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Holiday excitement begins right from the day the decision is made and often extends till long after we return. However the planning, particularly reservations, often ends up being an extremely tiring and time-consuming process. Instead of running from pillar to post, from airline offices to long queues at Railway booking counters or spending on STD calls for hotel reservations, help is now available literally at our fingertips!
As internet connectivity improves and people become web-savvy they are increasingly favouring a totally new option to cater to their travel needs, namely 'online travel portals'. The beauty of these portals is that they offer one-stop travel solutions often at a bargain and all from the comfort of your home or office.
Indians have taken to travelling in a big way be it for leisure or work. Many are keen to explore all parts of the country including the road less travelled. Says Sandeep Murthy, CEO of ClearTrip.com, "The Indian travel market stands at USD 16 billion in 2007, which would reach USD 26.1 billion by 2010. The online travel market's projected growth is USD 6 billion by 2010 from USD 1.75 billion in 2007."
The number of tickets booked through irctc.co.in, the Indian Railways' online ticket booking facility, doubled from 917,000 tickets in April 2007 to 1,881,000 tickets in January 2008.
Online travel portals offer a huge bouquet of offerings that includes air/ rail bookings, travel and hotel reservations, package deals and car hire just to name a few. Some prominent players are Arzoo.com, ClearTrip.com, ezeego.com, irctc.co.in, MakeMyTrip.com and Yatra.com.
Other online travel portals like Rediff FareSearch, IXIgo.com and 90di.com/travel however are search engines and do not undertake bookings. They offer comparative rates and direct the user to the website of the concerned airline or Indian Railways for the actual booking.
Members of younger age groups are predominant users of these online travel portals. Mr Murthy says customers of Cleartrip are between 20 to 40 years, mostly males, graduates, working for medium to large companies in a metro city and earning Rs 5 lakh+.
It all begins here...
The home page of every site gives an overview of all products the company has to offer. One has to select the desired mode of travel and fill in the necessary details to get various options.
The sites vary in speed with which results are offered, simplicity of display and extent of information. Some sites also offer a 'filter' option whereby one can sort the results by fare/ number of halts etc -- excellent to analyse several options.
An important point to remember is to check if the displayed prices include taxes and fees. They could be displayed separately and any oversight can end up as a rude shock when making the final payment.
Read the fine print
Here it is important to check the refund rules for cancellation or modification. Most sites levy an additional fee over and above the cancellation deduction by the airline. Ditto for any changes in travel dates. Further, do check if such changes can be made online or not. Different sites have different rules, time frames and mode of payment of refunds.
A message that says 'not available' does not necessarily mean that the chosen places are not directly connected. You may find options at another site. In some instances prices applicable to online bookings and telephonic bookings differ. Once the flight/ train is finalised, these sites offer an opportunity to review the selection before a final payment is made.
Though it may sound like a lot of points and websites to check out, it is worth the time and effort considering that we would be spending a large amount of hard earned money.
Having zeroed in on the best option, the next step is payment, which in most cases is by credit card, though some also offer payment via netbanking. Some portals also accept international credit cards.
Developments in web security have made web transactions secure. Deep Kalra, Founder & CEO, MakeMyTrip.com advises, "As a basic practice, consumers should check if websites requesting payments online are Verisign SSL secured. This means all personal information provided by customers is transmitted using SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption. SSL is a proven coding system that lets the browser automatically encrypt or scramble data before it is sent to the destination server."
Besides this, basic protocol like not making any kind of financial transaction from a web cafe, not revealing passwords etc must be followed. Do use virtual keyboards wherever available.
Some portals also offer telephonic bookings via their customer care centres. Yatra.com offers a cash pick-up on delivery of tickets. Some portals offer bookings via SMS. Mr Kalra informs, "MakeMyTrip has recently launched the only mobile travel product that works anywhere, anytime and does not require a GPRS subscription. The AnyMobile service works on even the most basic of handsets, and does not require a GPRS connection. Customers only need to send "MakeMyTrip" as an SMS to 543219. The instructional menu appears on the screen allowing customers to search, book and pay for their flight tickets through their handsets. Thus the entire transaction is completed on the mobile phone."
Going further, some portals have set up regular brick and mortar offices for those who are not net savvy, lack connectivity or are sceptical of web-transactions.
The portal 90di.com/travel is helpful for journeys that demand air and train travel or those with multiple trains for a single journey. Sites offering international travel also offer visa and passport facilitation along with foreign currency exchange services and options for travel insurance. Again go through the fine print.
Going beyond all these, quite a few online portals offer holidays based on themes like spa, wellness, beaches, islands, luxury, family, adventure, pilgrimage etc, that have been very well received. Also on offer is tourist information, shared experiences, travel blogs etc.
From time to time, these firms have special offers wherein travellers get extra benefits. They are well advertised in other media to catch your eye! Most also have customer loyalty and reward programmes and it could be profitable for frequent travellers to enrol for these.
While it is great that tickets can be booked from any corner of the country, currently the limitation comes in when tickets have to be physically delivered after booking. The address provided has to be of an area served by the allied courier service of the portal. If not, an alternate address has to be provided.
Online travel portals continuously upgrade to offer better and more innovative deals for their clients by tying up with airlines, credit card firms or hotels and pass on maximum savings to people who book with them.
With the summer holidays round the corner there's no time to lose. The silicon chip and fibre-optic cables have ensured that help is just a click away! One can now literally click and travel!
Note: Information given here is as of early March 2008.
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