Buying airline tickets online

I had to quickly order an airline ticket to Indonesia yesterday. A good test for online bookings. I had three choices: Eva Air, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

Eva Air
I gave up on Eva Air in frustration, because I couldn’t get past an error message “there is no flight on the day you chose”. Even after I consulted the handy pop-up timetable. Instead of a generic error mesage, tell me when the next flight is! Or if there are no flight in winter, tell me! So they instantly lost my business.

Cathay Pacific
Good site, and I could find what I wanted relatively quickly. The results showed me immediately if there was room on the flight, before bothering me with prices. I had the opportunity to easily choose other dates if I wanted to. Nice touch: the fare shown includes all taxes, so no suprises. The fare details also showed me instantly if the flight qualified for AsiaMiles (their own) or AA Miles (not all flights qualify for these).

The only feature that would have been nice, was a simple table with a combination of about 4 departure and return dates with different fares for each. NorthWest and Singapore Air have this feature. If you’re not stuck on one set of dates, this can save you quite a bit of money. We shifted a trip to Europe because of Northwest’s advice.

Singapore Air
The best site of the three (what else would you expect of them!). They offer an option to choose flexible dates, returning a number of options with different fares. A few small problems: when selecting dates/destinations, you can choose for a schedule or book now. Book now is a misnomer – you want to see available flights/fares, and only book if you like what you see. People will be reluctant to press book now. The schedule button is good, but once you see a flight you like, you can’t select it to add it to an itinerary.

Also, if a flight is full, it gives a basic error message (no seats or flights available, choose another date), instead of providing help. The biggest problem with Singapore Air is that they are pretty much always full, so that doesn’t help them get my business.

I did check Expedia, but their cheapest option was about $200 more. I have never had luck with those guys yet.

In the end I went with Cathay. I ended up booking the ticket through the phone, though, as I wanted a ticket with an open return option, which was hard to get through the web. Nothing beats a human at the other end. It would have been nice if I could have called directly from the website, with the person on the other end knowing where I was stuck to speed things up.

Lately, I have always booked directly from an airline. Other than a wild range in the quality of their sites, it appears that they often offer the best fares these days.