Flight tickets – how should you buy them?

TRAVEL agents, online booking sites or direct from the airlines themselves – which platform offers you the best bang for your buck when booking that flight back home? Meld’s Hadi Ismanto goes in search of answers.

Photo: Vox Efx via Flickr

It’s almost that time of the year again, where universities are empty and quiet while streets are less filled with faces of international students. Folks, embrace your well-deserved end-of-year break, embrace your holiday time.

While some of us may prefer to stick around enjoying the summer breeze here in Melbourne, the majority of us will fly back to our hometowns for the long missed mee pok or ayam penyet (if you’re heading back to Indonesia like I am that is).

Whatever your reasons may be, the first step is almost always to book the desired flight. Some of us will seek help from travel agents while others will do it by themselves. The latter has become increasingly convenient, considering the numerous “online booking agents” that are easily accessible – with each claiming they have the lowest price possible.

But when it comes down to it, there are mainly three channels where you can book your flight tickets. There are the traditional travel agencies such as Mann Travel and STA Travel that have both online and retail desks. There are also airline booking sites, where you go to a specific carrier to book flights such as provided by Singapore Airlines and Garuda Indonesia. Lastly, there are travel online booking websites that combine the best of both worlds such as Zuji and Webjetwhere transactions are made online.

So what are the differences between these three platforms? Is it  cheaper to go with one channel as opposed to another? To help us find out, we’ve made a chart comparing the prices of a Melbourne-Singapore-Melbourne flight – departing at 25th of December 2012 and returning at 1st of January 2013 in economy class – across the different sites. The price of a Singapore Airlines flight across these platforms was used a control.

Now based on the above, we can note several things

  • STA Travel offers you more options at a glance as opposed to Webjet
  • Because STA Travel and Webjet look at multiple airlines, there is a greater range of prices available to you. Both companies offer prices lower than Singapore Airlines but they also offer tickets with airlines that are a lot more expensive.
  • It seems that out of the three options, buying a Singapore Airlines ticket from Singapore Airlines makes the most sense. STA Travel offered no discount, though they told Meld they have a Price Beat Guarantee policy. This means that if a customer can find a cheaper fare, they promise to always beat it. In order to achieve this, STA Travel says it’s put together a team that is skilled in “pulling together the cheapest fare by bundling together a combination of different airlines.
  • Why the heck is Webjet’s Singapore Airlines flight double what the airline itself is offering? We’re not sure with both Webjet and Singapore Airlines giving us no answers. The latter told us: “Unfortunately we can’t comment for travel agents and the fares and fees that they may charge.”

So based on this and our research, here are some pros and cons for travel agents, booking direct with airlines and online booking sites.

Click to enlarge.

Conclusion

Our verdict? It seems like there are benefits to going to a travel agent when you have a complicated travel itinerary or multiple flight destinations. Otherwise, if you are only looking to book a simple one way or return flight, it’s worth checking out online booking agents to ensure you don’t miss out on any promotions. But bear in mind – even these sites promising cheap flights can sometimes offer you more pricey tickets than the actual airlines themselves – so always keep checking!

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