Wall Street Journal stories:
- Latest Inflight Fee
- If you ever wanted elite status on an airline
- Costs of Old Age Trip Up Airlines
- Airline food
- If your heart stops suddenly
- JFK Flights May Be Capped
- How Fewer Flights at JFK Could Affect You
- How Blunders and Neglect Stoked an African Air Tragedy
- Space Race overhead bins
- Airlines Lower Bar To Fill Pilot Ranks
- One travel benefit of the economic crisis
- SW and FAA Very Friendly Skies
- UAL Plans Major Fleet Reduction To Cope With Surging Fuel Prices
- United and Continental agreed on a wide
- To a United Pilot
- Virgin Puts Biofuels On Maiden Voyage
- Canceled Flight
- On the Road
- Extreme Delays
- ff breaks
- ff miles
- Traveler gas woes
- There are 62 shopping days until Christmas
- ATA Shutdown Signals Discount
- What Fliers Can Expect
- One Year Before Beijing Olympics Open
- Online Air Fare Shoppers Face The Frustration of Web Rage
WALL STREET JOURNAL INTERACTIVE EDITION (excerpts) When Ken Hamer searches for air fares online, he knows it will take at least an hour to find the best deal. And that's if everything goes well.
After two years of honing his online booking skills, Mr. Hamer has learned to speak the language of the reservations systems in order to find the flight he wants at the lowest possible fare.He says that to get the best fare, it's essential to know the terminology and be familiar with the quirks of the site's booking engines. It also helps to know which airlines serve a particular market and to have an historical perspective on the fares typically offered on a given route.
A business traveler from Vancouver, British Columbia, Mr. Hamer flies between 150,000 and 200,000 miles each year. He says he primarily uses Travelocity and Internet Travel Network to find fares, but never books a flight online because his company requires him to purchase tickets through the corporate travel department.
Mr. Hamer is part of a fairly narrow minority who have successfully harnessed the information technology opportunities available on the Web. Although millions of travelers use the Web to shop for cheap air fares, the ratio of "look to book" on online travel sites is roughly 20%, according to Dianne Barber, a marketing analyst with NPD Online Research, a consulting firm in Port Washington, N.Y. NPD conducted a survey commissioned by the airlines last spring that revealed just 18% of customers who used airline Web sites were satisfied with the way the system works.
"The process is complicated," Ms. Barber says.
And while she says consumer worries about submitting credit-card
information are decreasing, most people still have major concerns about completing the reservations process. In addition to the myriad details involved once a flight is selected, there is what she terms "all that computer stuff" people must contend with when it comes time to submit their reservations information.
Even Mr. Hamer says he sometimes runs into online roadblocks. "Every so often, the system just goes nuts," admits Mr. Hamer. "You find all of a sudden your itinerary isn't available as a round-trip, but if you check it as one-way each way, you find plenty of seats."
Mr. Hamer's bad Web travel days are the norm for many other would-be cybertravelers. Stu Mahlin says he likes to shop for air fares online, but he's given up trying to buy a ticket.
A human-resources consultant from Cincinnati, Mr. Mahlin says he tried to book a series of flights between Louisville, Ky., New Orleans and Savannah, Ga., through the US Airways Web site, which contracts with Travelocity.com to operate its reservations service. He went through the entire process twice -- choosing the flights, selecting seats and putting in his credit-card number -- only to receive a series of error messages negating each booking.
After a half-hour on the phone with a Travelocity customer-service
representative, he was transferred to a US Airways reservations agent who was able to book a ticket at the price quoted on the site.
"It was so frustrating -- I kept screaming, 'I'm trying desperately to give you my money' and I kept getting these error messages," says Mr. Mahlin, who describes himself as Web-savvy and price-conscious when it comes to booking travel.
Having sworn off trying to purchase a ticket online, he now uses travel sites to find cheap fares and then calls airlines directly to book his tickets while sitting in front of the computer.
Even though most customers who use online travel services or airline Web sites to purchase tickets can do so without having to talk to a customer-service agent, Mr. Mahlin's experience resonates with other cyberfliers who think they've found a great fare, only to have it yanked back at the last minute.
