Book Online and Be Your Own Travel Agent

The travel agency business has undergone big changes, mostly due to the existence of online travel sites and the ease of online booking. Those travel agents still have a few good tricks up their sleeves, but with a little diligence, you can find the best deal on your own.

Don’t play favorites

Many travelers have a particular favorite travel web site where they book their tickets, and they may even have a favorite airline. But fares change so quickly, and deals come and go-so in fact, no single online travel agent will be able to consistently give you the best deal, every time.

Check multiple airlines and multiple online travel agencies, and you’ll be surprised at how much prices can vary. A trip from Chicago to Bangkok may range from $1,200 to $5,000 on the same day, depending on the source.

When you see a deal, grab it

Fares not only change quickly, they also get booked quickly. It won’t be unusual for you to see a good deal on a flight to Bali, for example, only to come back a few hours later to find that the price has gone up by several hundred dollars. A good strategy is to first survey several sites to get a feel for what an average price range would be for your desired flight. Using that average price range as a base point, when you see a flight that is near the bottom of that range (or even below it), grab it as soon as you can.

Get a good seat

When you use a live travel agent, she can usually find you the best seat-but you can do this yourself as well when booking online. Many of the online travel sites, as well as the airlines themselves, allow for seat selection immediately after purchase. You can select generically-that is, choose either a window or aisle seat-or drill down to more detail and select the exact seat you prefer by looking at a seat map. You may encounter some situations where seat selection cannot be made online, but don’t worry. You can buy your ticket online and enjoy the best price, and then after purchase, call the airline’s toll-free number directly and ask for a seat selection.

Book at the airline, or through online travel site?

If you know what airline you’re traveling on, then you can book directly on the airline’s web site-although the downside to booking direct is that you’re not able to compare prices with other airlines, and that’s where your best deals are going to be found.

Frequent flier miles

If you book through an online travel site, you can still get your frequent flier miles. In some cases, you will be able to enter your frequent flier number directly when you book, but even if this is not an option, you’re not out of luck. Regardless of where you bought your ticket, all you need to do is present your frequent flier card when you check in to have your miles applied to your account.

If you do book your ticket directly at the airline’s web site as opposed to a third-party travel site, you’ll be able to enter in your frequent flier number at the time you book your ticket, and you may also get a bonus for booking direct.

Online security

Purchasing airline tickets, or anything else for that matter, has become widely accepted, and is just as secure as handing your credit card to a live person over the counter. When you go to enter in your personal information, you will notice that the URL window in your browser has an “https” prefix instead of “http,” which means that you are on a secure connection. If you don’t see this, then move onto another site. You will need to register on the site as well. This simply makes you a “member” of the site, and you may be asked if you’d like to receive occasional email promotions or newsletters. Registration also will recall your name and personal preferences to make subsequent ordering faster. When you select a password, remember to choose one that is difficult-don’t use your name, or something easy to guess. Passwords should include both alpha and numeric characters.

Online Check-in

Most airlines will also allow for online check-in, which can save you time, and permit seat selection or pre-ordering of meals. Typically with a boarding pass that you print out yourself from the web site, the procedure involves verifying the document, dropping off your luggage at a designated counter, and going on your way. Typically, it saves a significant amount of time over the traditional check-in counter. The online check-in is available for several Asian airlines, such as AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. Some European discount carriers have made it compulsory, but none of the major Asian airlines have gone this route, instead focusing on simply making the online check-in available for those who want it.

E-tickets

Most airlines now use electronic tickets, and charge extra for sending you a paper ticket. In most cases, there is no need for a paper ticket, and all you need to do is show your ID to get your boarding pass. There are also ticket kiosks for obtaining your e-ticket which can help you avoid a long wait in line. When you use the kiosk, you will be directed to insert your credit card. You must present the same card you used to book your ticket, or the kiosk won’t process your e-ticket. The credit card at this point is for ID purposes only.

Changing your mind

Once you’ve booked your ticket online, you’ll get an email confirmation, usually within the hour. Be sure to check the details carefully. Making a change to your itinerary may not be able to be done online; it may be necessary to call the airline directly-and there may be a fee involved for making the change.

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