I thought it was about time I gave you another update on our plans for a white christmas which we have been planning for over 2 years now. I can’t believe it’s finally here and that we can really start planning and setting things in motion. I do have some great news though, our return flights from Melbourne to San Fransisco have been booked and in true fashion, we had major issues!! So without further adieu let me fill you in on the dramas!!
Flights to the US from Australia can be expensive, I thought it would be better for us to book through a travel agent and that might provide a layer of security should anything go wrong. How wrong could I be?
I had spoken to a Flight Centre consultant in mid January and had outlined our plans and what I was looking for from here. We discussed that Flight Centre does price beat and all that was required was to snip the price from the competitor and email it to her directly on the same day. Sounds like a breeze right.
The consultant advised that it’s best to book your tickets as soon as they are released as that it the cheapest they’ll get (I’m not convinced that’s entirely correct) and Christmas flights are released about the 1-2 week of February. I can’t fault the consultant, she called and advised that the Christmas flights were released but it would be another couple of weeks until the return flights in mid January 2018 would be released. I thought that was good of her to let me know.
I received a call during the last week of February, the flights had been released and she had done some work around my request. I asked her to quote and email it to me. My original request was Melbourne to San Francisco then return from Los Angeles via Honolulu and a secondary quote leaving Honolulu stop over out. Her quote outlined exactly that but at nearly $14,000 with the Honolulu stop over and $9980 without it i needed to do some more homework.
The quote reflected the dates we had discussed even though I had specifically advised that our dates were flexible and we were just looking for the best price. As we are a family of 5 I was more than happy to adjust dates for a financial saving. It appeared that she had totally overlooked that discussion. After doing some more homework we decided that we would save Hawaii for a stand alone trip and fly in and out of San Francisco, it’s the same price to go to Hawaii from Australia as it is from the US west coast!
We also found that leaving 10 days earlier meant that we will cut the price in half so we decided to do that. We went back to Flight Centre with all the changes and she returned a quote for $6300. I had a look on Skyscanner and returned a price of $5800 with a company called eDreams. We snipped it and sent it to Flight Centre but they advised that as eDreams is not an Australian registered business they don’t price match them. We then found GotoGate who had the same flights slightly more at $5900 and emailed Flight Centre again, this time they advised they would price match them. We handed over our credit card details and did a little happy dance! I cracked a beer and settled into a flight purchasing high!
About 30 minutes later we received a phone call. It was Flight Centre, they advised that after checking with Head Office that they actually didn’t price match with GotoGate and that they have cancelled our flights. I was seething, so much for price match, they should say they only price match if they aren’t going to lose too much money. This left us hanging as we had no flights and Flight Centre had our funds meaning we couldn’t make another booking until we got the payment reversed and knowing it would take at the very least 48 hours to refund was very frustrating. What really got me was when Flight Centre called the consultant advised that if we still wanted them to book our flights at the original quote of $6300 or we would could continue to search for flights overnight but by the morning we would have to decide on our final flights. She followed it up with, ‘I’ve spent pretty much the whole day with dealing with our flights and she hadn’t been able to serve any other customers’. Sorry I thought that was your job!
In the mean time we discovered another Booking site, please welcome….
Through more research we came across the flight aggregator site, Kayak. They had the same flights, on the same day with the same airline for $4800! We rightly assumed that Flight Centre would not price match with them either. I had heard of Kayak before but hadn’t heard anyone say they had booked with them. I put a few feelers out on some Facebook groups I’m in and a number of people had used them regularly and had positive things to say about them. This was very reassuring but I was still concerned.
For those that are new to this fandangled online booking thingo a couple of things to clarify. There are two types of websites out there for finding and booking flights. The first are the aggregators, these sites are like the google of flight searches, they trawl through all the booking sites and find matches for your flight criteria but you don’t actually book with them. These are sites like Webjet, Kayak and Skyscanner, the y find the flights then link you to the supplier’s website. Then there are the booking sites where you actually book the flights, these include sites like Zuji, Expedia and Vayama. You coud also go direct to the airlines but where’s the fun and savings in that?
You know the old saying, if it’s too good to be true, it IS too good to be true, that was ringing in my ears. Craig was keen to book with them and save us the $1500. Our funds were refunded from Flight Centre 48 hours later and luckily for us Kayak prices hadn’t changed. We decided to give it a crack so we selected our flights which were supplied by another booking site called Vayama and got our flights for $4800.
I still had doubts ringing in my ears and I tossed and turned for hours that night. I decided to get up in the middle of the night and call Qantas. They advised that I could check online as Vayama had provided a booking number for Qantas. I jumped on the Qantas website, put in our booking reference and up come all our details! I was so relieved, all I needed to add was our frequent flyer numbers!
By now you would think a girl could get some sleep! No, none of that business, I went to bed excited and starting to plan our itinerary in my head!!
I’ve also been a strong advocate for independently organised travel, I talked myself into believing that I would be better off with a travel agent booking these flights because I wanted the security in case anything happened and then I had someone other than myself to fall back on. I lacked the confidence to go with my gut because we were spending so much money.
So what have I learnt from this? Well 2 things really. Flight Centre is a business and I get that but if I price match at cost price there is no cream left on top for them, basically there is nothing in it for them so why provide the service. Their price match policy only applies to Australian based companies and we all know that most things in Australia are fairly tightly regulated resulting in all the prices being pretty much the same. We don’t have the competition that companies overseas have which is why they are able to drop their prices so low.
Secondly, Australians are a conservative bunch, we like to go with what we know and as it costs so much to travel outside of Australia we are less likely to risk losing large sums of money. Another thing local companies are well aware of. Regardless of my stress attack I’m still glad I listened to Craig and saved us the $1300.
I wont be using the services of a travel agent again. I have to believe in myself and in my ability and knowledge of travel. I will be organising the whole trip myself from here on in.
Now I’m starting to organise the itinerary, in particular a possible Caribbean cruise! We haven’t done a cruise before with the kids and its very rare to get the opportunity to visit the Caribbean! I have plenty to research and so many options to consider. I will even consider flying to 1 of the Caribbean islands and just staying there but all that will take time to put together. We are also spending an extra 2 weeks in the USA and we have decided we would like to visit Washington DC as the Smithsonian Museum is raved about by all that we know that have been there. I also have to start looking and deciding where we will be for Christmas and thinking about places for New Year in New York City.
Think we’ll start buying an extra Tattslotto ticket in the meantime!
Next time I update you all I will have a more solid itinerary to share. Exciting times ahead for us, the planning for me is nearly as good as the holiday.
Sal & Co.