Bait-and-Switch or ineptitude?... WTF Travelocity!?
November 27, 2009 11:27 PM   Subscribe

Buying a ticket to Bangkok—is there a dependable online ticket-searching service that is all about getting the truly cheapest fare?

Argh!, I spent over an hour today working on the Travelocity site, trying to find a low-priced ticket from Portland to Bangkok. After noodling around with my Portland/Bangkok departure dates I finally found a reasonably priced ticket that I could afford. However when I clicked to order it Travelocity said Sorry, that ticket's not available, please go pick another one—all of the other tickets being at least $500 more. (And annoyingly, when I went back to look at the other tickets, that cheaper un-buyable ticket was still listed as being available)

So, I tried and found that while it searches across four different ticket sites, each site finds fares that differ from each other by thousands of dollars. That is, each site is saying "This is the absolute cheapest flight out there" but actually the ticket prices vary from $1900 to $4000. To my mind, there should be only one "cheapest flight"—you know, hence the "-est" suffix.

So tell me hive mind, is there one ticket-finding site that
A: doesn't advertise tickets that it doesn't have (Travelocity), and
B: searches all flights all through one interface—so you don't have to dig through several different sites and windows wasting time with their laughable ideas of what they call "the cheapest flight"?

[For reference, I'm looking to leave PDX on Dec 9th, and leave BKK on any of the days between Dec 31 and Jan 3]
posted by blueberry to Travel & Transportation around Thailand (20 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever you do, stay away from -- they do what you're afraid of, and then some. Alas, I don't have your answer -- but just another site to scratch off your list.
posted by graytona at 11:41 PM on November 27, 2009

Have you tried
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:05 AM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: Use ITA software or the newer version. Kayak's good too, but don't use the feature that enables you to search any other sites -- usually, sites like cheaptickets/orbitz/travelocity are trying to make their money on package deals, and as such their search engines aren't that great.

I did your search, and it seems that $2277 is the absolute lowest you could get, with a mix of United, Air China, ANA, Dec 9-Jan 1.
posted by suedehead at 12:06 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Look into flying to another regional center (Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong) and then taking an AirAsia or Jetstar flight - two low cost airlines in the region.
posted by mdonley at 12:23 AM on November 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A flight from LAX to Bangkok out on the 9th and back on the 4th is $1550 on China Southern, via Guangzhou. LAX is probably the American city with the best connections to Asia, and if you can be a little flexible on your dates (getting the 4th off would be realllly helpful financially) and get down there and back, perhaps that's worth thinking about.
posted by mdonley at 12:56 AM on November 28, 2009

Expedia gave me from 9th to 1st $2197 for what its worth.

You wont ever be able to find the cheapest possible flight on any aggregating service because some airlines don't get listed or have exclusive contracts.
posted by Osmanthus at 1:11 AM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: I travel so much I should have my own airline. I usually compare, and I've not seen the problem you mention: often the end price is less than the one I try to book, in fact, since it changes within the 20mins I'm using the site.

If you can leave on the 10th instead of the 9th, Sidestep shows me a $1590+ option right now (Air Canada, for some reason). If you don't mind returning on the 2nd rather than third, Orbitz shows me a $1799+ choice, too (United). LastMinute doesn't do Asia except in weird circumstances.

Neither of those prices sound great enough to jump at, to me. I'd probably sit it out and wait for the $1200ish sale that might happen two days before liftoff. Of course, I am brave/crazy, and you may be too wise to gamble like that.

Whatever you do, be sure to check a couple of days before and after the perfect dates you want: a flight two days later is often half the price. Another nifty trick is to use sites like the above (or Expedia) to find the actual carriers and flight numbers you want, then go check those carrier sites yourself with that info in hand. Sometimes the flights will be less expensive that way. (Other times, they'll be much higher.)

Good luck.
posted by rokusan at 1:58 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and mdonley is very correct about LAX being the go-to airport for things like this: I used LAX to get to KUL last year for about $700. No other origin city in the US could come close to that.
posted by rokusan at 2:02 AM on November 28, 2009

In general, Jan 4th for Asia-Pac => West Coast will be very expensive. You might want to consider middle or the end of the week; the price difference can be substantial, easily half the price.

