I used to have a strong desire to be a travel agent. One of the reasons I love travel so much is the planning process. I love fitting all the pieces together. I have helped so many people “just for fun” plan their trips. I spend hours on TripAdvisor, Google Flights and YouTube. My phone has running list of fun places to visit as I see incredible influencers like Kara and Nate, The Endless Adventure and The Bucket List Family travel the world.
With websites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Kayak, the need for actual travel agents has decreased. For years I would hop on board with whatever the cheapest package Expedia suggested. This burned me more than once.
At the start of my travels, I was on a very strict budget. Expedia always seemed to be the cheapest way to book. In my elder years, I have learned many lessons the hard way. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong using this method to book, its quick, convenient and can sometimes save you a few bucks. I recommend this method to many people who are just looking for a quick vacation where they don’t have to think about anything. Three strikes and you’re out for me though. Will I never use third-party booking again? I can’t say that. I have been known to hop on Hotels.com in a pinch. I will however, guarantee that it will always be my last option when booking travel.
The first strike came with Dollar Rental in San Diego. I booked the cheapest rental through Expedia. Car wasn’t the greatest, seemed older than should be allowed for a car rental, but all seemed fine until my rental return. The fine print in the rental agreement stated that the car could not leave “Southern California.” Sure enough, the GPS installed in the car showed that I left their zone and I was penalized hard. It was not stated what constituted “Southern California” but as it turns out. I drove THREE miles out of their zone. So because the car left the area I was penalized for every mile I put on the car, not just the three miles out of Southern California. $500 tacked onto my credit card. Because I booked through a third party the manager wouldn’t even entertain a conversation about it.
Lessons learned: read the fine print, become loyal to bigger rental companies, book direct.
Strike two happened in the Jackson Hole, WY airport (gorgeous BTW). I just had an amazing bucket list trip through Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Parks. I booked the trip through Hotels.com Vacations. Never, ever again. (Didn’t you just say you still use hotels.com?) Sure did. However, their vacation package unit is a separate service.
Towards the end of my trip, I received a notification that my return flight was changed. Ok, whatever, I’m sure its fine, besides I have no other choice. Jackson Airport is small, and has limited flights in and out daily. When I arrived to check in for my flight the kind woman at the American Airlines counter said she could not check me in because I had an “impossible” connection. Confused, I said, I received a notification that my flight was changed yesterday. Why would they change it to an impossible connection? My favorite line once again: “Since you booked through a third party, I cannot change anything on my end.” Nothing against this woman, she was sweet as pie, and in the end out of sympathy, pulled some strings and re-routed my ticket that involved a sprinting airport connection and a lost day. When I called Hotels.com they also said it was out of their hands and the lady at the counter was wrong and a 20 minute connection was fine.
When I got home, I called hotels.com again to see if they would refund some of my trip cost because the whole mix up was technically on them. My phone call was escalated to higher management, and he said there was nothing they could do, they did nothing wrong and I should not have used profanity towards an employee. Not proud of that one, I promise I was super polite at first, but the guy WAS a dick. I didn’t say that to him, but I may have said “bullshit” in response to some dick-ish thing he said.
Lesson Learned: Don’t EVER use Hotels.com Vacations, American Airlines has horrible connections, book direct.
Strike Three doesn’t really count because it all worked out thanks to booking part of my trip direct. I was at Boston’s Logan Airport for a DAYTIME flight to Scotland. Those that fly to Europe from the United States East Coast know that daytime flights are few and far between. That overnight flight jet-lag is REAL, so I was so excited to start this trip a little differently. I was due to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas in Galway, Ireland. I had a hotel and flights lined up to get me from Edinburgh to Dublin (on a separate reservation)
A text alert on my phone the evening before my flight, as I’m having dinner in the airport hotel, says my flight has been changed, and will now be an over night flight the following day. Shit. Immediately, my non-refundable hotel reservation and connecting flight (on a separate ticket) were lost.
One of the coolest things about flying a European based airline, is the existence of an EU law called EC-261. I learned about this by chance a few years earlier. The legislation says that any EU flight delayed more than 4 hours for almost any reason besides weather and incidents out of their control, awards the passenger compensation.
The airline must be EU based. The first time I took advantage of this I used a company called Airhelp. They literally do everything for you after answering a few questions. They do take a cut of your compensation, but not knowing any better, I didn’t care. You can receive up to $700 for your claim.
This trip, I was compensated approximately $600. This was enough to cover my hotel stay, my missed hotel night that was not refundable because I booked 3rd party, and my quick flight from EDI to DUB. This is why I don’t consider this real strike.
Since I booked my flight directly, the airline was able to switch my ticket and fly me directly to Dublin instead of Edinburgh (even though I had a separate ticket with a different airline) so I could make it in time for my Christmas Eve reservations. I was so appreciative of the ticket agent who despite being yelled at by a line of passengers before me, was still kind.
Lessons Learned: Book Direct, try not to book separate flight tickets, fly EU based airlines, and be kind to airline employees.