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I blogged last week about how booking domestic flights had become complicated … this week I’m having a crack at booking international flights online when you want multiple stopovers.
Travel in the digital and mobile world has come a long way in the last few years – there’s not much you can’t do with a smartphone these days. There are so many fantastic travel apps that book flights and accommodation, check you in, check your flight status, find great restaurants and things to do, tell you where to go, how to get there and even do the talking for you once you’ve arrived.
But one thing that’s still painful is booking flights online when you want to stop in a number of different destinations along the way, the so-called multi-city stopover trip. Sure, there are some popular online travel agents – like Expedia and Webjet – but it’s still extremely hard to find flights that work for you time-wise and cost-wise on the days you want to travel.
I’m trying to get across the US stopping in different locations along the way. I’d like to mix and match the different combinations that are offered up and even mix up the classes for different sectors. Some options have direct flights, others go via major hubs adding unnecessary days to the trip, others arrive at midnight (best avoided in my experience). It’s proving super hard and super time-consuming trying to work it out. Some sites have me going via Los Angeles to get to Honolulu from Sydney!
I called one popular local airline whose consultant was incredibly helpful but even she suggested I try one of the online travel agents as she couldn’t help with what I was trying to do.
It’s ‘easy’ enough to buy the different sectors online as single flights as long as none of them need to connect up. If you miss a connection due to an airline delay and the bookings aren’t linked then you can be left high and dry – the connecting airline has no responsibility to get you on another flight as they didn’t cause the delay in the first place. And most of the online fares are cheap, inflexible and non-refundable.
Last year I booked some internal South American flights through Orbitz, a popular US online travel agent. Friends based in the US use it all the time and have never had a problem. However when I tried to check in online before my flights there was no record of my booking; even when I got to the airport they still had trouble finding any record of me. I had a few heart-stopping moments when I thought I would be stuck in some uninspiring dustbowl near Lake Titicaca and miss my ongoing flights. Trying to call Orbitz customer service from outside the US when I needed to change a flight was also extremely hard and incredibly painful.
In our brave new digital world, sometimes it’s nice to chat to an ‘old-world’ travel agent.