Picture this: you’ve been up half the night searching for the perfect budget flights to your favourite winter getaway destination. Finally, you’ve found the tickets with the right price-tag and tracked down your credit card from the depths of your handbag. You enter the necessary details, click ‘pay now’, and head off to bed, congratulating yourself on having booked well in advance and without the assistance of a travel agent. “Why don’t more people handle their own bookings via the internet, and enjoy budget prices for travel?” you ask yourself as you lie smugly back on your pillow. “Why do they pay so much more to go through a travel agent?” Let us answer those questions for you …
In most cases, if you book through an agent, your connecting flights are taken into account. This means that, should there be a hold-up with one flight, you won’t lose the cost of the flight or flights you failed to meet as a consequence. Instead, you’ll be put on a following flight or flights at no extra expense to yourself. If you book budget flights yourself via the internet, you’re almost certain to be booking individual legs – often with separate companies and booking agents. If one flight fails, and you can’t meet following flights as a consequence, you’ll lose your ticket or tickets and have to rebook at your own expense.
When passing briefly through an airport to meet a connecting flight, you don’t require a visa because you are considered to be transiting – right? Wrong! Although this is the case in most situations, there are a few airports in the world where transiting is not permitted, meaning a visa is required even if you are walking two minutes down a corridor from your arrival gate to your next departure lounge. If you don’t have the visa in advance, you won’t be permitted to board the flight to the country you’re flying to. Budget booking sites seldom make this clear – it’s the sort of information only an experienced travel agent would be aware of.
How long before departure time are you required to check-in for a flight? Half an hour? One hour? Or more? The answer isn’t simple. Although check-in times vary between international and internal flights, each individual airline also has its own criteria. When making your own budget bookings via the internet, you may think you are allowing plenty of time to check in, only find, when you arrive at the airport, that you’ve left it too late to claim your seat. Travel agents have check-in times at their finger-tips – mere mortals don’t. Even if you’re prepared to spend hours searching for it – you can still get wrong. Or airline conditions can change.
Re-booking a flight – even a budget one – shouldn’t be too difficult, especially if you’ve read the re-ticketing conditions before you book. However, getting hold of the company you booked through via the internet is a whole different ball game! Suddenly you find your emails aren’t being answered. Even worse, you find the only way to contact the agent is by phone – and guess what? The phone calls are charged for – by the minute! By the time you’re passed from one representative to the next, or have been placed on hold for the umpteenth time, you may well find it’s cheaper to abandon the re-ticketing exercise in favour of completely rebooking (and re-paying).
The secret to success
Although numerous pitfalls that can ensue when you try to budget book your own flights – all is not lost if you really want to secure the lowest airfares possible (and who doesn’t!). The secret to budget airline booking success is simple. First, dive onto the internet and navigate your way to the usual budget flight search engines. When you’ve found what you’re looking for, and lined up all the flights that will get you to your destination, note them down, then phone your favourite local travel agent – preferably one that promises to match the best price you can find. Give the agent the details (which should include dates and flight numbers) and ask them to book the flights for you. If, for any reason, they can’t locate the flights you want (which would be unusual), ask them if they will match or better those you found yourself. It couldn’t be easier – or more reassuring. Budget-surfing and agent-booking is a winning combo!