Two weeks ago I asked you, in a
Online Travel Agency Survey, to tell us about your experiences booking airline tickets on the Internet. Thanks for not holding back: More than 70 of you responded.
Before I get into the details, I have to say this. Compared with our November survey about airlines in general, these responses were almost gushing. Eighty-eight percent of those who responded to the survey characterized their experiences with online travel agencies as either excellent or good, which can only mean that these sites are doing a good job in general.
That, in itself, might not mean a lot. One good experience could be a fluke, right? But these sites are getting a good number of visits from
readers: Forty-eight percent of those who responded said that they use an online ticketing businesses every other month, while 25% use one monthly and another 25% use one more than once a month. Only 2% of the respondents said they never book airline tickets online.
The outlook for traditional travel agents with this Web-savvy crowd, is, not surprisingly, not particularly rosy. Of those of you who participated in the survey, only 13% said you also use a travel agent often, while 55% said sometimes. Thirty-two percent of you said you never use a traditional travel agent.
Those who responded to the survey are an adventuresome lot: Seventy-five percent had tried at least five travel Web sites in the last year.
So, which sites were the ones you most often accessed and explored?
Leading the pack, neck and neck, were
. Between the two, they accounted for more than 50% of your visits. In a distant third place came
, which is owned by
. Expedia managed to get 21% of those who responded to the survey to stop in. Unfortunately it also managed to irritate more of you more often than not.
One survey-taker, whose complaint about Expedia mirrored others', wrote: "The site has a very clumsy and hard-to-use interface."
readers also complained about customer service at Expedia.
"While entering my reservation, I got a Web site error, so I reentered my reservation. They double-booked me and double-charged me, of course. I tried twice by email to correct the situation, but they didn't respond over a period of several weeks," the
reader wrote. "I then called, but got a voice mail that said they would return my call. They never did. I called back, got a person who wanted to take my number for a call back. I refused, insisting on a supervisor. Finally I got a supervisor, and she said that she would resolve the problem. Over three months later, I got the refund."
To be sure, Expedia also has fans among
readers, including one who says the site got him a reservation on
Delta Air Lines
that Delta reservations said could not be made. But in the overall tally, Expedia fared the worst.
While our readers gave both Travelocity and Preview Travel nods as the best online travel site, Preview Travel gets the Traveling with Wings Readers' Survey Red Rose Bouquet.
Travelocity, while generally scoring high marks across the board in the comments department, did get knocks about the fact that the site can be very slow. (I can and will attest to this from personal experience.)
Preview Travel, on the other hand, piled up favorable comments across the board. The only exception was that a few folks mentioned that the site was a bit hard to navigate.
The two features readers mentioned as being most-wanted additions -- a way to shop for fares and save them, and email systems that alert you to cheaper fares than what you already have purchased -- are two features that Preview Travel just started providing.
Preview Travel must have been doing some of its own research.
The single biggest factor that has influenced
readers' choices of online travel agencies? There was an almost even split between (A) "I think I get the best fares available" and (B) "Site is easy to navigate, easy to use." Oddly enough, while "great customer service" was not even selected by one respondent as a factor for choosing a particular site, poor customer service was the biggest factor in the complaints lodged in our survey.
The complaint cited most often was navigation. Of those responding to the survey's single-biggest-complaint question, 50% said navigation difficulties and 30% said fares were not competitively priced.
It is obvious that
readers like the sites overall. Readers repeatedly said that it was easier to use the sites than to either deal directly with the airlines or with a traditional travel agent. One reader whose flight schedule was changed received email from Travelocity, asking him to call. He wrote that when he called he got "a very nice customer service person who contacted
while I was on the phone and rerouted us immediately. To sum up, telephone customer service was good -- even excellent."
My days of using an online travel agency go back to the days of the original EAAsy SABRE on
. This was some six years ago when it would take an hour to wade through the tortured interface. The system would frequently cease to function. But I continued to torture myself. I liked the fact that you could do it yourself. And I could select my own seat. And I could see all the fares available. It was just too cool.
Now I am going to plunk myself down and test out some of these sites to see if I can find a gem buried somewhere. Next week, I'll report my far-from-scientific-but-always-entertaining review results -- and announce the name of the lucky survey participant who will receive the
Holly Hegeman, based in Dallas, pilots the Wing Tips and Traveling With Wings columns for TheStreet.com. At time of publication, Hegeman held no positions in stocks discussed in this column, although holdings can change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. You can usually find Hegeman, publisher of PlaneBusiness Banter, buzzing around her airline industry Web site at
www.planebusiness.com. While she cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, she welcomes your feedback at