Use Caution When Booking International Flights

Third-party travel deal websites can be convenient when searching for flights. However, they can be anything but convenient when booking with certain international carriers.

This article is written as fair warning. What can happen to me can happen to you.

The ominous message in red above is something no one wants to see when attempting to select seats for an international trip. Still, it happened when I arranged a complicated international trip on Travelocity. Though the company indicated that I should obtain seat assignment directly with the carrier, I was unable to do so online. This is, of course, unfortunate since international trips are long and often uncomfortable. An early seat selection can avoid some of this pain. Travelocity’s message is clear, however, but only after you buy the ticket,

Seat assignments, special meals, frequent flyer point awards and special assistance requests should be confirmed directly with the airline.”

When I tried to do as instructed by Travelocity on China Southern, however, that carrier told me in no uncertain terms that I was an unwise customer to book outside of their site. They said (more correctly in a canned print message) “Please note that Manage My Trip service is available only for tickets booked on this site. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.” I was sorry too.

This dead-end was a continuum of frustrations with the three international flights I made with Travelocity that cost no small bit of change. A similar scenario happened with my Cathay Pacific reservation. Finally, after contacting Travelocity, they did give me a work-around. I’m hoping the same is true for our third international flight, returning home from Sydney. I’m still working on this.

Now, this is not to say that this scenario happens with every international flight booked on Travelocity. Our trip to Helsinki last fall worked considerably better, though when we were stranded in Europe for extra days (through no fault of Travelocity) I feel I did find it harder to deal with Finnair than if I had booked through them directly rather than Travelocity.

So, this gets me to my message for myself. I may use Travelocity in the future to determine what international flights are available for the journey I am planning. But, when I’m ready to make the reservations, I’ll make them directly with the specific airline rather than buy through Travelocity. It can’t be any harder than the struggle I’ve just been through trying to square away reservations already made with Travelocity (that have to be confirmed with airlines that don’t recognize me). So far, I’m out four to five hours for this misadventure and my husband and I haven’t even starting traveling.

Lastly, since the reservations were made through Travelocity, the international airlines booked evidently have the right to make certain that payment for the trip was received. This is done upon check-in. So, the ticker purchaser has to take along documentation of payment to show international airline personnel if they ask. For me, this is just another inconvenience that could be avoided by booking directly with the carriers themselves. They would know I paid for the ticket if they issued it to me directly. Apparently, if Travelocity supplied it, they are not sure.

You may not feel my pain now but if this happens to you, I feel certain sympathy will abound. Though, I hope that by reading this column, you will have more knowledge than I did and thereby act differently than me and save yourself considerable trouble.

Since writing this column Travelocity was a successful takeover target for Expedia. Expedia has more recently acquired Orbitz as well. What this means for the travelers is covered in this column entitled “What Expedia’s Acquisition of Orbitz and Travelocity Means for Travelers,” published on the Money Traveler.