It began with my customary visit to my usual online travel site. “Hi, Peter” flashed at the top of the login page, and I was reminded of several trips I’d half-heartedly planned and abandoned. But now I was ready to make a firm plan: get to Istanbul to renew my volunteer status at a community center for Syrian refugees. For more casual reasons, I thought I might stop in Vienna for a few days to visit a cellist friend and wander through the Hapsburg splendors from palace to hot chocolate, from the opera house to a schnitzel for dinner.
Having gone down that multi-destination road, I noted that the website encouraged me to make other stops as well, so I decided that I might add an adventure during the homeward journey. Dublin? Oslo? Pompeii? Sicily? All places I’ve never been, and all prominent on the bucket list that could get me through the next half century.
Now we get down to the brassiest of tacks, but you should not be deterred by the highly technical jargon about to appear. Persistence might save you thousands. Ca va?
First step: get me from Raleigh/Durham to Vienna to Istanbul and home to RDU. Total cost: a reasonable $1200.
Well, then. I can afford this trip, so let’s add Dublin. To my amazement, Dublin cost an additional $2400, 200% of the original round trip just to take a layover. Must be a mistake. So I tried London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, Oslo. Oslo was the most expensive, a $4700 increase over the original $1200. All the rest demanded $2000 to $3000.
I gave up and vowed to call the travel site the next day. I reached M—and spent about two hours with her while she sussed out one deal after another. The initial news was not good: the original $1200 itinerary (RDU-VIE-IST-RDU) had increased 50% overnight and now cost $1757. I didn’t bother to ask what the add-ons now cost. Instead I shrieked my dismay, which M—properly interpreted as an invitation to find me a better deal.
I was on hold for 45 minutes. When she returned, she had found a means for me to get what I wanted at a very good price. The downside is that I will never again be comfortable simply booking a flight online, trusting, as I always have, that the listings are generally honest reflections of travel costs.
Here’s what M—came up with:
Itinerary Number One: A Round Trip Ticket, RDU—VIE—RDU, departing on May 3 and returning sometime in a future century. This ticket, being a Bundle Deal, requires me to book one night in a Vienna hotel. If I decline the hotel, the ticket price doubles.
Itinerary Number Two: On May 8, I fly one way from VIE to Istanbul.
Itinerary Number Three: On May 28, I fly one way from IST to Rome.
Itinerary Number 4: On June 3, I take a round trip flight from Rome to RDU. Somehow, I never manage to make the return flight to Rome. But I am obligated to book a one-night stay in a Raleigh hotel even if I decide to sleep in my car instead.
Total cost: $2200.
To review: If I had taken the less expensive $1200 flight (RDU-VIE-IST-RDU) and had added Dublin, the total would have been $3600. If I had taken the $1757 offer, and if adding Dublin also increased by 50%, the fare would have been $5357.
Instead, I get two round trip tickets, two one way tickets, two nights in four star hotels for $2200.
Okay, okay. Pretty boring stuff, unless you have had a good working relationship with a major web-based travel agent whom you have trusted well enough to accept what the screen tells you. Are you shaken?
I figure I’ll have to telephone for every trip—unless someone calls me up and has a good explanation and an even better deal.
I’d be happy to hear the experience and booking techniques you’ve encountered. Tips? Warnings? Happy Endings?
Bon Voyage, all!