NOTHING beats hitting the road to really find out what’s going on in the travel industry. It’s where rhetoric gives way to reality. So what have I learned after four trips between Sydney and Singapore over the past 12 months?
 
Well, l now know it’s a waste of time getting a quote from my travel agent because I’ll always save by booking online through Singapore Airlines out of Sydney – anywhere between A$100 to A$300.
 
The entire transaction takes less than five minutes, and I can choose my own seat, although I’m praying for the day when I can pick the passenger who sits next to me (and that wouldn’t be the overweight Indian gentleman with six plastic bags and a ball of string I encountered on my last trip).
 
Interestingly, the pricing differences are not as pronounced ex-Singapore to key destinations such as London, Sydney and Shanghai. A quick comparison of the fares being offered on Zuji.com.sg and Singaporeair.com.sg revealed an average saving of around S$50 in favour of the airline site.
 
I checked the Australian pricing differential with Singapore Airlines, asking whether they had embarked on a strategy of deliberately undercutting travel agents.
 
The airline said no and commented: “It is misleading to compare the options available from Singapore Airlines’ website with those offered to the trade. 
 
“The website offers limited flight bookings only, whereas travel agents provide a full range of services and value-adds. One could never hope to emulate the valuable role of a travel agent in an on-line environment.”
 
Maybe, but A$100 is A$100, and three times that on one memorable occasion.
 
Spokeswoman Kate Pratley added that the internet constitutes 3% of all SQ’s sales and, while the “proportion is likely to increase in the years ahead, growth is slow and overall sales are increasing at a much faster rate.”
 
I find those comments surprising, but will continue doing my bit for the airline’s online sales – as will all those other business travellers I’ve compared fares with at check-in – unless I can get a better deal through my agent.
 
So what else have I learned?
 
  • There’s no point booking direct with a hotel because I’ll always get it cheaper online through a third-party site. Once again, the saving can be in excess of A$100 for a single night, let alone a whole booking.
 
  • Ergo, price parity – the practice of offering the same price across all channels – is generally just a smart-sounding term that means nothing for many hotels and groups when selling online. Four times out of five they will undercut themselves through other channels.
 
  • You’ll generally get a better deal at an independent hotel, which are increasingly (and indiscriminately) using the online channel to dump capacity at cheap rates. You can get a room in a top non-aligned four-star in Singapore for around A$100 including taxes, breakfast and free broadband connection.
 
  • Free broadband is important because some of the bigger groups are starting to charge like there’s no tomorrow – for example, S$28 for 24 hour access. In fact, it appears groups are looking to replace the revenue “stolen” by mobile phones with that generated by broadband.
 
  • The Asian Low Cost Carriers are damn cheap – and so are most of their websites. The booking engines are generally clunky and below par, although you can’t argue with the tiny airfares on offer throughout the region.
 
  • Apart from Zuji, there are no major regional online retail brands – and none really on the horizon (although there’s plenty of action in China). But that will all change as the market matures – and the best deals shift online.
 
Finally, one thing about Asia, everyone loves a bargain. Don’t we all. In fact, chasing deals has always been a part of travel. And right now, for simple transactions, that means heading to the Internet.
 
Ends.
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