Why Does Expedia Give Me HIGHER Fares Than Travelocity?
Dec 2, 2000 (Updated Dec 2, 2000)
I LOVE finding great travel deals and I use every tool out there to make sure that I'm always the guy getting the best deal on everything, from plane tickets to rental cars. That means I'm always scanning the travel web sites, that I'm using a bunch of them, and that I'm always comparing them to off-web sources like the traditional travel agent down the block.
Two of the biggest and best online ticketing sites are Travelocity and Expedia. I use them both, and I have a love-hate relationship with both. Being the fickle cheap traveler that I am, a HUGE consideration for me is how reliably a site shows me the rock-bottom fare. But there are some other factors too: how cleanly designed, fast, and usable the site is; how complete, accurate, and relevant the information is; and the level of service that I can expect during and after the sale.
I'm currently planning a couple of trips for just after the New Year, so I've been surfing back and forth between Expedia and Travelocity, trying to find out what the best flight schedules are for me and who has the cheapest fares. It's providing me with a good stress test of both systems, showing me what each can do on identical itineraries. Surprise! There is a big difference between the information I get from each and the prices I can pay. Consequently, I've got some great ammo for a side-by-side review of both Travelocity and Expedia, based on up-to-the-minute information.
Here's what I think about Expedia these days...
Usability Does the site design help me find and do what I need?
I love the clean look and feel of the Expedia site -- everything I really want a travel site to do is clearly available in a place I can find it. While Expedia and Travelocity both provide look up functions for airfare, hotels, cruises, and rental cars, the sites are organized quite a bit differently. I like that the site remembers settings from session (not just obvious stuff like passwords, but things like which airport I most often fly out from). One thing that could be better is faster jumps back to change reservation parameters (departure time, preferred airline, destination, etc.)
When I compare Expedia to Travelocity, I think Expedia is generally a little more intuitive, but Travelocity has some better features (like the Fare Watcher fares showing up on the home page screen when you first enter the site -- you can see in an instant what the best available fares are on your preferred itineraries.)
One area of usability that is bad on Expedia is the pull-down menu used to constrain a search to certain airlines. It's just too incomplete and there's no mechanism for inputting an airline code for an airline that they didn't include. Has anyone else noticed that this pull-down won't let you look just for Southwest flights? Why?? I guess they just don't give a poop about customer needs…
Completeness Does the site give me enough information to make an educated decision?
There two kinds of information that I'm looking for: general information and specific information about flight schedules and fares. By far, the latter is the most important.
Some of the general information that some sites include are seating charts of common aircraft types identifying configurations used by major carriers, airport gate maps, and of course, flight arrival and departure information for the current day. Destination guides are sometimes nice too, and so are links to related travel sites. Of course, being the World's Cheapest Traveler, I love seeing a section that lists late-breaking bargains!
Expedia does okay on the general information -- not great, but okay. They don't have seating charts like Travelocity has (at least I can't find them, not even with a keyword search), but they do have some destination guides. Unfortunately the range of guides is fairly narrow, and the information is rather limited. You'll be better off looking elsewhere for good destination information, but the info on Expedia can at least provide a birds eye view of the most popular destinations. Expedia doesn't do well at providing links to useful sites outside their own realm, which is another negative, so you'll have to hunt that down on your own.
The biggest thing I demand as a customer is complete flight schedules and fare information. I demand to see every single flight on every carrier serving a route that I plan to fly. If I know that a web site doesn't list even a single flight, then I know for a certainty that I can't trust the fares they show to actually be the rock-bottom cheapest fare.
This is the area where Expedia does very badly. They don't list a lot of flights, and the ones they exclude are usually the ones that offer the best deals. For example, my searches based on "best fare" never show me Southwest flights, even though they are most often the lowest cost flights on a given route. (I am not a fan of Southwest, which you know if you've read my other travel reviews, but I still want to know just how much I could save if I ever chose to put up with them.) Similarly, Expedia generally doesn't show me Aeromexico flights, even when they are the cheapeast. Further, I've noticed that their best fare finder "forgets" to compare flights offerred by small startup airlines and smaller foreign flag carriers. For example, when comparing rates for a fligth to Minneapolis, it didn't show me a Sun Country fare that was half what Expedia's "best fare" would have been, and it never shows me fares for smaller latin carriers like Aviacsa.
