I wrote about how I was a huge fan of Farecast last march. I still am, now I use Kayak just as much, but overall I just love the idea of having a meta-search engine that allows me to easily find the cheapest airfare possible for wherever it is I want to go.
I spent two very frustrating hours last night using both Farecast and Kayak. And then Expedia and Orbitz and a variety of airline websites and now I’m utterly confused. Either someone (i.e. an airline) has some very dirty data, or I’ve been swindled into trusting these meta-search engines to provide a service which they’re actually not capable of providing.
I was trying to book a flight from London Heathrow to Seattle in December. I’ve been watching the fares pretty regularly (since June) on Kayak and all through the summer the lowest fare was about $550 return with KLM/NWA. Happy days. That’s a rock-bottom fare on that route. So, credit card in hand, last night I went to book the actual ticket. And then my world came tumbling down. I ended up paying $820 for the flight. Still not as bad as the $1200 my friend paid for her flight on the same route this past June, but not the lowest-fare-ever I’ve had my eye on.
What happened ?
I searched on Kayak, found my fare, and clicked on the select button – which, since the fare was offered by Orbitz, brought me to the Orbitz website. Three, no, four attempts to book this fare. Each accompanied with pithy, yet meaningless error message. So I tried the same search on Farecast, Expedia and then the KLM and Northwest Airlines websites. The user experience was a little more pleasant than Orbitz, but nary a sign of my $550 fare.
I booked my flight at the best price I could find and sulked a little. But I couldn’t let it go. For good measure I just searched both Kayak and Farecast for the same flights just now and the same $550 fare with KLM comes up top of the results on both websites. Obviously that fare existed at some point in time – otherwise it couldn’t exist in the search listings. But equally obviously it’s been sold out. Surely the usefulness of these meta-search engines is seriously compromised if ‘stale’ data, such as fares which are no longer available, is not removed from the pool of available of fares promptly ?