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I’m TIRED of Misinformed “Travel Experts”!

November 14, 2007 | Posted in: Airfare News,Airline News,Travel Tips

There’s a lot of junk out on the internet. And I’m sick of it.One thing we pride ourselves on at FareCompare is accuracy; our goal, beyond getting you the cheapest airfare possible, is giving you information you can trust.

So when I saw this recent travel shopping blog post in the Washington Post, a post just riddled with errors, I thought, I can’t let them get away with this. So, here’s the REAL story.

I’m going to show you the many mistakes in the Washington Post’s travel blog, followed by the REAL facts. The last thing the traveling public needs, is more misinformation.

 

Anyway, here’s what appeared in print, followed by my response.

 

1. WHAT THEY SAID: “We found recently everywhere that Virgin America flies in the U.S. to London…”

 

MY RESPONSE: WRONG! Virgin America doesn’t fly to London; it only flies within the U.S. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt though; they obviously meant Virgin Atlantic.

 

2. WHAT THEY SAID: “Travelocity bought a lot of seats on Virgin to sell them for higher prices and then decided they needed to get rid of them. So they had this unadvertised, four-day sale…”

 

MY RESPONSE: THIS IS BUNK! Travelocity is not a tour operator and does not pre-buy seats at a fixed price and try to resell them at a higher markup, then dump them if they can’t. I am sitting here at conference in Orlando of travel CEO’s and the head of Travelocity was asked if she would ever entertain this type of pre-buying and she hedged and said maybe at some point. She was also asked about honoring mistake airfares and said they honored some and others they didn’t. Travelocity, does however, create deal packages with many airlines (where airfare, hotel and perhaps a rental car are combined and sold at a single price — less than the sum of the components ala carte; the consumer doesn’t see the actual price of the airline ticket and it might be discounted heavily or a pre-negotiated rate).

 

3. WHAT THEY SAID: “[The airlines are] trying to squeeze out the online travel agencies and they’ll probably be successful…”

 

MY RESPONSE: NO WAY! Yes, it is cheaper if you buy an airline ticket on an airline website (since you don’t have to pay the fee that Travelocity, Orbitz and the others charge, although now Priceline.com has waved booking fees putting them on par with the airline supplier), and yes, airlines would prefer that consumers booked on their sites, but there’s no way they’re going to squeeze out these multi-billion dollar online agencies with their mega-advertising budgets and entrenched brand loyalty. Won’t happen.

 

4. WHAT THEY SAID: “Why are the prices on sites like Travelocity so different from the airlines’ sites for the same flight? [question is never directly answered].

 

MY RESPONSE: THE FACTS–There are dozens of reasons why prices at Travelocity, say, might not match those you’d see on an airline site; each entity uses completely different pricing software which can account for some wild discrepancies in prices. In other words, all airfares are filed through the same clearing house, BUT, it is a matter of when and how they process the airfares.

Here’s where I’m going to toot my own horn: FareCompare’s technology processes airfare changes before anyone else can, and that’s why our customers have access to the cheapest fares, first.

Want more geek background? Here you go:

  • Fares are posted at different times in the different systems
  • In theory each time you inquire about seat inventory, the airline can decide to change which level they will sell, cheapest, 2nd cheapest, 3rd cheapest , and so on.
  • They might also change what inventory they release based on the “point of sale”, i.e., geographical location (country), or based on the company selling it.
  • Inventory is sometimes cached because of the large volume of queries with no buyers (to respond quicker and not pound the airline inventory system); this, too, can cause wild swings in prices.

5. WHAT THEY SAID: “You need to book for Thanksgiving and Christmas two to three months ahead in this environment.”

 

MY RESPONSE: WRONG AGAIN! Year round is the proper answer – you can (and should) start looking for decent prices (you’ll never get a a great price) up to 11 months in advance if you plan to travel on the peak days around Thanksgiving and Christmas (the airlines are not dummies: you are still going to pay a premium. The trick is to pay the smallest premium possible) — start shopping very early, sign up for airfare email alerts know what a good price is (using history) and you’ll always make the best buying decision.

