One of Kenya’s and possibly East Africa’s biggest infrastructure project to date, ran into early headwinds at its launch due to lack of a proper ticketing and reservations system.
I recall ahead of the new passenger train service’s launch, I wrote a column to the effect that a reliable train service is an actual threat to airline services, particularly on the domestic front. A view I still hold if the product is well packaged.
The ensuing efforts to get train tickets in the days after the service commenced brought back the memories of Jurassic era airline ticketing.
It is hard to imagine that airline tickets once upon a time were reserved by phone and the confirmation sometimes dispatched by postal mail.
But with technology, today, travellers have a number of tools, solutions and applications that go beyond the rudimentary functions like flight search and booking to more complex processes like fare comparisons by the hour.
Since the mid 1990s, technological advances gave life to the emergence of online travel agencies like travelweb.com, which catalogues hotels and resorts.
Today, the Internet is dotted with online travel companies like lonelyplanet.com, tripadvisor.com, booking.com, hotels.com, and AirBnB (the Uber of hotels). The current global average for online booking of hotels and tickets stands at approximately 55 per cent.
A traveller can today compare flights, hotels and car rentals online from any of the available portals, make a booking online, or use a travel app and pay via credit card or some other electronic solution — all without the physical intervention of a travel agent.
Technology and competition have therefore created for the traveller and choices readily available possibilities for all kinds of preferences and budgets.
How then does a frequent flyer take advantage of these developments to get the best travel deals?
For the pennywise flyer, a fare comparison done using any of the online air travel agents is a good start.
Websites like Expedia, kayak, Skyscanner and Momondo come in handy, not forgetting Google Flights, which has positioned itself as cheaper than any travel agent.
To lock in the best bargains or monitor the routes of interest, it is advisable to download the relevant flight search application and build a profile with specific preferences.
What the smart solution will do is continuously monitor your flights of interest and send notifications on when it is best to buy a ticket or the latest affordable offer available.
If one is going to do a flight search directly on an airline’s website, the exercise calls for a bit of tact, by way of using incognito browsers as most carriers now have technology to mark and remember the visiting IP address.
Should the same IP address perform the same flight search within a specified period, the airline system will automatically quote a higher fare, often giving the impression of fewer seats left with each search.
While an airline website may present their best fare based on search parameters, one still misses the advantages of a comparison of fares and schedules that you can get with the online travel agencies.
Further, most online travel agencies have the option of throwing in a choice of accommodation, taxi service, or even city tour, at affordable rates.
Even where the average regional traveller is not comfortable with shopping for flights online and paying using credit cards, there are still other options of ensuring the booking process is easy.
In Africa, the past few years have seen the emergence of online travel companies like Travelstart, Wakanow and Jumia, which have successfully grown beyond their geographical origins.
Their understanding of the needs of the African traveller from payment plans, visa assistance, accommodation, flights still makes their services a meaningful bridge between fully online and the traditional agent.