The Lost Art of the Itinerary

Call me nostalgiac, but I remember the days when any travel agency that you paid to make trip arrangements actually provided a coherent document detailing said arrangements.

Apparently this is Old School. Online booking sites these days are taking an entirely new approach.

Instead of confirming all the details of your forthcoming dream trip that you have just spent the last 168 agonizing minutes of your life hunting down and purchasing – they will helpfully introduce two separate ways to review the information they are not actually providing on the first screen of your online booking confirmation, and remind you of your missed opportunity to make associated travel arrangements through their site… in return for which they will provide you substantial, (and completely unverifiable,) savings.

In fact, it isn’t until you scroll down to the third screen, that interesting details like the flight number, when the flight departs and from where … magically appear. I don’t know about you, but I like to be really clear on where I need to be, and when. Call me OCD, but punctuality… particularly when many personal dollars are involved, feels Pretty Darned Important.

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I clicked the “See your itinerary” button… which led me to the same message we’re seeing in my email (above). Not terribly helpful.

Allow me to introduce Exhibit A – a semi-ideal itinerary:

Notice the subtle intricacies of an actual itinerary. You can see at a glance where you need to be, and when – and just in case you need to print out a boarding pass at the airport, the flight number! You can see the second leg of your trip. You can see things like whether a rental car and hotel have been booked (or not). More importantly, you can see when you’re returning, and from which airport (just in case it happens to be a different place than your departure). All of this allows you to figure out if you (or your support person) accidentally booked yourself to check in at a hotel the day after you arrive at your destination, or set you up to “pick up” a rental car 15 miles away from the airport, or there is a scheduled taxi strike the day you return. It happens.

In truth, you’re not going to get gate confirmations until the day of the trip. But dates, cities, airlines, and times… yeah. That should all be on the ‘page at a glance’ itinerary you get from your (and I’m using this term ironically) online quote travel agency unquote.

So why is this no longer considered the best way to provide customer service? As far as I can tell, the online booking site’s “itinerary” is designed to make the customer consider whether a real live Travel Agent might provide better service for the same fee the site is adding to your tickets and reservations. Imagine… a person… more importantly, a person with expertise on saving you money and making your trip more fabulous.

I recognize that these sites are programmed… to optimize cash flow… and reward shareholders. But that is not why their customers use them. The communication provided after the transaction is just as important as the information provided while the traveler is figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B. My advice, solicited or otherwise is, stop sending poorly constructed confirmation messages designed entirely to get the customer to buy something else. Send a freaking itinerary, okay?

This is why some slick new .com is already working on wiping the current slate of booking sites off the travel arrangement map. People working on setting up a memorable trip want more than digital promises of discounts. They want more than theoretical savings. They want to make sure they have made travel arrangements that ensure a trip full of joy, comfort, and beautiful experiences. They want to know that their great airline ticket deal is not going to result in ten days of jet-lagged regret. Most of all, they want a coherent presentation of the information they need to make sure they go to the right airport on the correct day, well in advance of the time their booked flight leaves. Just saying.

Needless to say, no one is paying me for my opinion here. This is just my advice as a customer, and a person who voluntarily travels a lot. If you’ve booked a trip online recently, what was it like? Did you find a site that provided a reasonably coherent itinerary? Share the love in the comments below.

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