The perfect OTA?

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Old Mar 9, 18, 9:29 am
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The perfect OTA?

Hi,

i've been following this forum a long time (especially the Premium Fare Deals sub), but this is my first post.

If I made up my mind (using this forum, Google Flights and Kayak), and I am ready for booking, I mostly go through airline websites. Very seldom I am using an OTA.

When it comes to OTAs, is there room for improvement? So far everybody is doing the same thing: trying to offer a cheaper price (sometimes using shady tricks)

So here is my question: What should the perfect OTA have, which feature would have you consider booking with an OTA, instead with the airline directly (aside from the price)?


Maybe there is an OTA, which is offering something unique?


Curious to hear your thoughts.
Cheers,
Markus

Last edited by geheimwaffeT; Mar 11, 18 at 11:04 am Reason: typo
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Old Mar 10, 18, 9:00 am
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I would say be able to book fares that are unavailable on the airline's website.

Flight Network through BookWithMatrix is excellent for booking fares that are only available on the Google ITA Matrix.

Sometimes the UA website gives me an error on the last page when I try to book a fare. Their phone agent always say it's because the fare is no longer available. However 99% of the time I'm able to book it through Orbitz.

-------

On a sidenote most OTAs are scammy. The #1 biggest scam is not allowing you to cancel within 24hours for free (or having to pay a protection fee for it).
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Old Mar 11, 18, 5:55 am
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A benefit I find is that fares which the airline offers just aren't available on the website, often because they combine with partner airlines for the outbound or return.
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Old Mar 12, 18, 2:26 pm
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--I feel obligated to chime in here, and will preface that my response does stem from an active, vested financial interest in travel spending market share--

I'm a 25 year old travel agent, specializing in luxury (in the age of smartphones--gasp!) but the framework is still the same as the visual you have in your head of what a travel agent classically is. I book in a command-line-prompt GDS with Direct Connect access to airline & hotel inventory, etc.

I think the *original value proposition* of OTAs was brilliant--offer discounted hotel inventory to travelers, thereby generating explicit value and fill unsold rooms for the hotel--the hotel won't make as much money, but they'll make some, and that's better than an empty room, thereby boosting the ADR, REVPAR, etc. And allowing the end-traveler to book their travel instantly and completely using their credit card, which wasn't formerly possible.

Where they went wrong was a) reporting to shareholders rather than travelers and b) prioritizing competition over value

I've had countless discussions with GMs, Directors of Sales, Reservations Managers, controllers, etc and in the luxury market, OTAs have become a dirty word because they are actually diminishing the ADR and REVPAR of their member hotels.

Why?

Expedia, for example, now commands roughly 20-25% commission on already-reduced hotel nights. This is in addition to a mandatory contracted number of nights annually, paired with additional fees and charges just to be listed when travelers are shopping.

Under our model ("our" meaning travel agents) hotels are paying us ~10% when booking direct, and we tend to book Best Available Rates. What that translates to for the end traveler is the extension of VIP amenities such as room upgrades to rooms hundreds of dollars more per night, included breakfasts, late checkout, etc.

For flights, I have had clients email me itineraries from XXX to YYY they found on an OTA for $2k cheaper than the itinerary I quoted. What they failed to see completely was that the OTA itinerary included three stopovers (including a 16 hour overnight) while mine included 1, 3-hour layover. They only saw the price. And this is the key differentiator.

Travel agents continue to service and grow their business servicing travelers who are focused on the experience. Most of my clients are price-sensitive, but when they see the value I am able to offer (and the elevated level of service that comes with it) they have no problem spending a bit more.

My final thoughts that I offer to every traveler, whether they end up converting as a client, or continue to book through OTAs:

1) every single booking platform worth using can access the lowest published price for a given specific flight at a specific time of booking. some companies, whether Orbitz or a traditional travel agency like mine, have what are called net fare agreements, where we are able to offer lower fares discounted from our commission through exclusive agreements.

2) contrary to what Condé Nast would have you believe, there is no "magic formula/time/website" for finding the lowest price. no amount of standing on your head at 11:59p on Tuesday night rubbing your hand in a circle on your stomach is magically going to release the "sale". The RULE is that the further out you buy your ticket, the lower the price will be. As seats sell, ticket prices go up, because the cheaper seats go quicker.

In an effort to make more money and sell pricier seats far in advance, some airlines retain the cheapest seats until ~6 months prior to travel. Additionally, if a flight is not selling, some airlines will hold sales in order to fill seats and not lose money on an empty plane. There is no set time during which this occurs. When sales are available, everyone will have access to them, and an informed agent will be able to advise the specific conditions regarding your travels and the purchase thereof.

3) a traditional agent can always match OTA rates. Expedia even has an affiliate network from which we can commission (I believe they cut us a percentage of that 20-25% they're charging the hotel). the difference? an independent agent relies on your business, so we care about your stay. An OTA hangs up on you because they rely on their shareholders.

I always emphasize to my clients that I acknowledge I may be one of many different ways they book travel, and I always appreciate the opportunity to go to bat on their behalf.
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Old Mar 12, 18, 9:58 pm
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Originally Posted by geheimwaffeT View Post
So here is my question: What should the perfect OTA have, which feature would have you consider booking with an OTA, instead with the airline directly (aside from the price)?


