Road Test – And Guess What? Price Really Does Matter…

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 and 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.
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