 

This advice is only for peak holiday travel days, for normal domestic (international is completely different) travel dates outside the of these most popular ones you should start shopping about 3-4 months before departure, this is when the airlines are actively managing their prices and you are likely to get better pricing. That said you never know when an airline will put out a sale, so be sure and sign up for airfare email alerts early and let technolgoy notify you.

 

Now, this year the airlines put out several “last minute” holiday airfares for domestic travel on the off-peak days; great news for very flexible procrastinators! But the real key to any good price is to be flexible on the dates and times you travel. Generally, the cheapest days to travel are Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday and the cheapest times are those first flights out, the ones you have to get up at 4am to catch. Popular days and times will cost you; it’s called supply and demand and the airlines are good at measuring it and pricing accordingly.

 

6. WHAT THEY SAID:

A. “International fares change once a day…”

B. “Surprisingly, Saturday is sometimes a good day [to buy airfare] because the last fare change of the day is 8 p.m. on Friday. Those fares pop up around 10 p.m. to midnight, eastern standard time.”

C. “Chances are the airlines’ fare analysts not really working on Saturdays.”

 

MY RESPONSE: WHERE TO BEGIN?

A. International fares change 5-times a day, not once.

B. Historically airlines raise airfares (when and if they do it system-wide) on Thursday evening (it’s happened this year 8-times since Labor Day) and they issue airfare sales earlier in the week to maximize buzz (early in the week is the busiest shopping time); and, while airfares do change in the evening, they are not loaded until after midnight eastern time, never before (and not at 10pm).

C. I can assure you, FareCompare’s processing technology is a 24/7 operation. Again, that’s how our customers learn about the cheapest fares first.

 

SOME FINAL THOUGHTS: Look, I’m not saying these errors are intentional, but, misinformation is misinformation. And believe me, I’m certainly not perfect, but when I make a mistake, I will correct it. My take on all this is, the traveling public deserves first class information from a source they can trust, and I work hard to make sure FareCompare IS that trustworthy source.

 

100% of all travelers want the best price, in reality only about 10% are going to get the best price (otherwise the airlines would be bankrupt in a month) — sometimes the 2nd, 3rd, 4th cheapest price is a good deal, especially if you are not flexible. Let us help educate you and you’ll always make a good buying decision.

8 Responses to “I’m TIRED of Misinformed “Travel Experts”!”

  1. Cranky Flier says:

    It looks like they’ve already fixed the Virgin Atlantic problem. I do agree with a lot of what you say, but I want to clarify something on your last point.

    A. International fares change 5-times a day, not once.

    Unless things have changed since my pricing days, you both are right. International fares do change 5 times a day, but the effective date for those fares is always the following day. So, even though fare changes will come through on FareCompare five times, you won’t actually be able to book them until the next day.

  2. Rick Seaney says:

    International airfare feeds occur at 1am, 5:30am, 11am, 3pm and 8pm weekdays — 1:30am 5am, 5pm Saturdays — 5pm 10:30pm Sundays.

    They are loaded on reservation systems 4-8 hours after they arrive depending on the system.

    When international airfares come in, they are ready for “sale/booking” immediately unless the rules of the fare (sales restrictions) modify the “first reservation/sale” date, which can occur, but is rarely ever set, because it would just make more sense to file the airfare on that future date.

    What you are referencing is a common practice to set the “travel effective” date to the next day (not same day), which just means the airfare can be sold immediately but the first departure must be on or after the next day — same day departure is rarely allowed anyway because of advance purchase and seasonal rule requirements of most international airfares.

    To clarify a possible point of confusion — both the 8pm international and domestic airfare feeds are not loaded by most reservation systems until after midnight (Amadeus is not as beholding to the Eastern Midnight issue) — all other airfare feeds are loaded and bookable the same day.

    Bottom line is you can buy travel on an international airfare the same day it comes in — as long as your itinerary is validated by the rules — this means international fare prices can (and do) change up to 5 times a day — not once.