Maybe there is an OTA, which is offering something unique?
In a previous life, I was required to use egencia to book travel. It was never my favorite for finding the flights, however it had one distinct advantage: you could easily select the fare class you wanted to book. Fare bucket too cheap to be upgradeable? Simply select an eligible bucket. Want to fly in a premium cabin in one direction only? Easily done in a click or two. (Of course, I never actually did it on my itineraries, as I was just one step above an intern at the time).

I have yet to see any other service that can do that. I think I have tricked BookWithMatrix into giving me what I wanted once or twice, but that required a bit of EF research to find availability and fare info.
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Old Mar 13, 18, 1:02 am
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Originally Posted by emilio911 View Post
On a sidenote most OTAs are scammy. The #1 biggest scam is not allowing you to cancel within 24hours for free (or having to pay a protection fee for it).
Although it sucks, I wouldn't say it's a scam. They're not required to offer you a free 24-hour cancellation window. The DOT rule only applies to airlines, not OTAs.
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Old Mar 13, 18, 5:27 am
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Originally Posted by diburning View Post
Although it sucks, I wouldn't say it's a scam. They're not required to offer you a free 24-hour cancellation window. The DOT rule only applies to airlines, not OTAs.
Most still allow 24 hour cancellation.
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Old Mar 13, 18, 10:41 am
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Originally Posted by joshwex90 View Post
Most still allow 24 hour cancellation.
That's exactly what makes it scammy. Most of them allow the 24 hour cancellation, so customers expect the 24 hour cancellation window. So the ones that don't offer it are actually using that expectation to scam unsuspecting customers.

Originally Posted by diburning View Post
Although it sucks, I wouldn't say it's a scam. They're not required to offer you a free 24-hour cancellation window. The DOT rule only applies to airlines, not OTAs.
And yes, that scam is 100% legal.
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Old Mar 13, 18, 10:47 am
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Originally Posted by tigerhunt2011 View Post
3) a traditional agent can always match OTA rates. Expedia even has an affiliate network from which we can commission (I believe they cut us a percentage of that 20-25% they're charging the hotel).
But can you match the airline's website for airfare?
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Old Mar 14, 18, 2:27 pm
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Originally Posted by tigerhunt2011 View Post

The RULE is that the further out you buy your ticket, the lower the price will be. As seats sell, ticket prices go up, because the cheaper seats go quicker.
That's mostly incorrect - cheaper fare buckets are often loaded well after the booking window opens.
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Old Mar 15, 18, 4:12 pm
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Originally Posted by emilio911 View Post
But can you match the airline's website for airfare?
Yes--the airline's website is irrelevant--the fare inventory and the booking system is what counts. We don't book through the airline, we "are" the airline as we hook directly into their systems.

AA.com for example is basically a graphical, consumer-friendly interface for Sabre, their back-end system that manages flight inventory & operations. Any AA gate agent, Admiral's Club staff, check-in agent, etc operates in Sabre. (Post-merger they use graphical overlays integrated in the proprietary Sabre interface that limit what they can do (i.e. overriding fees, upgrading, etc))

This is my whole point. Whether it's the airline website, an OTA, or a phone call with me, we can all see the same pricing & availability when it comes to published airfare rates. Expedia and OTAs just choose to put distractions like "ONLY THREE SEATS LEFT", timers, etc to create time urgency, which is one of the oldest marketing tactics in the book to close a sale. It's effective, certainly, but not usually accurate.
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Old Mar 15, 18, 4:13 pm
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Originally Posted by erik123 View Post
That's mostly incorrect - cheaper fare buckets are often loaded well after the booking window opens.
see:
In an effort to make more money and sell pricier seats far in advance, some airlines retain the cheapest seats until ~6 months prior to travel. Additionally, if a flight is not selling, some airlines will hold sales in order to fill seats and not lose money on an empty plane. There is no set time during which this occurs. When sales are available, everyone will have access to them, and an informed agent will be able to advise the specific conditions regarding your travels and the purchase thereof.
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Old Mar 16, 18, 4:52 am
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Originally Posted by diburning View Post
Although it sucks, I wouldn't say it's a scam. They're not required to offer you a free 24-hour cancellation window. The DOT rule only applies to airlines, not OTAs.
And even airlines are not required to offer a 24 hour cancellation window.... they are required to offer EITHER a 24 hour cancellation window OR a 24 hour hold. Just sayin.....
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Old Mar 16, 18, 7:05 am
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The perfect OTA - for me, that would be me. I consider all my piddly needs and personal quirks.

And I work very hard for me. Never scam myself.

Fortunately, I don't have a day job any longer, so can devote enormous amounts of time amusing myself finding the perfect trips.

I find myself wondering, Marcus, if you are headed for writing an article, setting up your own business, or maybe just a school class project???
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Old Mar 18, 18, 3:47 pm
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I book directly with airlines when it comes to flights. I like the flexibility of picking my seat and not having to rely on third party sites. For hotels, it is an entirely different world and that's where I can justify paying for membership-based sites, such as LMT and WHG due to the money I save. But I would never say that anything out there is "perfect"... you have to try and see it for yourself what works the best for you!
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