Assuming you fly LAX - BKK return, and fly back on 8th or 9th, you should get a ticket for about USD 1425 on, either on Eva Air or China Airlines (both with a stopover in Taipei), or for USD 1550-ish on Thai, LAX- BKK non-stop.
posted by the cydonian at 2:36 AM on November 28, 2009

The Practical Nomad's FAQ about airline ticket consolidators will tell you why you probably won't be able to find just one site to help you get the cheapest ticket online.

Seconding the advice above, try to get the cheapest flight you can from the US to any major hub city in Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong, Manila) and getting tickets from there to Bangkok from a low-cost carrier, because tickets are so, so, so cheap within Southeast Asia. Cebu Pacific is my personal favorite (absolute cheapest, very no-frills, but who needs frills on a 1- to 3-hour flight?) and they constantly have seat sales, but also try Jetstar, Tiger Airways, and Air Asia.
posted by Lush at 3:34 AM on November 28, 2009

Try dohop
posted by krilli at 3:41 AM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: Also nthing that LAX (or SFO or SEA) have the most varied, most frequent flights to Asia.

(Just an example: the most recent NWA/Delta newsletter had a roundtrip fare promotion of USD$625 between Manila and LAX/SFO/SEA, departure dates between now and December 25 or January 16-31, 2010. And I've seen them go as low as USD$425 on off-peak. Just sayin'.)
posted by Lush at 3:52 AM on November 28, 2009

First of all, you are flying in the high season. Fares drop by $500 if you fly the 2nd week in January.
Second, Travelocity, Orbitz, Expedia etc do NOT work for overseas flights. For fun, after I buy my ticket, I plug in the exact same date, flights on those sites and get a listing that is a thousand dollars over what I've paid.
Third, I used to use an airline ticket consolidator. You have to be clear about what you want because they work fast. I can tell you that Air Brokers International in SF has been around for 20 years.
Fourth, there always seems to be one airline that has the best deals in a certain year. And sometimes you have to go to the airlines website. And sometimes it's not the usual suspects. On the east coast, my friend just bought a ticket to Bali on China Airlines. I paid slightly less to fly on Singapore.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:54 AM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Travelocity and etc just index the airline's flights usually. Their databases aren't linked, so if you miss a "scrape", you'll find tickets that are unavailable... not their fault or a bait and switch, just the nature of the game.

When I was looking for tickets to / from europe, I found the cheapest flights by far from Vayama. I'm not sure where the dates are coming from in the previous answers, but I put in Jan 9-23 and it was roughly $1000 with fees on Delta/Northwest. They are kind of sketch in that you have to wait for them to verify your ticket, but it worked for me and saved me a few hundred dollars going to Berlin. They're also one of the only multi destination ticket finders which is also fun if you want to stop over.
posted by CharlesV42 at 6:41 AM on November 28, 2009

Now i see it in tiny type! Those dates give me around 2000 with taxes and fees, so yeah you're probably finding the best deal from sites.
posted by CharlesV42 at 6:43 AM on November 28, 2009

Cathay Pacific All-Asia pass.

Like a Eurail pass, except in Asia. By airplane.

24 cities in 21 days for $1,499. Round-trip.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:36 AM on November 28, 2009

I tried to book a flight SFO to Bangkok a couple weeks ago using Travelocity, and had the EXACT same problem you did -- tried to pick the lowest-price flights, and by the time I got to the end, clicking to make the purchase, it kept telling me the tix were no longer available.

I went through several iterations, and even called them up on the phone, only to have the assistant on the phone run into the same problem.

Anyway, we ended up going with Eva. Tix were about $1,300 RT, they were about a thousand bucks cheaper than the nearest competitor.
posted by mikeand1 at 10:24 AM on November 28, 2009

Dohop does work over overseas flights. While you will get somewhat lower prices if you buy straight from the airline sites, you will see the trends very clearly at Dohop. Like who is cheapest at what day or time, or which airports tend to be economical, etc.
posted by krilli at 3:09 PM on November 28, 2009

Best answer: Try this site:

I'm in South East Asia, and I find it to be pretty good in general for travels around the region.
posted by joewandy at 12:41 AM on November 30, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your suggestions—I got some tickets (yay!), and better than the only ones I had been able to find before (the ones I got are a direct flight via LAX, so there's no 8-hour Taipei layover on the way there, no 11-hour(!) layover on the way back).

