Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Trials and Tribulations of Booking Airline Tickets

Searching for airfare is always so nerve-racking.  Yes, I love it (you see, my blog header says I love planning trips, which I do!) but the whole airfare system is just so confounding and often demoralizing!  Just when you think you found the perfect flight at the perfect price - poof! - it's gone with the next click of your mouse.

This week I began my very first search for group airfare.  The biggest group I've ever booked for a flight is my family of four, and that doesn't qualify.  A group, in the travel world, is more than ten.  My eight Girl Scouts plus the three adults going to Switzerland in December make eleven.

So I started with a basic google search for fares on kayak.com and just about flipped when I found a roundtrip ticket for under $700 (we're flying from the west coast.)  I wanted to jump on it, to scream and rejoice, but was it too early in the game?  I'd hardly done enough research yet!  And I certainly couldn't charge the whole thing to my credit card without collecting from the travelers first!  With my heart racing, I quickly input my search on Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, and CheapTickets.  No comparable fares.  I tried American Airlines, United Airlines, Swiss Air, Lufthansa, Virgin, Delta, and British Airways.  No luck.  Not a single ticket under $800.

The low price flight that I wanted was only available on Vayama and Airfare.com, and I'd never heard of these on-line services before.  They are what are known as international travel discounters, and they sell regular published fares, their own negotiated fares, and consolidator inventory.  Sounds great, until you google them and find some scary references to scams and lawsuits.  But I read Nancy's advice at The Wanderkind - a trusty blog - and she convinced me these sites were okay as long as you read the fine print.

So I tried to book on Vayama and Airfare.com, but they only allow you to book a maximum of six tickets at a time.  When I phoned them (after being on hold with Vayama for 22 minutes), both agencies told me I should book two reservations on-line:  one for six people and another for five.  I told them I was afraid that I'd book the first one and then when I attempted the second, there'd be no more seat availability.  Yes, yes, that's likely, they both replied.  "But for only $50 you can then cancel the first reservation!"  No go.  Our little Girl Scout troop is strapped enough without having to pay fees.

My next step was to appeal directly to the airlines.  Every airline has an on-line form where you can request a quote for your group of more than ten people.  I assumed the purpose was to offer groups a better deal, a discount.  NOT!!!  Delta responded with a price of $997 per ticket plus a $25 ticketing fee, per ticket.  Continental replied they don't have service to my requested area.  (Strange, since flights to Zurich are offered on their website.)  I'm still waiting for responses from the other airlines, but I'm not holding my breath.

I'm going to try a local travel agent tomorrow (a real live person) but I haven't received competitive airfare quotes from a travel agent in years.  I'm sure I'll be whining posting about that next week.  Stay tuned.

7 comments:

  1. Wait, travel agents still exist? :) I totally agree - searching for airfare is a frustrating process, and I can't even imagine doing it for a group. GOOD LUCK!!

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  2. Good Luck! I used to have a really good travel agent who was very good at finding deals, but once she retired... well, I just never bothered to call after that. Then again, I haven't really done any big trips since then either.

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  3. Also, I think it's awesome that you're taking your girl scout troop on such a trip! Seriously.

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  4. Hello dear,

    Thanks for following my blog. I am returning the love.
    Keep your great posts coming. Love your blog!

    Would you like to be my regular guest blogger? Please email me at talesofablogger@gmail.com.

    Take care!

    * divine's memoirs
    * the journalistic view
    * giveaways and bloghops

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  5. Just a quick piece of advice...we booked a small group to Europe in November and when we go to JFK the person who had booked it didn't have the same credit card with her that she had used to purchase, and it delayed us almost an hour (we thought we were going to miss our flight!) while they cancelled out all of our tickets and made us re-purchase them at the checkin. It's never happened to me before (and we travel to Europe with our family as often as possible!) The moral of the story is to make sure the same credit card goes with you to the airport...just in case!

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  6. @The GREEN Connecticut Realtor: SO SO true! And important for me to remember since I had trouble booking last night with my credit card and had to switch to another!

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  7. :) Sonja, I don't know if you're ever looking for guest posts, but I'd be happy to share some of my kids (aged 4 & 6) favorite experiences from their 1st trip to Europe (French bullfights, accidentally finding DaVinci's tomb, favorite B&Bs & inns or the villa we rented in Tuscany - how to pick the right villa, canal tours/chocolate/holy blood in Brugge, favorite museum moments, etc.) Hubby & I have both spent time studying & living in Europe so we wanted to give the kids a little more of an authentic experience (btw, our apartment in the Marais was a slice of heaven and a STEAL at $100/night!!!) They loved the trip and not a week goes by that they don't ask about when we're going back! Not soon enough if you ask me :)

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