By now, travelers of any age realize that if they don’t use online resources they have almost zero chance of finding the best travel deals on their own. But the big online travel agencies, with their “we’ll find the lowest fare” mantra, are too impersonal for many travelers. One big change I expect to see in the next few years is much more personalization to online travel. Here are some current examples:
Online agencies that provide more than just fares and rates. CheapAir.com announced a new service that matches each customer to a “travel adviser.” Not only do you get a personal adviser, says a release, but you get a real person based in the United States, not Bangalore. A personal contact can be useful when you’re first booking, but he or she can be invaluable when you need to change an itinerary or encounter a problem. CheapAir also has introduced a voice-activated app for iPhone for those users who aren’t really adept at texting. And its routine fare displays show which flights offer onboard Wi-Fi, on-demand movies and live TV.
Several other online agencies provide useful details, including Routehappy.com, which displays airfare “happiness factors” based not only on the fare but also on relative seat room, type of plane, Wi-Fi and entertainment, flier rating and such. Although I haven’t seen it yet, I expect that soon – maybe even later this year – some online agency will give you the opportunity to compare flights on an all-up price basis, including fees for checked baggage, meals, seat assignments and other extras you might want.
Online sources that help you plan a trip. If you’re still thinking about a future trip, several online agencies and search engines have recently introduced various approaches to electronic help. Here are a few of the many that promise to ease you through the planning process:
• Adioso.com. This site’s shtick is that you enter the sort of trip you might like, in natural language, such as “a week in the Caribbean,” and the search returns some options. You can refine the search by distance and cost.
• Gogobot.com. The mantra here is “Plan the perfect trip based on tips from people like you.” You select an interest-based “tribe,” ranging from luxury to backpack and budget, also including such other options as food and family. The site returns a “curated” list of places that fit your plan, and it also offers to arrange airfare and hotel or vacation rental accommodations.
• Secretearth.com. This London-based newbie is still in beta, but its approach is interesting. Use the site’s database created by “top travel writers,” collect your ideas in a “Tripbox,” then use the site’s aggregator to find the best prices.
• Trekkel.com. “Travel planning simplicity,” is the slogan. Select a city or area, then set an importance scale for 12 trip focus options, such as cultural or food. The site returns recommendations for places to go and things to see.
• Triposo.com. This website urges you to “Go anywhere; miss nothing.” Although it’s primarily an app for iOS or Android, you can use it on the Internet, as well. You get current information, maps and “intelligent recommendations” for more than 15,000 destinations around the world.
• ZapTravel.com. These folks feature “semantic travel metasearch.” Enter a natural language request, such as “I want to visit historical places in New England,” and the site returns airfare-plus-hotel packages that fit your request.
A real travel agent. No matter how sophisticated online systems can get, working face-to-face with a real travel agent, in a real office, is the ultimate in assisted planning and booking. Once supposedly doomed to extinction, real travel agents are doing nicely, thank you, and they continue to provide help for the entire travel process, from initial destination and activity recommendations to detailed booking for transportation, accommodations and as many activities as you want to – prearrange. And you can’t beat a travel agent when something goes wrong once you’ve started. Yes, you pay a fee, but the agent does all the work; you sit back and relax until it’s finished.
No matter how sophisticated online systems can get, working face-to-face with a real travel agent, in a real office, is the ultimate in assisted planning and booking.