Does a service exist to optimize complex airline travel purchase?
February 19, 2016 8:52 PM   Subscribe

Is there a business/service I can hire to help research somewhat complicated airline travel purchases? Like if I'm looking at a multi-city itinerary with some flexibility on specific cities and dates, using a combination of cash and existing miles and transferable points from various credit cards, looking for business/first upgrades or fares, etc? I am coming up short trying to comprehensively figure out my choices using kayak and airline web sites and so on and would gladly pay for an expert to do it for me. Are travel agents still a thing?
posted by Perplexity to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Flightfox appears to do this.
posted by estlin at 9:01 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your profile doesn't say where you live, but in many countries of the world, travel agents still exist and do this for you. Just use your local yellow pages to find them (I'm kidding, google them).
posted by oxit at 10:11 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have not used them myself, but you might check out AirTreks.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:12 PM on February 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I ended up using a human travel agent for a medium-complicated fare booking last year. Online, hipmunk was the closest I got to being able to purchase a fare I found on MatrixITA but it didn't quite get me what I needed. I paid $60 to a human, and she found an even better option that saved me her 5x her fee.
posted by janell at 10:26 PM on February 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh sorry - for searching online, Matrix ITA was super. You can nerd out on the fare classes etc; you just can't actually buy the fare. What I did was to send my travel agent the airline code output from my matrix ITA search/best solution.
posted by janell at 10:28 PM on February 19, 2016

I was going to suggest Airtreks. I used them many years ago, so I can't vouch for them now, but this is the sort of thing they specialize in, and probably the reason they are still in business!
posted by lunasol at 5:55 AM on February 20, 2016

Travel agents are definitely still a thing. Tzell Travel Group is huge and you can look at agents... some may charge a flat fee or a percentage of total cost of the trip. Simplifying complex travel arrangements is exactly what a travel agent is perfect for.
posted by belau at 7:36 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Travel agents only charge fees for bookings where they don't get commission. I just booked a cruise and hotels through an agent, and there was no fee. Airlines, on the other hand stopped paying commissions to travel agents some time ago. My agent charges reasonable fees for booking flights, but often saves travel time and reduces layovers because she's an expert. In addition, if something goes wrong she's available to interevene, and she is often more successful than I would be on my own. I once was stranded in Eastern Europe because of a sudden airline strike, and she was able to find flights for me when all the world was fighting for the few seats available.

If you do look into hiring an agent, be aware that some specialize in business travel and some in leisure, where the clients often have different priorities.
posted by citygirl at 8:26 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you haven't already, start reading and researching on FlyerTalk.
posted by evoque at 8:27 AM on February 20, 2016

Since you're using miles and points, I would tend to go for one of the award booking services -- many times operated by miles/points-obssessed bloggers who will make sure you get the best redemption value for your points/miles.
posted by kathryn at 8:56 AM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Travel agents are a dream for complicated trips! They can also be helpful allies. One time when my mom, my sister and I were stuck in Venice without a room because the hotel we booked said they didn't have a reservation from us, we called our travel agent in the US who called them and straightened everything out. The hotel staff apologized for the mix up, and while we didn't get a room as nice as the one we'd reserved, they sent us complimentary champagne with flowers.
posted by Pearl928 at 9:41 AM on February 20, 2016

I use travel agents whenever stuff gets complicated. Often you can find someone who has a specialty in a geographic area, style of travel or serving a particular community. Or you can always Yelp. It's so worth it, and a great peace of mind in case things do go sideways.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:59 PM on February 20, 2016

Flightfox is one part travel agent, one part FlyerTalk hotshot.

using a combination of cash and existing miles and transferable points from various credit cards, looking for business/first upgrades or fares, etc?

This is the kind of scenario where Flightfox excels, as long as you identify the right person to work with. Tell them all of your FF options and redeemables, and you can get some black magic booking options out of them.
posted by holgate at 7:00 PM on February 20, 2016

One tactic I used successfully recently was to find out the tricks for searching a particular itinerary for a particular award system. Especially if you're booking internationally or booking partner awards, there are a lot of tips that make all the difference.

As an example, I was able to book a multi-stop award on Delta by spelling out each leg of the itinerary to an agent on the phone. The agent said he was not able to find that itinerary with his own search system, and the only way I got it was by creating the routing myself out of a series of independently available award flights. There seem to be tricks like this for virtually all combinations of airlines, fare classes, and award currencies.
posted by reeddavid at 7:26 PM on February 20, 2016

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