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Shyamal Banerjee/Mint
Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

Take a holiday from package fine print

Don't let the fine details on travel portals scare you away. Here's a detour to help you choose

Just a month after retiring from the world of cricket, Sachin Tendulkar was seen donning a red turban and a fake moustache as the brand ambassador for Musafir.com, a new travel portal in India. The UAE-based company is the latest entrant in the already crowded online travel space. Ixigo, though not a new entrant, has also taken to advertising on television. In India, the online travel agency business is estimated to be worth $3 billion, according to PhoCusWright Inc., a global travel research firm. The top three companies—MakeMyTrip, Cleartrip and Yatra—account for nearly 86% of the business generated. Smaller ones, such as Goibibo and AirAsia-Expedia make up the remaining 14%. Even brick and mortar companies such as Cox and Kings and Thomas Cook have an online presence.

More the choice, more the confusion. So how do you wade through this long list of travel sites and get yourself the best deal. Mint Money tries to find out the distinguishing factors between these portals.

What’s on offer

All the portals provide more or less the same service—they let you pick the cheapest travel tickets, book hotel rooms along with the flight tickets according to your budget and also buy a holiday package.

Even though the product may be very similar, the prices vary. Sample this: if you are booking a round trip ticket from Delhi to Mumbai during the 14-19 January period on MakeMyTrip, you will have to pay a total of 14,498. With Yatra, the cost comes to 16,494. On both these sites, the cheapest options were return tickets on JetKonnect. Now, if you used JetKonnect’s website, the same tickets would cost you a total of 16,372. On the Thomas Cook website, you would have to pay 14,801 for a return trip on the same sector flying SpiceJet. The cheapest ticket was available on Musafir, for 14,691 on JetKonnect.

In some instances, the airline website will offer better prices than the travel portals. But during festivals or peak travel seasons, portals offer better deals. Bangalore-based professional, Judith George, has benefited from this difference. “I had to book three tickets from Bangalore to Mumbai for January. I compared prices on three websites and on private airline websites. Since it was October, the travel sites had festive offers; the price difference was significant."

How this works is that airlines reserve a specific percentage of seats on a flight for agents, both offline and online. The agent has tie-ups with particular airlines for a certain number of seats per flight. So, the agent decides the price based on the number of seats in its kitty.

The same is the case when booking a holiday package or even a flight-hotel combo. We went through a few four-day packages to Dubai (ex-Delhi) on three sites.

MakeMyTrip’s offer was for 37,900, including meals, return tickets, taxes, tour guide and visa, for one person. Ixigo had the same components, but its package was worth 33,519. Musafir’s was priced 13,999, but did not include tickets.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast rule that one particular portal will give you the best price (though they will all claim to do so). “There is no set rule that a particular portal will give you the cheapest tickets all the time. It will vary from sector to sector and also according to the time of booking," says Gaurav Gupta, senior director, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu India Pvt. Ltd.

Spot the difference

Sharat Dhall, president, Yatra, says that the bigger and more established companies are able to offer better features on their websites and also work on a larger scale than smaller companies. “This means that the customer will get better discounts and packages; the range of hotels will be bigger; and so on," he says.

We checked for the number of hotels that six portals have in Alleppey in Kerala in the first week of January. Expedia had 59 hotels listed, Yatra had 39, Thomas Cook India had 37, MakeMyTrip 24, Ezeego 18 and Musafir 12.

Indeed, the bigger the agent, further is its reach. But dig a little deeper and take a look at the charges. Processing fees is different across, albeit by a small margin.

Processing fees is non-refundable, and is charged when the initial payment is made through debit or credit cards through the Internet. “These portals have invested substantially to expand, implement and maintain online payment systems and especially to upgrade, enhance and improve the security features for direct debit, online credit, debit and charge cards payments," explains Gupta. So, depending on the overheads, the portal will charge you a processing fee.

For instance, Yatra and MakeMyTrip charge 150 per transaction. As for Musafir, Manu Monga, its vice-president and head of marketing, says that as of now there are no convenience fee charges since the portal is running a special promotion. However, its website states that 400 per ticket will be charged for any change in booking.

Chetan Kapoor, research analyst, Asia-Pacific, PhoCusWright Inc., says that other than charges and prices of tickets, innovations could set one portal apart from the other. “For instance, some of these sites offer cash on delivery; some will let you pay the hotel directly instead of at the time of booking; and some even have equated monthly instalment schemes. Since there isn’t a significant difference in the pricing of the product, the ease of facilitating payments is what could set some companies apart from the rest."

Rajesh Magow, co-founder and chief executive officer (India), MakeMyTrip, talks about one such innovative product. “We offer deep discounts on last-minute deals on hotel bookings and 100% money-back guarantee on domestic hotels. We have associated with top hotels and branded properties. Customers get discounts of at least 30% on last-minute deals."

What should you do?

The online travel business is expected to grow in the next few years. According to PhoCusWright, the online travel space is poised to grow to $4.3 billion by 2015. And with so many operators, travellers can expect to see competitive pricing as well as easier payment options and a wider range of hotels to choose from.

The flipside of so much choice is that there is too much choice. There is a limit to the details that a person looking for a plane ticket or a holiday package will bother about. An overcrowded market won’t help matters.

In such a scenario, there are three things that will help you make a decision: pricing, variety and payment options. Vikram Malhi, general manager, South and Southeast Asia, Expedia, advises: “Select a portal that offers you the widest choice of products and services. Also, booking from an established brand helps in avoiding unpleasant experiences later during the journey." Use this tip when you are planning your next holiday. After all, no one wants to be weighed down with a whole lot of details.

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