A couple comments, replies, and info for future Googlers:

I thought that new ITA software was pretty cool, but it just happened to be where I chanced upon the flight I booked. As said, it seems that while different sites have a lot of overlap, you want to use most of them to smoke out any cheap fares the others may have missed (akin to sending out a passel of detectives—they all find the same general stuff, but one or two uncover something everyone else missed).

Also, you want to check your chosen sites several times a day, everyday, until you get your tickets. I think some cheap fares pop up and then are quickly snatched up.

Because I'm TA'ing a morning class on the 5th, my dates were pretty fixed, but I agree that coming back later in January would've probably gotten me cheaper fares.

The Cathay Pacific All-Asia pass sounds cool, but it isn't available year-round so I couldn't use it.
("Standard departures: February 08 - May 17, 2009, August 17 - December 1, 2009. Summer departures: May 18 through August 16, 2009")

One of the sites—I can't recall which—listed their fares without the required tax. So you'd do a search and see these great fares—"$1200"—and think you hit the jackpot, then you'd click buy and discover than you hadn't seen the tiny type that said "+$583 in tax". I thought that was pretty, not sleazy, but misleading since the tax isn't really an "option" like leather seats or something. Anyway, I pretty much avoided that site after encountering that.

Travelocity I just plain stopped looking at because I felt I couldn't trust them; both of the cheap tickets I found through them then turned out to be unavailable. I know a poster mentioned that this was the nature of the business and not their fault, but I feel that if you are "0 for 2" in actually providing what you are touting, well, you are doing something wrong. Peter and the Wolf, I guess.
(Also, when I called to complain, the manager-guy I spoke to hurried me off the phone saying yes yes he would take care of the problem, and this was without me having yet even mentioned what the problem was—that didn't exactly inspire confidence.)

Finally, rokusan provided me with some great info over MeFi-Mail that I thought might be useful to others. I've pasted the relavent bits below:


Me: "What am I missing on Sidestep?
So, I put in Portland, OR to Bangkok, Thailand Thu Dec 10 2009 – Sun Jan 3 2010 and the best price I seem to be getting is $2816... Is there some checkbox I'm missing or something that got you the "$1590+ option"?

rokusan: "I don't get the cheap one now either. At THIS moment, the best I see is $2212.
Not that that surprises me: prices change minute to minute, which is why those sites always "expire" your session after a few minutes of inactivity. I'm logged in, which lets me use the "show me 3 days before and after" feature in a grid. That's essential to get a sense of WHY a price is how it is: without that, you may never notice that a flight the night before is half the price.
I'd definitely focus on LAX, since that will be the sweet spot, and check often. When I am looking for flights, I check ten or twenty times per day, usually when taking a brief work-break or pulling a long drink of coffee: it takes the place of my 3-minute MeFi visits. :)
Most airlines and sites (incl. Orbitz) also let you reserve or 'hold' a flight for 24-48h without paying for it, which is very very handy when you are trying to do something complicated with your own connections."

Me: ", the idea of waiting for a lower price, I assume that is from airlines that have still-vacant seats on a plane they're going to have to fly anyway, so they get jittery and lower their prices on empty seats (if they have any)?"

rokusan: "I don't know if they get jittery... I assume that entire teams of actuarial guys have figured out exactly how the mechanisms should work for maximum sales. I can only speak to the effect: prices go up-and-down and up-and-down and up-and-down again, and there are usually bargains at the last minute if you can be flexible about dates/times/layovers.
I assume the rough model is that people who are picky will pay the high prices early, get the exact time of day they prefer, the seats and rows and such, and whatever is left over can then be sold for less. I suspect that's why "business" class seats can sell for 3x the price of the cheap ones, and yet they still get purchased first.
Of course, sometimes all seats sell out, so gambling on the last minute is risky. I have ended up paying "full" price sometimes the day before flying, too. But overall it's worked very well, and (so far) I have not been left stranded.
I'm surprised you can't get a PDX-LAX flight somewhere for $200 or less, since I often do something similar for $100-something one way. Maybe I need an atlas.
Christmas is a hard time to judge prices. They're crazy."

posted by blueberry at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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