Booking airline tickets online: Easy or irritatingly difficult?

As a blogger I bookmark and follow a huge amount of travel-related websites that feature news and reviews in the airline and travel industry. One of them is whose tagline is “Talking Travel Tech.” It really is a fantastic site and they frequently cover global distribution system (GDS) issues and stories for which I enjoy and geek out on given my previous work history in the industry.

One article last week entitled “Six myths of air travel search on the web” caught my attention and I clicked in thinking I’d once again agree with their normally accurate reporting. Some of the conclusions in that article completely took me by surprise and I have to share my disagreements here.

Myth 1 – Air search is simple and easy. They claim, “Invariably, it is difficult to find prices and routes, and there is a bewildering array of options.” What? Go to any Online Travel Agency (OTA) or airline website, plug in your dates and to & from cities, and you quickly get a selection of routes and fares. I just don’t understand why they think it’s so hard to find this information.

They continue, “Users can spend hours looking at different possible options… (often finding a) bewildering array of options.” Yes, when you search for a ticket many pairings of flights appear, but they’re generally sorted by time-of-day and price. Is it really that difficult to comprehend the search results?

Myth 2 – It doesn’t matter where a user searches (the results are the same). In my experience, yes, I’ve occasionally found different hotel prices on different sites. It’s not very often and it’s normally due to the fact that the OTAs aren’t quick enough to pull down availability when a hotel reports expired rates. On the airline front, however, OTAs generally pull real-time availability and this article claims, “The results, regardless of search site, are inconsistent and generate little trust for the user.” When you actually click through to book a flight at a quoted fare, the OTA immediately confirms real-time pricing and will display a “We’re sorry, this fare no longer exists” message when warranted. Okay, maybe I’ll give them a little leeway in the “trust” issue, but they shouldn’t claim inconsistent results when OTAs do in fact pull actual pricing.

Myth 3 – Air search works. They claim, “Frankly, it doesn’t. For something that looks like a commodity product, an airline seat is complicated.” I’ll give them credit there as ancillary fees create a lot of confusion and inconsistency when searching across all carriers, but they continue on saying, “(some websites) often powered by ITA generate a result, but this is no longer dynamic. Meanwhile, the internal price from the call centre agent is dynamic and can be different.” Nope. ITA is by far the most powerful and accurate airfare search tool I’ve ever come across. If anyone has real-time availability and fares down, it’s ITA.

The remaining myths discussed do have their merit and I’d encourage you to read the full article. Maybe I’m being too critical because of my “expert” travel experience and abilities, but I do feel this writer misinterprets the ease we have in searching and booking air tickets today. Google Flight Search needs a huge amount of improvement to become a leading tool for flight bookings, as he acknowledges. He also notes the inability to book flights after having found an ideal itinerary on Kayak. His claim, though, that finding flights “should be a heck of a lot better than it is,” seems ridiculous in my mind. Don’t you find booking flights pretty convenient today?

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