got a good deal, flying good airlines with short layover times.
Next up was booking fares for airline travel in Europe, and accomodation for a week in Ireland, as well as car hire. I became preoccupied with the whole endeavour, compromising plans to make everything fit just right, without paying more than I wanted to.
I relied heavily on booking.com – its map feature was easy to use, and the reviews were a huge help. Accomodation that looked a bit too good to be true generally was and the reviews affirmed that. I found myself guided by the helpful and informative comments left by previous guests and I had to stop myself from reading all the reviews of terrible Fawlty Towers type establishments because the entertainment value was getting in the way of my planning!
Car hire was the biggest pain and the most difficult to navigate until I became a member of a mid-level global company, accrued a decent discount and learned all the tricks and the pitfalls to avoid. Google is little help when so many of the search returns are just obviously misleading and borderline fraudulent. Rich snippet text promising ‘daily care hire for 8 Euros a day’ is a lie hoping to entice. Third party sites trawl through all of the major and mid-level car hire companies to assemble almost identical results and I found myself struggling to trust them. I was one click away from making a terrible choice with a local English company before I remembered to read reviews. They were uniformly terrible. I moved on.
Last time I booked travel to Europe I didn’t do everything online. This time I did. In truth it was a breeze but I couldn’t have done it without the reviews! They gave me all the elements of trust and reliability that are essential online.