The dangers of using travel search engines to make bookings

Let me start off by saying that sites such as Sky Scanner are fantastic as search engines and for that purpose I even use them myself on occasions although much less nowadays since our own system is capable of showing low cost flights like Easyjet and Ryanair as well as scheduled flights like British Airways and charter flights like Thomson and Thomas Cook. Search engines like Sky Scanner are really useful for telling you how to get from A to B in price order and they are especially useful for mixed airlines.
So why do I say it’s dangerous to use them even though I occasionally use them myself? By all means use them for information, but avoid using them for making the actual booking.
Firstly sites like Sky Scanner will scrape through all connections and at this point it is worth paying attention. See how long your route takes on a direct flight or at least the quickest indirect. If it takes 25 hours to get from London to Las Vegas it will involve staying overnight somewhere or having a really ridiculous routing. It is easy to miss that it is not a same day connection
Secondly there is the danger of looking up the wrong destination. There are many places that have airports with the same name e.g. San Jose California and San Jose in Costa Rica. British airways fly to both of these but there are many other examples, two Portlands’ in the USA, Birmingham U.K. And Birmingham Alabama, Sydney Australia and Sydney Canada etc.
Thirdly Sky Scanner does just what they say on the tin. They are not a travel agency nor do they claim to be. All they do is scan diffferent websites for the cheapest fares and direct you to those websites. Travel Counsellors do not appear on sites like these. We rely on our clients to get in touch with us directly.
I had a phone call today from a lady who searched “cheap flights” on the internet and is now worried that the company she has paid a hefty deposit to doesn’t exist. I did some digging. The parent company that she named is based in Hyderabad in India and the subsidiary she booked through is a call centre apparently sharing its ATOL number with 2 other agencies so I would question whether this is even their own ATOL licence. I called the “agency” with a London phone number. The website invites you to to leave a massege on their contact details. This also told me that their website had not been professionally done, another warning sign. I asked them where they were based and for their ATOL number and they wouldn’t divulge either of those things. They may be quite legitimate but it would certainly ring alarm bells with me. I would certainly question where my money was going, as did this lady but too late unfortunately.
Currently the market is highly volatile with currency exchange rates and it is highly likely that many companies are on a knife edge and will fail particularly if they are working on tiny profit margins. Travel Counsellors has a failure insurance, its own ATOL licence and two IATA licences depending which fare structure we use so I can book your flight with peace of mind at a competitive rate.
I also had a client during the summer that had booked online and needed to change her flight. This proved to be really difficult as we had to track down the agency to get the reference numbers and then they didn’t want to help.
Lastly very few online agencies will offer you any advice about entry requirements, prebook your seats for you or book special meals. I had another lady who booked online and needed assistance. Again this proved really difficult as she spent two desperate days trying to get through to the airline. I can do this with a simple entry through our own system.

I assume that Skyscanner and others like them are not doing this for free and they are getting a small fee. That being the case isn’t it better to know the information first and then find a reliable source for booking a flight. Of course you would still have to pay the agent a fee but now you have a rough idea how much you should be paying but at least you know you will get the back up and support, proper advice about passports and visas etc and help should you need to change your arrangements later on.

Similarly Trip Advisor, Trivago etc do the same thing for hotels. We do too but again we have a financial guarantee if they go under and this  is exactly what happened with Low Cost Holidays last year. They were based abroad so didn’t have an ATOL licence and consequently most victims lost their hotel accommodation. We were caught out too but we did reprotect our own clients using our failure insurance.

I’m not saying I will always be the cheapest and understand this is the only thing that matters to some people but please consider using a travel agent rather than booking online  whether that is someone like myself or a standard high street agent with all the proper licences necessary to offer all the protection you need
My details are Cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com phone 020 3432 4740

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