Both Travelocity and Expedia have gaps in their information base when dealing with foreign flag carriers, but it often seems to me that Travelocity is better at knowing about foreign carrier flights -- especially the bigger ones, and better about letting you actually book flights on them.
Bottom line: You can't even find out about some flights using Expedia. Travelocity has more flight info available than Expedia. Let's look and see just how well the two sites really do at using that information to save you money...
Economy Does the site reliably give me the cheapest fares?
To stress-test both Travelocity and Expedia, I'll compare identical itineraries on the two systems and see what I get...
First, I'm planning a trip in January from Houston to Baltimore. I plug in my data to Travelocity's Best-Fare Finder to see what I get. Bingo! Very fast response, and it shows me several daily flights on Southwest as low as $198 round-trip. Let's jump over to Expedia and do the same thing, and Whoops! looks like they don't even know about Southwest Airlines -- it doesn't let me choose it from the drop-down, and it certainly doesn't find the fare in it's Best Fare Finder. In fact, it shows me a cheapest fare of $246 -- about 25% higher than I'd have paid by buying on Travelocity!!
Ah well, that's just one test. Let's try another.
I also need to jet down to Monterrey Mexico from Houston for a few days, sometime around the new year. I'll plug everything into Travelocity, hit the search button, and Bingo! up comes a round-trip fare of $248 on Aeromexico or $252 on Aviacsa, both direct non-stops. Jump over to Expedia and see how it stacks up, and Whoa! It shows me a "cheapest" fare of $274 on American -- with a stop in Dallas! Boy! Pay more for less convenience -- that really bites!
Another surprise difference when I decide that the Aviacsa flight schedule best meets my needs. Although I can eventually find the flight on Expedia (by searching through the complete list of flights), it can't actually complete the sale! A lame error message pops up blaming the airline. It's lame because I then jumped over to Travelocity, used the Best Fare Finder feature, which located the flight in a snap, and had absolutely zero problems completing the purchase online. If Travelocity can do it, why can't Expedia??
Bottom line: Travelocity more reliably finds low fares than does Expedia -- and actually lets you buy them.
Service Does the site help me do business?
In all the hoopla over doing business on the Internet, the media often glosses over the fact that customer service with web-based on businesses is often pitiful. Many sites don't provide feedback mechanisms and don't list physical addresses or phone numbers. Let's face it, there are times when every customer has a problem or a complaint and needs to ask questions or talk to someone.
I like that a link to a customer service page is clearly available on the main home page. The customer service page provides contact info to call customer service reps, and a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ).
I've never had a need to call the customer service line, but at least phone numbers to speak with real people are included, and to their credit, Expedia provides both toll-free and toll numbers (toll-free numbers are often useless or extremely difficult to use from telephones outside the U.S.)
The FAQ list seems less comprehensive to me than does that available on Travelocity, and I think with information, more is generally better -- especially on the internet where it seems to me most people would rather be able to find information online than have to contact support for help.
As with every online service out there, the customer support still has room for improvement, but overall, Expedia seems to be moving on the right path.
Stacked up to the Competition
If you'd asked me a year ago to choose just one travel web site, it would have been Expedia. But that was soooo last year. Today, it's a no-brainer to pick Travelocity as the best. (Read my detailed epinion on Travelocity for more information about what they do right that Expedia does wrong.)
Most important to the World's Cheapest Traveler (that's me!), Expedia provides incomplete information, guaranteeing that it can never reliably list the rock-bottom fare. If I can't trust them to save me money, why should I bother using their service? Travelocity lists more flights to more places at better prices, and that's the rock-bottom reason why Travelocity now beats out Expedia as the best online ticketing agency!