Things You (Probably) Don’t Know but Should

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things to know about booking online

I was on my way to write a post about my recent cruise on Anthem of the Seas when I read a post in a trade online publication travelmarketreport.com, written by Doug Gollan. The name of this post is quite long but self-explanatory: As OTAs Expand Their Reach, a Trail of Complaints Suggests Online Booking May Not Be the Best Choice for Consumers.

Due to an ethical reason – not to share our trade publications with consumers – I will not publish a link to this publication. You can easily Google and find it by yourself if you wish to read the original.

This is the first publication that I have been seen with a lot of real examples and statistics.

Usually, I am very nice about my online competition – we have the different models and totally different clientele. So, my clients trust me as their personal travel advisor for years and I don’t see that they are converted for online bookings.

I just want to share with you some facts that Doug Gollan wrote about. This post will help you to evaluate the risk of being your own travel agent for a 2016 complicated vacation.

Thousands of complaints about OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) are filled on sites as the Better Business Bureau (BBB), Consumer Affairs, Trusted Pilot, and Pissed Consumer. The major issues are as follows:

  • Unspecified post-trip charges to credit cards,
  • Airline tickets being rebooked to the wrong destination after a schedule change, being bounced from one supplier to another to resolve a problem,
  • Hotel reservations not on record when guests showed up,
  • Cheap fares that suddenly disappear when one tries to book them,
  • Confusion about checked luggage charges, fare rules and change fees,
  • Long hold times and dropped calls when needing to talk to a human, and
  • Lack of response to questions and complaints.

Doug Gollan wrote,

PissedConsumer.com rates Expedia, Travelocity, and Priceline each as one star for service and two for “web usability.”

 

“Price range” — the area where OTAs would be expected to excel — yields only two stars for each. According to 1,423 reviews about Expedia, the average amount lost was over $1,000 per customer; Travelocity customers reporting losing $848 each.

 

Based on 876 reviews, TrustPilot.com, a site that features consumer reviews, users rate Expedia a 0.5 on a scale of 0 to 10. Travelocity fared better with a score of six, however, 21% of reviews gave it just one star, and even seasoned travelers voiced complaints — including the CFO of a company who spent nearly $100 trying to call for help on what he believed was an incorrect post-trip charge.

 

Hotels.com was rated a 3.0, with nearly 3 in 10 posters giving it only one star. Hotwire.com rated a 0.6 out of 10, while 274 Orbitz reviews combined for a 1.4 score.

 

It doesn’t end. The Better Business Bureau reported 3,515 closed complaints about Expedia over three years. … What’s more, 47% of the complaints about Expedia have been in the past 12 months.

 

Of 135 customer reviews about Expedia on the BBB website, 129 were negative, five neutral, and one positive. For Travelocity, there are 50 reviews listed with 48 negative and two positive alongside 1,451 closed complaints. Priceline.com had nearly 3,000 complaints in the past three years and 46 reviews, all negative. Orbitz received 1,480 complaints and 49 reviews, 45 negative. Hotwire.com registered 2,219 complaints and nine reviews, all negative….

 

According to Skift.com, Priceline Group spent $2.6 billion in advertising in 2014, while Expedia shelled out $1.6 billion. While much of the spending goes to online search, according to the travel trends website, OTAs spent $621 million on U.S. television advertising last year.”

WOW, this is very interesting!

Travel agents don’t have this kind of money to advertise our service.
Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, criticized the marketing approach of OTAs and other companies that are advertising “do it yourself” online services to consumers….
He told Travel Market Report,

The subtext of those billions in advertising…is that you are stupid if you don’t do it yourself.”

 

The motive of the marketing is profit rather than what’s best for the consumer, and

 

“VCs and investors like to remove as many human beings as possible to drive fatter margins and faster growth.”

I like this point; they remove human beings to drive fatter margins with faster growth.

Please pay attention to those paragraphs:

While it may seem like fun at the beginning, these stories illustrate how easy it is for even sophisticated travelers to lose money, vacations and lots of time. It’s very sad.

 

Maybe there should be a warning during the ads like they have on cigarette boxes or during the pharmaceutical commercials, so consumers understand the potential consequences. …

 

Now, a Travel Market Report analysis finds that while OTAs may work well for consumers who know exactly what they want — or are expert on the ins and outs of the travel industry’s complex pricing, rules, and restrictions — many consumers end up with money and time wasted, and vacations ruined. …

 

35% of OTA travelers would book offline if they could find a competent agent.”

And this is my favorite: some extract from chat between consumer Jessica Bryant and Priceline.

Jessica Bryant: Is there actually a way to reach someone for help at Priceline BEFORE you pay money for a trip? I’ve been trying with live chat and phone. Luis at live chat was horrible and refused to answer my question, he just kept telling me go to the site and look and then ended the chat. Your phone assistance is literally impossible to get a person on, it just directs you back to the website. I want to book a vacation but your lack of customer service is infuriating.
Like · Reply · 2 · November 3 at 5:05pm
Jessica Bryant: This is pretty much the only customer service i’ve received Like · Reply · November 3 at 5:12pm
Jessica Bryant Robert: Hi, my name is Robert. How may I help you?
JESSICA BRYANT: Can you connect me by phone to a live person, please?
JESSICA BRYANT: The customer service phone number doesn’t connect to anyone, it’s just automated for eternity
Robert: I understand that this must be very important for you. Please call us at (800-774-2354), you will need your 11 digit Trip number. After entering in your trip number, your call will be sent directly to a phone agent. The phone agent will have a full transcript of our chat conversation.
JESSICA BRYANT: I don’t have a trip number.
JESSICA BRYANT: i haven’t booked because I have a question about booking and I can’t get answers
Robert: It sounds like you haven’t booked your reservation yet. Our self-service Help Center is designed to assist you with any questions you may have prior to booking your reservation. By visiting the Help Center you can choose from a list of topics or use the search feature. The direct link for the help center is http://www.priceline.com/help/#/. You can also access the Help Center at any time throughout the booking process by selecting “HELP” in the top right-hand corner of your screen and selecting “Self Service”.
JESSICA BRYANT: STOP giving me the same spam as everyone else!
JESSICA BRYANT: I’ve TRIED to use the self service. I need to talk to an actual person.
JESSICA BRYANT: But there is no way to get a person through the phone number.
Robert: I cannot see what specific purchase options may be shown to you during the booking process. It’s best that you use the information immediately available to you on the website and in the Help Center.
JESSICA BRYANT: I understand this is why i’m trying to get a person over the phone.
JESSICA BRYANT: Do you have people that answer the phone before booking?
Robert: ppc3
Robert: The best resource to use is the Help Center. Please chat again if you have any questions once you have placed a request. Thank you for chatting with us today.
Robert has disconnected.
Like · Reply · November 3 at 5:12pm

Please keep in mind that we are real humans, don’t disconnect, and answer all questions before, during, and after the trip, if you need me or my associates.

Have a great weekend!

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Nadia Jastrjembskaia
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Elite Cruise Counselor

Nadia Jastrjembslaia. PhD. is a CLIA certified Cruise Counselor in the highest rank of Elite Cruise Counselor and Luxury Cruise Specialist. CLIA stands for Cruise Line International Association. She is a managing director of Aurora Cruises and Travel - storefront cruise travel agency in Port St. Lucie, Florida. She experienced more than 80 cruise ships and sailings. Nadia is a published author with her new book Suite Cruising on Royal Caribbean Fleet is scheduled to hit market in March 2016.

Nadia Jastrjembskaia
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