Northwest Travel Planning
Cheap Airfares (page 3 of 3)

Disclaimer: This information is provided as a service to Go Northwest! visitors and no guarantee is made as to its completeness or correctness.  All information should be independently verified.

BUYING TICKETS

Here are some issues of which you might want to be aware, when dealing with the web sites that sell air tickets.

Booking process
Usually online booking only, so no "person-contact".  You will want a web site which offers excellent security and privacy. You will also want a web site that is user-friendly. For example one that gives pricing information before you need to make a selection from a series of flight choices. Or, one that saves your searches and allows easy changes of itinerary. Economy Travel has a user-friendly interface.

Ticket type
Do you prefer electronic tickets, known as "e-tickets" or traditional paper tickets? Tickets are often only issued electronically. A way to see if paper tickets are offered is to check for home-delivery if that is your preference. There are pros and cons with both types.

  • Paper tickets. Need to be treated like cash. Losing a paper ticket can be costly.
    They might attract a fee if you want to pick the ticket up at the airport.
    Not as readily available and convenient as e-tickets.
  • E-tickets. Their main drawback is that the computer system in which they reside cannot always be flexible enough to deal with changing circumstances in the "real" world. For example when a passenger cancels an e-ticket, it can disappear altogether before the passenger is reimbursed.
    Another problem is the computer systems used by the various airlines can't "talk" to each other, although the airlines are working to resolve this. In the meantime passengers can have difficulty moving between airlines, for example in the case of delayed or cancelled flights, or even connecting flights.
    They still do not offer access to the full range of carriers and itineraries.

Time frame
Check whether there is a limited time frame between booking, paying for and using the ticket. This is often the case with airlines posting last minute bargains. For example, specials are often posted on the Wednesday before the weekend they are good for. There might be certain required days of the week for departures and returns. Make sure all these suit you.

Additional costs
Check whether quoted prices include additional mandatory costs. For example:

  • tax charges such as US$2 on each flight segment
  • other airport taxes
  • passenger facility charges (PFCs) of up to US$12
  • ticket processing charges
  • fuel surcharges

Changing your mind
Check whether the ticket is refundable. Online "specials" often are not. How long will you have to wait for your money if you do get a refund? If you can cancel a ticket, check whether there are penalties for doing so. In the case of consolidators, this could be up to half of the ticket price. You can sometimes change flight schedules for an administrative fee; usually US$75.

Multiple specials
If you put several web specials together will they be ticketed separately?

Frequent flyer programs
Will the purchase go towards your frequent flyer account? Sometimes bonus miles for booking online apply. If using an airline's own web site, can you enroll in its frequent flyer program online? Can you access your account online?

Choice of airline
Related to the above is the issue of whether or not you are allowed to choose your carrier. Online travel auctions allow you to name your price, but you might not be able to name your airline. And as mentioned above, you might want to check whether your ticket (paper or e-ticket) will be honored by another carrier in the event of flight delays and cancellations. Can you risk disruptions to your itinerary?

Payment
Look for the site's customer service section describing security, privacy, returns policy and guarantees. When purchasing from any site, avoid those requesting cash. Cash on delivery or credit card are the best options (often credit card is the only method offered). With credit card you can dispute charges if goods are misrepresented or don't arrive. In the USA, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your bank cannot hold you liable for more than $50 of fraudulent charges. You will probably get credit card charges of 2-5% added to the price of your ticket, but it is an easy form of insurance.

When sending your credit card number you will want the transmission scrambled so it cannot be read by unauthorized parties. This is done using security protocols such as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Secure Electronic Transaction ™ (SET). Ensure both your browser and the merchant with whom you're dealing, support security protocols. For example, search under "security" in the browser's "help" file, and look for merchant security information under headings like "Help," "Information" or "About us."

If you are buying your ticket though a third party using check or money order, after booking but before paying, call the airline directly to ensure you have a confirmed booking.

When paying for your ticket, note the confirmation number, and if possible get a copy of the itinerary to print out and take with you.

For auction sites check whether they will supply the goods via an intermediary who holds both the money and the purchased item in "escrow" before sending these on to buyer and seller. Auction fraud accounts for nearly nine out of every 10 Internet-related complaints filed with the National Consumer League's National Fraud Information Center and in the case of disputes between buyer and seller, the auction house is not accountable. Read more at the Better Business Bureau.

Last, but by no means least... Credentials
When booking any kind of travel service online, make sure the company is who you think they are. (The law recently intervened in a dispute between "quikbook.com" and "quickbook.com".) Look for contact information in addition to an email address, that is, a physical address and/or phone number. Verify the contact information by calling them, or, by checking with directory assistance.

You can also find out who is behind a "dot com" domain (for example, economytravel.com) by searching for it on the Network Solutions web site. Their database only includes businesses who have registered their domain through them, but Network Solutions is one of the larger registration companies.

Also look for industry affiliations, company background, and areas for user feedback. If you are booking through a travel agent, look for membership in organizations such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). If you are booking through a tour operator (they usually specialize in package deals), look for membership in organizations such as the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). Our affiliate, Economy Travel, is fully licensed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Check up on a company through the American consumer protection agency, the Better Business Bureau. Check what others are saying by doing a search on the name of the web site in newsgroup search engines. I did this for our affiliate, Economy Travel, and it is nice to see that people are recommending Economy Travel to each other. The only complaint is that Economy Travel has a smaller selection of airlines than some other ticket sellers.

MORE USEFUL LINKS

Federal Trade Commission
Obtain advice, report complaints.

The Fly-Rights: a consumer guide to air travel web page is packed with advice pertinent to both the online and offline consumer.

U.S. Department of Transport, Aviation Consumer Protection Division,
Information on making a complaint about airlines.

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