The best way to book flights – understanding the implications of how and where
A frustrating conversation with my mum about the best way to book flights led me to draw up this diagram which shows how airlines sell flights to a customer (Jo public), and the numerous *distribution channels along the way.
*A distribution channel is a chain of businesses or intermediaries through which a good or service passes until it reaches the final buyer. Usually a commission is involved at each stage.
Her understanding is that the best way to book flights is by booking a flight via a third-party travel website (examples; Expedia, Lastminute.com, Opodo etc). It’s the cheapest option - much cheaper than booking through a travel agent, and therefore, in her opinion, the best way to book flights.
First of all flight prices fluctuate online daily because of what we call *dynamic pricing. So the cost of a flight you are looking at today, might be higher or lower tomorrow, depending on a set of variants.
* Dynamic pricing, also referred to as surge pricing, demand pricing, or time-based pricing is a pricing strategy in which businesses set flexible prices for products or services based on current market demands.
I advised her to consider using an independent travel agent as the best way to book flights so she has some level of protection and decent customer service. her response was ``we always use *SkyScanner – they’re the cheapest!”
The false notion that using a travel agent means you pay more
My eyes roll into the back of my head when I hear anyone talking about how using a travel agent is more expensive than booking via a faceless website. It’s absolute rubbish!
*Skyscanner is a metasearch engine - my mum is using Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight, a bit like you’d use CompareTheMarket.com to find the cheapest insurance deal.
She’s not booking a flight with Skyscanner - it’s a worry that she thinks she is! Skyscanner dishes you up a list of businesses that you can buy your flight from. Many of these businesses are faceless third-party websites battling for your business - on price - so they need low overheads (as few humans as possible) - relying on tech - to make any money at all.
Sometimes you might be sent to the airline’s official website because that’s the cheapest fare available. Booking directly with the airline is a better option than using a third-party website.
As I explained to her, she might get lucky and pick up a cheap flight via Skyscanner. But it’s certainly not the best way to book flights unless all you care about is the cost of the ticket and not the implications of your decision.
Is the marginal amount of money she saves worth the risk when that booking comes with very little human help and support?
Feel confident that if something goes wrong, you have someone with experience in your corner
A travel agent should have ABTA bonding and if you’re booking a package, you’ll also be protected by ATOL. These important industry regulations are there to protect you.
You are NOT protected by ABTA or ATOL (Air Travel Organiser’s Licence) when you book a standalone flight.
There’s no person-to-person to contact when you choose to book online, and, as many people have found out since Covid reared its ugly head, trying to get through to an airline directly, or worse still - a faceless third-party website - is pretty impossible when the shit hits that fan.
Throughout Covid, some of these third-party websites listed flights as available when in fact they weren’t - but these websites still happily took people’s money, leaving many unfortunate souls on the hamster wheel of trying to obtain refunds. For months at a time.
Personally, I’d rather spend an extra few quid and know that I’m in safe hands should anything happen. Booking directly with the airline, or with a travel agent is the absolute best route to take. Especially right now.
It’s worth noting - it’s the travel agent’s job to get you the best deal they can at the same time as ensuring the flight/holiday will happen, to the best of their knowledge at the time. They have your best interests at heart.
Look at those profit margins - my diagram speaks for itself, right?
Well half that little bit of commission and that’s Charitable Travel’s commission from the tour operator - the Girl About Travel Club’s dedicated travel agency of choice and the first not-for-profit travel agency in the UK donates around half of that (5%) on your behalf to a charity of your choice. Rather than pocketing the profit.