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  1. Travel planning is half the fun

    While everybody else is on summer vacation, we have stayed at home. It’s hard having to get up early and ride to work when the rest of the world is having a good time. But when the temperature is displayed with one digit and rain showers are dense, I smile to myself under my rain jacket, because we are going to have a vacation later this year. We are making plans to go to the Caribbean. We are invited to a wedding with guests from several continents.

    That’s going to be cool.

    This weekend it was time to book flights and hotels. When a whole family of 4 adults is going to travel that far, it pays to compare prices. I definitely don’t want to pay too much, and not too little. If a price is too low to be true, I know something’s wrong.

    When you book online, it is important to get a good overview, find the lowest prices and choose a secure payment solution.

    Where do you want to purchase your travel? Do you prefer to use a travel agent, or buy directly from the airline or the hotel?

    Tickets on-line

    I use Momondo.com a lot to get an overview of all flights. They compare every flight that exists and provide you with a very good overview. Momondo is a portal over travel agencies, and will gladly guide you to one of them to complete your transaction. I never use any of Momondo’s travel agencies – I go directly to the airline company. My experience is that low price tickets are the same everywhere, and since all airlines have safe websites, I might as well use them.

    Yellow card to Momondo.com!

    It is not too obvious to notice when Momondo leaves the control to one of «their» travel agents. At some point you are dealing with a travel agent – and not Momondo. Pay attention to which travel agent you are directed to, and never use travel agencies you do not trust. There are a few bad travel agencies out there, and Momondo will happily send you to one of them. I ordered tickets for the Easter holidays for the whole family through a travel agent Momondo sent me to, without thinking very much of which. I was surprised when the man at the airport gave us so called “Chance tickets”, tickets that can only be used if ordinary ticket holders do not show up at gate. There was nothing on the travel agent pages that said I would not get real tickets.

    It was obviously too cheap to be true.

    Hotels online

    I always book hotels through a travel agent. I have good experience of using Hotels.com, Expedia.com and Ticket.com. They give you a good overview of hotels, good prices, discounts and secure payment solutions. Moreover, they’ll help you in case you get problems with the hotel.

    A colleague arrived at a southern European hotel one evening with the whole family after a long train journey, and asked if they had any rooms available. The receptionist looked at the sleepy family and said yes, – but only the most expensive rooms. My colleague then took up his smartphone and found out that the receptionist had lied to them. The hotel had in fact many vacant and cheap rooms. He immediately ordered two rooms on Hotels.com and showed the order number to the smart receptionist.

    Travel agents earn their money from percentages they get from hotels, – percentages which many hotels would like to keep. Therefore they are keen to make you book throught their own booking website instead of the travel agents.

    To our Caribbean getaway I chose to book through British Airways‘ website. I had just ordered expensive tickets, so why not? They promised us good prices. And indeed they were, – they were too good to be true, – now ordered and paid in full. I have contacted the hotel and they say that everything is in perfect order. Yet I smell a rat.

    Did British Airways have a bug in their software?

    The week after I ordered some other tickets via Norwegian.no. Then again I saw this quote up on the screen: Book hotel via the airline? Based on experience with BA, I thought «why not?» – But this time I was directed to Booking.com. Booking.com looks like a travel agency, but is not. Their mission is to capture customers and send them straight to the respective hotels as soon as possible, so that the hotels can complete the transaction with the credit card information you gave to Booking.com. As a customer you are now on your own with the hotel.

    Several days after my order was sent and confirmed I received an email which explained that there was something wrong with my payment (without telling what kind of error) and asked me to enter the card number again. Have you seen it before? I have.

    «Nigerian scam mail,» I thought.

    Doubtful I called Booking.com’s customer service center. They say they speak my language (i.e. Norwegian), but I ended up in some call center in India. The somewhat arrogant Indian man I spoke with, told me that «of course the mail was a legitime mail”. He told me that the hotel probably needed my credit card number. But since all handling of payments was now transferred to the hotel, my credit card number had to be sent there on an open line in clear text.

    Yellow card to Booking.com!

    If you use Booking.com don’t choose hotels you don’t trust. If you get trouble with a foreign hotel, you will be completely on your own. There are a lot of complaints on the net where customers have been drawn for more than agreed, had to pay twice, and the like – errors that look a lot like fraud. Who should you call? I promise, you will not get anywhere with the man at the Indian call center.

    I did not.

    Thus, I logged into Hotels.com and booked the same rooms again. It took less than 2 minutes and I got them a few pounds cheaper than via Norwegian and Booking.com. Great! A few days later I received a homemade mail directly from the hotel to provide more details, since I used a third-party provider. There was something in the mail that told me that the hotel did not like getting orders from travel agencies. I think I hear the Indian on the call center with its Indian accent saying:

    😮 «- Oh, there is the troublemaker again …»

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