  3. Brian says:

    I applaud you priding yourselves on accuracy; it is a lofty goal to give information we can trust. However, if you would try to use your website for pinning down the cheapest fares, I think you will find they will go up significantly half the time, leading to frustrated users who may eventually go elsewhere. If it costs $274 to go from Gulfport MS (GPT) to Traverse City MI (TVC) in December, when you click on December, there ought to be at least one day there that says $274, that points to a return date for which that fare is valid. If a fare uis displayed for Pensacola (PNS) to Bangkok (BKK) for $870, and I click on the departure day that says $870, I should not have to see it turn into $1343. That is INACCURTATE, and it slows us down in picking the right fare.

  4. Miss Information says:

    Let me preface what I am about to write by saying that I love FareCompare.com. It is a wonderful and very useful website for (United States) DOMESTIC flights.

    When I read the title of this article, “Im TIRED of Misinformed Travel Experts!”, I got a twinge of anger. I feel I am repeatedly misinformed by FareCompare when sent international flight e-mail alerts. For example, I received an e-mail alert on November 20th notifying me that flights from Washington, DC (all area airports) to Paris (all area airports) were discounted to $360. My peeve is that this price does not include taxes, which are sometimes over $200. Isn’t there a way to include the taxes and fees into the e-mail alerts, so I am not misinformed on the price of a flight?

  5. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi Miss comment #4,
     
    We are working on several new upgrades to the international alert system that I hope to have up by the end of the year. Including the ability to estimate taxes (on the website now) and a star rating system as well.
     
    I agree this is an issue (and you bring it up eloquently and forthrightly which is appreciated) and we are working on it.
     
    International airfares are very complicated because they have the fare itself, separately filed fuel surcharges (called YQ/YR) and taxes that can vary wildly depending on the route you take and the countries you transit through.
     
    Our approach to estimating taxes will use the most common route that might be flown (thus it being an estimate).
     
    In general for trans-oceanic flights today there is a built in out the door cost of $100-170 in international taxes and $120-180 fuel surcharges — before the actual airfare gets in the mix.
     
    I believe that international travel is going to be the growth area for the next several years and have some excellent pricing (hopefully currency and fuel will change a bit in that time).
     
    I hope you will be patient with us as we continue to tweak our technology — we are working on it diligently.

  6. Rick Seaney says:

    Hi Brian, comment #3,
     
    As I noted in the early comment about issues with international we have, we can do better on domestic as well.
     
    We highlight the cheapest airfares on airlines — and airlines are only willing to relinquish about 10% of the seats on a plane at the cheapest prices and more recently with load factors touching 90% it is likely they may not release even 10% at the cheapest prices (certainly on peak travel days and holidays they won’t).
     
    I agree that people get frustrated with shopping for air travel because the system is set up for frustration. In theory each time you make a query for a price — and their are millions of quotes each day – the price can change.
     
    Airfares change several times a day. The inventory system at the airlines is keeping track of historical patterns, user shopping behavior among dozens of other variables to decide what price to quote for a particular city pair, for travel on a particular date/time.
     
    The key to finding the best deal is to be flexible and to be notified when the airlines are lowering prices so you can be in that select group who gets the best price.
     
    We will be having some new tools on alerts that will hopefully keep most people from wasting their time if the price is a) not on the dates they want to travel b) not available which is more complicated because a query at one time can say no seat and next query might say yes (in theory).
     
    Again we are working on this diligently, so your patience is appreciated. I can guarantee the airlines and online travel agencies are not making this their highest priority and it is ours.

  7. Jeff says:

    Just to clarify — the post that you mention isn’t on the Washington Post’s TRAVEL blog…it’s on the Washington Post’s SHOPPING blog.

    The Washington Post’s travel blog is completely different:

    http://blog.washingtonpost.com/travellog/

    I would be interested in hearing your take on their latest post…who is responsible when a customer ends up with a ticket with a too-short connection time?

  8. Rick Seaney says:

    Thanks Jeff, comment #7
     
    I made the change from travel to shopping (blog) in the intro paragraph.
     
    I’ll take a look at the travel blog you posted and comment on it later.

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