Updated September 7, 2016.
There’s little doubt the around-the-world ticket industry is small. We’ve been involved in it for almost 30 years and we know just about all the players. Recently, we’ve heard a lot of buzz about BootsnAll and their new pricing and booking engine called “Indie.” But with such a high a signal to noise ratio on the internet, it’s hard sometimes to distinguish the hype from the substance.
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At AirTreks, we’ve been selling complex international airfare for over a quarter-century, so it’s admittedly hard for me to have an unbiased opinion about Indie, a tool that tries to fully automate a process we’ve consciously and consistently chosen over the years not to automate. But we believe that travel is for everyone, regardless of age, or income, and because of this, we think the truth about booking RTW flights, automated or not, must be told.
To give our readers the most accurate portrayal we can muster of what BootsnAll’s Indie planning tool means to RTW ticket shoppers we’ve listed some benefits of an automated booking engine below, along with a few reasons to purchase your ticket with the experts at AirTreks.
Here are the pros we see for using Indie to book your tickets:
Doing it yourself
It’s an online booking engine, so you don’t have to speak with a travel agent. Ever. You can book your 25 segment trip all by yourself, without any interruptions or interventions, at 3am if you like. No waiting. No calls. No back-and-forth or communication with a person required. A high sense of self-satisfaction will follow and you’ll take off on your trip as soon as you want to.
Indie works like the other online booking engines except you can price more than 6 flights at the same time, similar to cobbling together searches on sites like Kayak or Expedia.
It’s easy and straightforward with only one choice of flight plan – take it or leave it. It’s a tool that works well if you like tinkering around online and you have a very specific idea of where you want to travel, as well as detailed knowledge of different airports serving the cities you’re planning to visit.
Indie is no doubt a pretty application. Your eyes will be dazzled looking at the curved lines and box-shadows. It’s fun and easy.
Here are some of the potential pitfalls (also known as harsh realities) I see with Indie:
Linear Pricing Algorithm
An online booking engine like Indie books flights by piecing together a series of one-way tickets with an ultra-focused, non-flexible linear algorithm picking solutions to your routing problems from published airfare options, whether or not they’re the best options for you. The result of those solutions won’t be clear until you’ve started traveling and there is no turning back.
In our opinion, the “best solution” to a complex route question is a value judgment that can only be made by a human being with the ability to contextualize the scenario. In other words, see the forest for the trees. The answer could be using a different flight, maybe to an alternate city, with a different set of connections or dates, staying on a specific airline to accrue frequent-flyer miles, or any number of other tricks we use to make your flights and route less expensive and more importantly, more pleasant.
The fact that Indie delivers only three flight options, the cheapest published fare, the shortest itinerary, and the itinerary with fewest stops, means that if you want advice on things like a stopover to add value to your trip or decrease the cost of your flights, you’re going to have to pick up the phone or send an email, immediately undermining the reason you used an automated system in the first place. At that point the major convenience of booking online is lost.
Not unlike Indie, the AirTreks TripPlanner will give you instant pricing for any route. It actually works a little faster because you don’t need to input each travel date to get a rate. It won’t give you the specific details on each flight and connection because that’s where talking to one of our personal travel consultants can make the biggest difference. We know which airlines are reliable. We know what connection times are reasonable. We have access to discounted options on highly rated airlines that can cost less than Indie’s budget airline options.
Often, our discounted consolidator tickets offer more direct routes than those available to the general public. By incorporating our expertise into your travel plans we often save you money and more importantly, time and headaches. We also do our best to include a free stopover somewhere cool along the way for customers who aren’t in a huge hurry to get to each destination on their multi-city itinerary.
Traveling on your tickets
What’s long been notably absent from discussions about online booking is mention of what happens after your tickets are purchased.
With tickets purchased using an automated online engine such as Indie, as long as you don’t need or want to make date changes, get sick, are able to somehow avoid common airline schedule changes, and all your tickets were issued exactly correctly, you won’t have any problems. You’re good to go for the entire trip. Of course with complex multistop travel, there are a lot of variables, for a lot of segments to consider.
If you need or want to change a date, the airlines generally require the issuing agency to make those changes, but if you’ve booked through an online booking engine, it becomes inordinately difficult to get in touch with a person who can help. BootsnAll has a very deep gray spot in their terms and conditions with respect to date change rules (they aren’t given for each airline, but rather, they have a blanket “you probably can’t change your tickets within 72 hours of departure” clause. This should come as a huge red flag.)
Ultimately, unless you book through the airlines directly, you will have to deal with a middle-man if you want to make changes to your tickets, or if there’s a tsunami, volcano, storm etc. In my experience, accessibility to a human in those situations is of the utmost importance. It’s especially valuable to have a human who is experienced in dealing with such cases as well. If your trip goes awry, you want someone in your corner who has dealt with literally hundreds of similar situations.
Airline schedule changes
It’s unclear whether or not Indie has a system in place to notify their customers of airline schedule changes, which occur more than we can sometimes believe. AirTreks has a customer service team that continuously manages the queues set up by the airlines to give notice about schedule changes and we pass on that information to our clients when there is a potentially dangerous difference (we notify clients about changes of more than 15 minutes).
AirTreks has a customer service department dedicated to helping with flights post-departure. Whether it’s to notify of an airline schedule change, an airline going out of business or if you have a sick family member back home and need to return, we’re always here to help you. We also include travel insurance with every ticket we sell as well.
Think of a travel agent like a doctor and an online booking engine like over-the-counter medicines. Sure, if you’ve got something simple like a cold, you can take care of it yourself. No need to see the doctor. Just as if you have a simple itinerary – there’s probably no need to speak with a travel agent. Just book it online and go.
But when you need a doctor, you’re pretty glad to have one. Has anyone ever tried to phase out doctors as one of the main tenants of medical care?
Ultimately, we’re always excited to see a new option out there for planning and booking RTW trips. To us that means more and more people will be exposed to around the world travel and get out there and see the world. New tools mean travelers can get even more detailed information, take advantage of more price transparency, as they’re deciding where to travel and where to buy their tickets. New tools mean more people may come to the important realization that not only is travel amazing and life-changing–it’s possible.
That said, for us, the best question to ask before buying complex, multi-destination airfare is this:
I’m spending a few thousand dollars on tickets toward the trip of a lifetime – what do I want from the booking experience?
If your answer is, “I want to buy them online without talking to a travel agent or an airline”, then you have a new way to do that, courtesy of Indie and BootsnAll.
But if your answer is, “I want the best possible trip for my money. I want expert advice on my route, price and throughout the purchasing and planning process. I need help discovering the least expensive and most comfortable options, suggestions on advantageous alternatives, some trip protection included (in the form of travel insurance) and to know that I have an ally in case something goes wrong or if I need changes to my flights”, well, there’s no argument. AirTreks is your only answer.