It is raining travel portals in India and more and more Indian consumers are booking their flights, hotels and holidays online than ever before. There are about a dozen travel sites that are in fierce competition with one another to increase market share cashing on the huge consumer boom triggered by salary hikes and more disposable income of Indian middle class. Some of the leading names catering the Indian market are makemytrip, cleartrip, yatra, ezeego1, travelguru, arzoo, travelchacha, travelmasti and indiatimes travel.
As more choices are present before the Indian consumers it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to pick up the right one where they will not only get a good deal but good services as well. My personal experience is that most of these portals have very little price differentiation but the customer service, usability and transparency makes them different from one another.
Regarding airfares I think cleartrip scores above the rest as they have a no nonsense intuitive interface and also give the real fare unlike makemytrip and others who try to hide the airport tax part till the last checkout page. So when you are comparing the fares don’t be lured by the low list prices because you have to shell out much more than what you see as fare.
Another important advice is that unless you are very much sure about your itineraries look out for cancellation and modification charges which could take a toll on your budget. Cheap tickets always come with some inflexibility and there may be some cases where the journey date is not at all changeable. So read the fine print before committing as otherwise your good deal could turn out to be a costly affair.
It is not only the charges that hurts but sometimes a poor customer service can give you a lot of pain specially when you try to make a last minute change. I experienced once such nightmare with makemytrip about 6 months back when their servers failed to send the e-ticket and I had to try for almost 2 hours to get to speak to a customer service representative to get my PNR number. I have left makemytrip since then and I am not sure whether their customer help desk have improved by this time but this could be a major area for worry for any customer who needs help.
So do your own research if you are trying out a new travel portal for the first time and don’t just get swayed by advertisements. There are reviews in product review websites which are the best sources of unbiased information about service and overall experience and they are usually written by real customers. Blogs are also sources for such information which can actually provide insights about the deals or raw deals that a customer gets from the ever growing online travel booking business.
For hotel prices I will tell you a trick that has worked for me many a times. I have always booked hotels and even 4 star and heritage hotels well below the lowest prices as published in these portals. What a smart consumer can do is get the reference price from the travel portals and then directly negotiate with the hotel for an even better price or some freebies (like free airport transfer) and I will tell you that it can save you up to 25%.
Another common mistake that many travelers do is that they forget about the airlines that fly them and think only about the travel portals. Don’t forget to look into the airlines website especially if you are planning to take a low cost carrier. There is a chance that you can get a better deal there and then why not grab it.
If you can afford to fly last minute chances are that you get killer deals directly from the airlines and so if you have the time don’t be in a hurry to book in advance. Instead wait for weekdays or weekend deals offered last moment and be ready to grab them as it comes. If you are flying main routes like Delhi Mumbai or Mumbai Calcutta chances are they you get discount prices in full service carriers in last minute as the airlines would be desperate to sell off the available seats.
Lastly for flight and hotel deals airlines sites are a must visit as they regularly have good deals. Indian which may be not so fashionable like Jet or Kingfisher always have great pan India holiday deals thought out the seasons and many people don’t actually know about them. Nowadays budget airlines like Spice Jet are also offering flight and hotel deals but you need to compare with other offers before buying.
So it is not only the portals that you offer you the best deal and there is no compelling reason to be loyal to only one portal. Spend some time on research and pick up the best deal whoever offers it to you.
But don’t fall into the cash back trap which is offered by most portals with some credit card or the other. Take them only when you are sure that you can pay off the full bill as otherwise you will end up paying more in interest than what you save. As the portals themselves are finding it hard to strike good deals with airlines and hotels the cash back is the only easy option for them to make their prices appear attractive to consumers.