The other day Ashley McKee was writing about hotwire.com, a travel site that – well… – didn’t get the concept of multi-city flight bookings quite right. Bascially they’re offering the option and then forward their customers to expedia.com – why would you do that?
To show you that hotwire.com is not even at the lower end of what travel sites throughout the world have to offer, let’s have a look at the three largest travel/flight booking sites in New Zealand. Keep in mind that “multi-city” is quite an advanced feature tho 🙂
If one comes to their site, you’re greeted with a search widget to look for flights – sweet. When using it, you’ll find out though that you can just search for flights they’d like you to search for. It’s not possible to book a flight to Salt Lake City or New Orleans with their system. To be fair – at least they have a good amount of international destinations.
A similar scenario hen it comes to multi-stop flights. There’s a link asking the user: “Planning a stopover or multi-city trip?”. When you click on it, the site opens a pop up asking for your personal details and some more information. It then creates an enquiry and some hours/days later, someone might contact you in regards to your flight enquiry.
The bad thing is that this pop up – to – email – form doesn’t even offer the option for multi-city flights. You’d have to write a brief novel in the comments text area and have to tell them what you want them to do.
They call themselves “unbeatable”. A look at their site lets me doubt that as I can’t find any possibility to book a flight from/to a different location than they provide me with. Basically you can book flights between NZ and the major Australian cities, that’s it. The concept of a multi-city flight? Totally unknown to them!
Update: have to correct myself – there is a link to a travel enquiry page: http://www.flightcentre.co.nz/section30.asp? This link is just accessible from their home page and pretty well hidden. Right – why would you want to have that on the flight bookings page anyway 🙂 ?
They actually do a pretty good job. Their booking widget on the start page doesn’t seem to be able to allow multi-city flights, but at least I can enter my destinations and I’m not limited to where someone at the travel company wants me to book my flight to.
The negative result though: The particular booking I’ve asked for (Wellington-Chicago in early October) didn’t return any result – whereas I know that there are plenty of flights with Qantas, Air NZ etc.
Even worse – STA Travel seem to be aware of the fact that their system is somewhat lacking in terms of their offerings, because their response is:
Wellington to Chicago, United States, September 29, 2007
Chicago, United States to Wellington, October 06,2007
Unfortunately we can’t find any flights that match the criteria you specified, but it doesn’t mean we can’t get you there!
But they offer me to fill in a form and have someone looking at it. Really? Thanks!
Summary: Booking flights online in New Zealand sucks. The travel agencies (at least those three) obviously do not want to sell online or just deal with online customers who are happy to get non-service online. All three sites lack basic functionality of an online sales process and put me off enough that I either go into one of their stores or book my flights online with Qantas or Air New Zealand directly (which usually tend to offer better fares anyway).
If I was responsible for the online booking service of each of the sites, I would be ashamed of the lack of functionality and online service and would certainly invest some $$$ in providing my potential customer a better experience.
You might wonder why bother anyway and why I don’t book with sites as Opodo or Expedia directly. Simple answer: The world of flight bookings is a bit more complex than that. Carriers just offer some special deals and discount fares in and for the country you’re departing from, i.e. to get XYZ Red Special Allblacks Deal fares, you’d have to book from within NZ. Same if I wanted to book a oneway flight from Germany to New Zealand – to get the best deals, you’d have to book via a German booking engine or a German travel agency and pretend that you’re residing in Germany. Anyway, the point is that sometimes I just can’t book on a US or European site as I’d have to pay additional 500$ for the same flight.