Jay Starkman, an accountant from Atlanta, had a similar problem using airline Web sites. "The most frequent complaint I have is that after entering all the credit-card and other information, it comes up 'Not Available.' That's happened a few times for me with Continental, Delta and United." Delta agreed to honor the fares Mr. Starkman saw on the Web site, but Continental refused.
Even Ms. Barber, the NPD consultant who worked on the Web site
survey, has experienced problems firsthand. She says she recently tried to purchase a ticket online and inadvertently hit the "Back" button on her Web browser. She couldn't tell if she had submitted her reservation twice. "I got on the phone right away -- I didn't want to be billed twice," she says.
But most online customers wouldn't mind being billed for the great fare they found, if only it were that easy.
A recent visit to Microsoft's Expedia travel service turned up a quote for a round-trip fare of $287 from New York to Barcelona, Spain, on Iberia Airlines, departing on May 26. After clicking on the fare once an initial price search indicated that the flight was available, the credit-card information was entered and the billing address was verified with an Expedia representative. The final step in the process resulted in the following message: "Your request cannot be processed. One or more of the flights you have selected is not available. Please select different flights and try to reserve again."
Officials at Travelocity and Expedia claim it is possible for the seats to have sold out during the time it took to complete the reservation. But this is an unlikely scenario -- especially in the aforementioned instances, since both Mr. Mahlin and Mr. Starkman were able to obtain the same fare directly from the airline's customer-service representatives, and Expedia continued to recommend the Iberia Airlines flight at the same price and return the same error message for three days in a row.
"It's a very dynamic marketplace," says Terry Jones, Travelocity's
president. "On every plane, there are seats available and different price levels that open and close many times during the time it takes to book a ticket. But something like this is a bug, it's a computer problem. We've had a few instances reported, and we're working to fix that."
Experts agree that booking travel online is an art as well as a science, and requires certain skills that are not readily apparent to those who log on for the first time.
"The knowledge barriers are actually quite high," says Joe Brancatelli, a consultant to Biztravel.com., "and the average traveler doesn't know enough to get the best fare. They need to know more than where they want to fly and what they want to pay."
Other consumers doing business in an online environment have become almost nostalgic about doing business the old-fashioned way. Last November, Beth Reichek, a family counselor in San Diego, went to all the top online travel sites to find the lowest fare for a round-trip ticket to Columbus, Ohio. After sorting through what she terms "significant" price differences between sites, the best fare she found was $350.
Convinced she could do better, Ms. Reichek called Richard, her travel agent, who found a fare of $300 on America West. She booked the ticket on the spot, and though she plans to continue to use the Web to shop for fares, Richard likely will be the beneficiary.
"One major drawback about the computer is that it's so slow," she says, "Richard is much faster."
But even the most ardent supporters of online travel concede there are times when it's easier to let a trained professional do the work. Suzi LeVine, product manager for Expedia, used a travel agent to plan her recent honeymoon. "I didn't have the time to do all the research myself," she confessed.
Airlines calls them 'Road Warriors', and they're the most sought-after passengers in the air. Road warriors aren't just business travelers; they're at the top of the air-travel food chain. Sometimes chief executives, sometimes other top corporate officers, perhaps high-end salespeople, road warriors generally set their own travel budgets and often approve the resulting expense account. Comfort and recognition are crucial to these high-mileage travelers. Ticket price is definitely a secondary consideration. All this makes them incredibly valuable to airlines, this elite 6% percent of passengers who produce a whopping 37 percent of airline revenue.
To better service the business traveler and to attract more 'Road Warriors', United Airlines is embracing a methodical, wide-ranging program that includes enhanced frequent-flier benefits, better food, better employee training, new aircraft seats, enhanced in-flight entertainment, and more pampering in the air and on the ground.
EWA has established a strong partnership with United Airlines to assure that all of our United passengers receive the best possible services.
