Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

DIY Web Air Booking Improves

Like most everyone these days, I do more of my own air booking via the Internet than I’d like to. The reasons are simple and compelling:

(1) Booking online is often the cheapest way to go, especially if done directly at the airline’s own website; and

(2) Air reservations made, and tickets purchased, directly from an airline are the most likely to be protected when and if something goes wrong. And, as everybody knows, things go wrong often these days when an airport and airline are part of one’s travel plans.

Honestly, though, I don’t like doing it. Do-it-yourself booking on the Web’s a non-value adding drag on my time. Furthermore, I don’t enjoy trolling around Orbitz, Expedia, and the airline websites to find the best deal. It’s like shopping at a Middle eastern bazaar: At first it’s mildly exciting, but soon you lose track of when and where you actually had the bargain you were looking for, and the process becomes enormously tedious.

So if I MUST do it, I want user interfaces that yield the best information quickly and transparently. Nothing’s worse than having to ask for flights and pricing ten different ways at an airline website just to get basic fare and schedule data cross-referenced sufficient to make an informed decision for a purchase.

And that’s why I am so happy that in the past year or so the airline websites I use most often have drastically improved their transparency. The ones that do it best so far (in my opinion, and in no particular order) are Delta, Southwest, AirTran, American, and Continental. The Northwest site still has a ways to go to be in their league. Orbitz, though not an airline site, also does a good job of showing comprehensive combinations of fare and schedule.

Recently AA introduced a vast improvement to with their “Price & Schedule” option. It’s not only very transparent, but AA is beating the drum about it to get us to use it. You know what I mean if you got their recent funny email touting the “Search By Price & Schedule” double feature sweepstakes. Not only is the accompanying video amusing, but the new option is really good. AA brags that the “Price & Schedule” option will:

(1) Search a wider range of both price and schedule combinations.

(2) Compare how your departure and return flight options impact your total price.

(3) Instantly access additional information about travel time, AAdvantage® miles and available seats.

My experience with it so far indicates that American is living up to their claims. However, I was amused to see they used as an example in the video demo a hypothetical Gold level passenger named “John Smith” with 545,000 miles in his AAdvantage account. The mileage seemed a bit high for a Gold level guy unless he had never booked an award trip.

And the fare example AA showed in the demo was refundable between Washington and St. Louis at $104 one way (plus taxes). That fare seemed low to me to be refundable, but maybe that market has fairer fares than any of the ones I fly out of Raleigh-Durham.

My grousing aside, the AA site has benefited from the pioneering done by other airline webmeisters. It’s a little like Southwest, with strong dashes of AirTran and a few others. It’s simple and easily understandable and all on one page. It has a lot of next-level-down detailed information available if you want, too. For instance, you can get full flight details of any suggested connections and even see current seat availability for each flight.

This is a vast improvement to’s somewhat tortured booking technique prior to the intro of the “Price & Schedule” option.

The new option makes my fare trolling much easier and faster, and I feel more confidant that my purchases have been the right ones. Ditto for the other airline websites I mentioned and for Orbitz. As they perfect transparency, my query and purchase transactions become more efficient and economical.

I guess that’s good. Frankly, though, I miss calling my travel agent or an airline rez agent for quick and personalized and expert service. And I still DO call my agent at Discount Travel in Jacksonville, Florida for anything complicated.

Though much improved, web bookings remain a necessary evil.

Happy Independence Day!


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