The Travel Tools That Make You Crazy (and How to Prevent It)

22 11 2009

I’m coming to realize more and more how terrible it is to be a procrastinator. And yet I continue on that path. Mostly, I think, it’s a fear of committing—something else may be just around the corner that is better, cheaper, or what-not.

This is how I got into the mess of not buying my Christmas ticket until far later than I should have. I, who pressured my sister two months ago to let me know for certain if she was indeed going to be in the Bay Area for the holiday so that I could get to purchasing a ticket if I needed (I’m terrible, I know).

But things happened: work and not knowing how much time I’d have off, and then there is this little thing called Bing, and its blasted flight predictor. I warn you now: use at your own risk. It looks innocuous enough, charming even, with its little colored arrows pointing every which way, notices telling you “Buy Now, prices are going up!” or, worse, “Wait! They’re going down!”

This is how I fell. I waited, trusting Bing. And then I began the game of obsessively checking every flight search engine Bing had to offer, plus several more from BookingBuddy, which links from Bing but is a beast unto itself. I could count the number of flight search engines that BookingBuddy links to, but I’ve already lost countless hours checking over half of them for flights to California, so I really don’t want to sacrifice any more of my time to such silliness.

And so, since I went slightly insane before finally settling on a ticket (after, of course, thoroughly evaluating the timing, price and mileage earning possibilities of I’d say thousands of flights over the course of several days), I feel my readers should benefit from my new-found wisdom. So here it is:

1) Trust Bing, to an extent. They tell you right on the site to way your risk tolerance (mine, it appears, is rather high). I find that for the most part, in the past at least, it’s been pretty accurate, though over the much-fluctuating holidays it kept telling me to wait when prices were steadily creeping up. There comes a time when you go with your gut, but Bing is a good place to start.

2) Compare a few search engines, but not to many. Pick five good ones (max!) and stop there. I’ve found I have the best luck with Expedia and Cheap Tickets. But Orbitz, my old faithful friend, remains my favorite, for the crucial aspects of flexible date searches and the ability to include nearby airports. (With the others I found my “must know all options” side trying every possible combination of airports in New York and San Francisco. I’m not a mathematician but I know I don’t like that probability.)

3) Stay away from Priceline. I tried multiple times to book the different versions of a given flight, always to get the answer that it was no longer available no matter how many times the screen refreshed to show my desired flights still there. All the while I lost valuable time that I could have been trolling other search engines.

4) Make a decision! At the end of the day, whether it’s because you took too long in evaluating your options or waited too long for something better to come along, you’ve ultimately wasted time, and likely lost the original best case scenario flight in the process. (Some day I will learn to take this piece of brilliant advice myself.)