Long Days, Long Lines, Little Sleep for Today's Road Warrior. Today's Road Warrior business traveler is working longer, sleeping less, and waiting in line for a considerable amount of time according to a recent online poll of 546 business travelers who take at least 10 overnight business trips per year. Road warriors typically work an average of nearly 11 hours per day on overnight business trips compared to an average of 9.5 hours when back at the office.
In fact, 78% of respondents ``always or almost always'' work longer hours while away. Practically everyone (98%) said they will ``usually'' work longer hours when on the road. Conducted by NFO Interactive, the study also revealed that the typical road warrior will spend more than an hour each trip simply waiting in line at the airport and hotel. The waiting period on business trips breaks down as follows: -- Making Reservations (11.6 minutes) -- Baggage Check (9.2 minutes) -- Gate Check (11.6 minutes) -- Baggage Claim (11.2 minutes) -- Rental Car Counter (10.7 minutes) -- Taxi/Shuttle Stand (8.3 minutes) -- Hotel Check-In (8.3 minutes)
Additionally, today's road warriors are burning the midnight oil, getting less sleep on the road compared to when at home. On the average, business travelers only get 6 hours of sleep per day on trips. In fact, the respondents listed that the only opportunity to catch up on sleep is on the plane ride, since the typical business traveler will spend an average of seven hours in transit. And there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel for exhausted road warriors as they expect to travel frequently over the next year. The survey uncovered that 66% of road warriors expect to take the same number or even more business trips over the next twelve months.
Yet despite the hectic activity of the typical business trip, road warriors still find a little time for enjoyment. The respondents noted that they were able to squeeze in an average of 2.73 hours of leisure activity per trip including entertainment, shopping, sporting activities and tours. The survey also revealed that over two thirds of travelers stay in touch with home while away. Time away from home was labeled one of the worst aspects of business travel and 67% of road warriors surveyed always call home while away while an additional 19% will usually or sometimes call.
EWA: when possible, avoid busy hubs (your flight will have better opportunity to arrive/depart when scheduled, less likely of missing your appointment); avoid baggage check-in/claim, down-time by use of carryon bags; bring along your spouse or child on some Saturday night-stayover trips; spend 30 minutes in the hotel gym and eat/drink as you do at home. Show your boss the above survey!
Road Warriors are Heavy Travelers On the Information Superhighway, according to a recent survey of frequent business travelers. Today's "road warrior" wants a good meal, a comfortable bed and a way to stay wired, whenever and wherever. Business travelers are using the Internet and e-mail to stay well-connected with the office, clients and home, according to the 1998 Road Warrior Technology Study, recently conducted by NFO Interactive. Of those polled, 96% agreed that technology has improved business travel. The greatest benefits cited were improved access to office and clients (27%), time savings through instant communications (18%), and operating a virtual office through laptops (17%).
The study found that while the traditional phone call (87%) and voicemail (61%) were the road warriors' top communication tools, over half (57%) of the respondents said they always or almost always communicate via e-mail. Over one-third (37%) stated they always or almost always access their company's network while on the road. Forty-six percent reported surfing the Internet while on overnight business trips. In addition, 74% of those surveyed said they have visited travel reservation websites on the Internet (hopefully, EWA's) , and 84% of this group said that they have gathered information on availability and/or pricing of flights, hotels and car rentals on travel websites.
Being wired has its downside, however, since virtually all road warriors surveyed said they work longer hours while on the road. They work an average of 1.3 to 1.7 more hours per day while on overnight business trips.. In addition, the average road warrior gets only 6.5 hours of sleep each night when on overnight business trips.
EWA Service Enhancement
We have upgraded our emergency, after-hours service to Platinum level. Every EWA traveler will be provided, at the bottom of his/her itinerary, both our normal 800 number (to reach us during office hours) and a special, after-hours 800 number (to call when on the road and experiencing difficulties such as a cancelled flight or an overbooked hotel, or, when last-minute reservations are required). The new Platinum service will be quickly answered by a senior-level agent with the greeting, "Hello, EWA Travel".
We hope you find our new Platinum service meets your discerning travel needs and matches the quality that you have come to expect from EWA.
