Booking the airfares

0. Contents

  1. Finding the right fare
  2. Problems with the price
  3. Problems with the routing
  4. Lessons learnt

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1. Finding the right fare

Lots of research went into booking the airfares. With the huge amount of choice available, we decided upon some prerequisites to narrow it down faster:

  • We wanted to fly with Qantas or the oneworld group to collect frequent flyer points and take advantage of my frequent flyer status.
  • We wanted to fly into Rome and out of London, or vice versa.
  • We wanted some internal European flights included.

With those prerequisites, there weren't too many options left. Cathay Pacific had a suitable fare, but the clear winner on price was the Qantas Winter in Europe fare. I tracked down a fare sheet on the Internet (basically a list of all the rules for the fare) and read the fine print.

It looked pretty good. The fare allowed us to fly to pretty much anywhere in Europe with a stopover on the way, then fly home with a free stopover in Rome. With this in mind, we planned for this fare to include Perth-London, then London-Madrid, then Paris-London-Rome, then Rome-Perth. The best price I could find on the internet was $1689+tax at Travelocity. Not too shabby!

Print-out in hand, we headed off to the Flight Centre Europe Travel Expo. Flight Centre are good, because they guarantee to beat any other airfare. Technically their guarantee doesn't include Travelocity, because it's an American site, but they didn't seem to notice and said they could match it. I had checked the timing and availability of all our flights on the internet, so all we needed Flight Centre to do was to to book it. They couldn't book it on the day, so they took our plans and were going to book it the following week. It all seemed too easy.

2. Problems with the price

Early in the following week, Flight Centre called us about problems giving us the price that we had found. It seems that Travelocity were lying. The fare of $1689 wasn't available for travel in March, even though their website said it was. Our friendly Flight Centre travel agent even tried calling them up to book it through them, but to no avail. Best Flights had it listed for $1799, so we got Flight Centre to match that instead. So that was an extra $110 each.

3. Problems with the routing

It seems that fare rules also cannot be trusted. Here's what the first problematic section said:

APPLIES TO ANY FLIGHT EXCEPT VIA AFRICA AND APPLIES TO ANY QF/BA/AO FLIGHT

Now to me, it looks like codeshare flights are allowed, which was important to us because our flight from Rome to Hong Kong was a codeshare (with a Qantas flight number, but operated by Cathay Pacific). Happily, our travel agent came to our rescue by booking us onto the codeshare flight anyway. She said she had to ask for special dispensation to do so. Hooray!

The next problematic section was not so easy:

A FREE STOPOVER IS PERMITTED AT BKK/HKG/LON/SIN, IF IN ROUTING APPLICABLE TO FARE. *** AND 1 ADDITIONAL FREE STOPOVER PERMITTED IN PAR/FRA/ZRH/ROM. **WILL NOT AUTOPRICE**

To my untrained eye, that suggests that we can have a stopover in London on the way to our destination, and a stopover in Rome on the way back. For some reason it wasn't bookable though. I don't understand why. Even the travel agent was convinced that it should be allowed.

In the end, the fare ended up giving us the flight to London, then London to Madrid, then home from Rome. This was ok, but the fare that I originally thought was brilliant turned out to be no better than average.

4. Lessons Learnt

  • If a price looks too good to be true, it probably is. Especially if you see it on Travelocity. Never trust Travelocity.
  • You can't win even if you educate yourself and do all the research in the world, because the fare sheets are misleading.
  • It helps to have a good travel agent. Flight Centre can be good if you find the right agent.

Back to the Europe 2004 index.