Are you overpaying when you book your hotel or flight? You could be if you’re using the wrong booking site. Or just trying to reserve everything online from your own country could be resulting in higher rates.
There’s been a narrowing of prices over the years as the internet has matured, so when you look on Kayak, HotelsCombined, or Trivago, you sometimes won’t see much of a difference in prices. Despite all the consolidation in the travel industry, however, the major players are all still trying to wrestle away as much business as they can from each other. So they’ll do what they can around the margins to keep you from shopping around.
This is why they try to get you to set up fare alerts or join their newsletter list for deals. Some run points programs to keep you coming back, get you locked into a branded credit card. Or they resort to making some customers pay more than loyalty members for services that should be included in the rates, such as WiFi.
One factor most international travelers are less aware of is the big differences in international booking sites. On the world stage, for hotels you will generally be okay if you use Agoda for Asia, Booking.com for Europe and Latin America, and any of the American biggies for the USA and Canada. But it doesn’t stop there…
Travel Booking in the Middle East
There are lots of Americans living in and traveling through the Middle East on a regular basis, If they try to search on Kayak or book their flight on Expedia, it’s probably not a good move.
It would be a much better move to head straight to Wego, a metasearch site based in Dubai and Singapore. This may be the biggest travel search site you’ve never heard of, in business since 2005. They’re pulling prices from other sites that are even more of a mystery, like ZenHotels, HolidayMe or dnatatravel. In my side-by-side comparisons for flights and hotels around Egypt, Jordan, and Dubai, they came out ahead of their international counterparts more than 2/3 of the time. Those are good odds, so go compare hotel prices on Wego.
As with Kayak, they show the best options from multiple sites and then send you where you find the best deal for the booking.
Travel Booking in Asia
In an earlier post I mentioned a booking service in the Philippines that was giving us lower prices throughout certain parts of Southeast Asia, as well as a deep selection. In general, Agoda will do well too there, especially in their home base of Thailand. But what about flights?
The last time I was in Southeast Asia and decided at the last minute to fly between Siem Reap and Vietnam, the best booking site was actually no site at all—it was a storefront. A physical travel agent was able to find us a much better deal than anything I could find online. This is frequently the case because 1) They often have access to special deals or hidden fares and 2) They know who all the players are flying in and out of each airport. There are a lot of little budget airlines we don’t hear about on the other side of the world and the best deal might be on AirAsia, Nok Air, or tomorrow’s new startup.
Alternate Travel Options in Europe
Europe, Canada, and the USA share a lot of the same booking sites and in less developed countries you’re almost sure to find the best hotel selection through Booking.com. There are a lot of independent hotels in Europe though and many of them refuse to pay the fat commissions to online travel agents. So you may find them on a metasearch engine, or a bed-and-breakfast site, or on TripAdvisor. Then there’s Airbnb, Vrbo, and the others. It can take a lot of poking around, so be patient if everything looked overpriced at first.
Transportation is where the decision-making gets really complicated in Europe though. There’s an extensive train system in most countries, a ferry system to some cities, then also an extensive system of budget airlines. But wait—how much luggage are you carrying (factor in extra fees) and which airport does that budget airline fly into (factor in ground transportation)? Is there a metro to the center or do you need a cab?
Booking transportation and hotels in Europe is seldom a “one site and I’m done” transaction. The best bet might be a bus through Montenegro where you’re the last person still on it for the final hour…
How’s Your Spanish?
Parts of Latin America are well-served by low-cost domestic flights. Mexico has a range of budget airlines that cover most of the country. Others, like Argentina and Chile, can cost you even more to get around than what you spent to get there in the first place. To make things even more complicated, the most popular booking sites and many airline sites are in Spanish only. Just finding your country of origin from a pull-down menu can be tricky if it’s “Estados Unidos.”
If you ask a local how they book their trips, the answer may surprise you. “My travel agent” is still a common reply. Or some buy a package deal from the dominant national airline because that’s a predictable total price and it’s easy. Others use local booking sites such as BestDay (based in Mexico) or Despegar (based in Argentina). Often if you search one of these—or the local airline site—you can get the local currency price for locals instead of the dollar price meant for foreigners. This is also where the travel agent can come in handy too, since they’ll get the local price every time.
When have you found a foreign booking site abroad that got you a better deal?