I sometimes get queries from people asking why I don’t recommend booking through online travel agents which may advertise really cheap flights. Firstly, almost all agents are too cheapskate to include a live connection to the airline booking systems in their websites, so the price you can see (including the prices they supply to search engines like Skyscanner or Kayak) are often weeks out of date.
Then, with online travel agents, the “confirmation” email you receive first is a confirmation of your request to them to make a booking. It doesn’t mean they have made the booking. As their websites are not live to the airline booking systems, it is extremely possible, even likely, that the flight you have requested is full, or not available at the price.
When you request an online agent to book for you, your request goes into a queue. Eventually, could be minutes, could be hours, could be a day or so, it shows up on the screen of one of their reservation agents.
The agent then attempts to make the booking for you. Sometimes they succeed and everything is fine.
Sometimes there are no seats available at the price you saw, or no seats at all, or the flight times have changed. Then they contact you, and offer you an alternative, which you either accept or not.
See the multiple possible failure points? Your request gets lost in the queuing system and is never processed at all. An agent goes off duty leaving a request part-processed. An agent tries to contact you because they can’t supply what you requested – but the message never reaches you.
None of these can happen if you book directly with the airline or book face to face with a real live travel agent.
Next, airlines quite often find they need to alter flight times in between you booking and the actual date of travel, especially if these are months apart. If you book directly with the airline, they send you a notification of this, proposing an alternative.
You don’t have to accept the alternative right off – you might ask to be put on a different one of their flights because you’d miss the ferry to Symi, for example, and you are able to negotiate directly with the airline’s reservation staff.
If you book through a real live agent, they’ll receive the airline notification, contact you, and you can sit with them while they negotiate with the airline on your behalf.
If you book through an online agent, the airline notifies them of changes, but poor customer service standards and low staffing levels mean the agent may never tell you at all. If they do, you then need to try and contact them to in turn contact the airline, it can take anything up to an hour to fight your way through phone systems to speak to a call centre worker. Then you’re in a sort of ping-pong game – agent talks to airline, then has to come back to you with the airline’s answer, go back to the airline with what you say, and so on. See those unhappy people at airports who find their plane left 2 hours ago – most of them were never informed by their online agent!
Does your flight price include hold baggage or not? Book with the airline and it is crystal clear. Book with a competent high street agency and that’s something they’ll sort out for you. Book with an online agency and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes due to their staff errors you end up having no baggage allowance, and have to pay at the airport – probably twice as much as you would if you’d paid in advance.
This is only the beginning – there are fees for changing anything and everything.
Book tickets with Ryanair themselves and put a letter in the wrong place in someone’s name, contact them free of charge by on-line chat, and they’ll fix it free of charge. Book through an online agency and you’ll pay as much as £120- all of which goes to the agency. And of course because their staff rekey all your information, they introduce their own errors – but try and prove it is their error!