Note: this is a costly upgrade to EWA (more than $10 per call) and we will offer it free of charge for a 90-day review period to all EWA travelers. Upon completion of the 90-day review, we will evaluate whether or not we will need to assess a fee for above-average usage.
"Firms Fire Their Travel Agencies For Slow Service, Missing Low Fares", by Thomas Goetz, Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal. (article paraphrased and agency identifications coded by EWA)
"Corporate America has found a new way to cope with travel-agent fees and lagging service: Fire the agency. After sticking with mega-agencies such as "XYZ" and "ABC" for years, many of the nation's largest companies are switching their agencies or putting their contracts up for bid. The companies complain that some of the big outfits are offering slow service or missing low fares. Business travelers also tell horror stories of being booked in the wrong hotel or on the wrong flight. What's more, most corporate customers now have to pay fees to the travel agencies for service. "Travelers are saying, 'I didn't get the lowest fare,' 'I didn't get my seat,' "says Earl Foster, director of global travel management at Seagram Co.... "It goes on and on."...... Most frequent errors made by megatravel agencies in 1997:
Failure to choose a cheaper alternative airport
Not using the lowest-cost airline
Not choosing a restricted-fare ticket, when available
Missing a cheaper booking class
Failure to offer or apply an available discount
Source: Topaz International Ltd.
"The cuts (airline commissions) wiped out a third of [the industry's] profit margin overnight," says Ed Gilligan, president of corporate services for American Express Travel Related Services. "It sent shock waves through the industry." In response, nearly all of the big agencies now charge fees for everything from booking tickets to offering travel advice, a practice that was first begun with leisure travelers...
Most companies say they wouldn't mind paying the fees if they weren't still hearing war stories from their business travelers such as the one relayed by Robert Anderson, former director of corporate travel at Unisys Corp. During a business trip to San Jose, Calif., Mr. Anderson was surprised to find that the hotel he had expected to stay at "had never heard of me," he says. "The gal at "ABC" forgot to guarantee my room." With a big convention in town, he says, he was lucky to find a "smelly little thing"at a downtown motel. Asked for comment, a spokeswoman for "ABC"says its agents are trained to confirm all reservations.
When Cigna Corp. first signed up with ""XYZ", the company arranged to have several "XYZ" agents working on its account take a geography quiz. Kevin Mitchell, Cigna's former vice president of conference and travel management, says he was dismayed by the results. "We asked one woman to point out New Jersey on the map," says Mr. Mitchell. "She pointed to Rhode Island."...
Concern over travel agents' lack of training and experience has only grown over the years, as agencies have adapted their operations to compensate for the loss of commission revenue. To deal with many of their largest clients, several mega-agencies have set up warehouse reservation centers, where hundreds of agents answer calls in one vast facility. The centers have helped agencies keep costs down. But critics say the centers have also increased reliance on less-experienced agents and all but eliminated the personal service that was once the great attraction of using a travel agency. "XYZ", for example, has opened two massive IntelliCenters, with more than 200 agents each, in North Dakota -- a state that, despite its remoteness, offers a "strong work ethic," the company says. But starting pay scales run from just minimum wage to $12 an hour, and no agency experience is required. Instead, "XYZ" gives new agents an eight-week training course.
......Fed up, about one in four companies switched agencies or put contracts up for bid last year, according to consultants and the agencies themselves. Associates First Capital Corp., a unit of Ford Motor Co., has jumped from "ABC" to "DEF" in just two years. Texaco Inc. says it dropped "GHI" last year, after its travelers grew frustrated with the agency's response time and friendliness. "Good service. That's what we're looking for," says Jim Burk, the travel manager for Texaco....
In San Francisco, Levi Strauss & Co. says it will put its contract up for bid this year after "the better part of a decade" with "ABC"."People expect to get through on the phone in a timely manner," says travel manager Raj Kohli......... A. Jenkins & Associates, of Sunnyvale, Calif., says its audits of agency performance at more than 100 companies continue to turn up missed opportunities "at least 10% of the time."
According to Jenkins and Topaz, most Megatravel companies make errors about 10% of the time, averaging about $175 per error, equaling $17.50 per reservation. No wonder that many companies are turning to EWA Travel.......