Hotwire ran a fare sale with Korean Air last summer which brought us back to the third-party booking service after years without booking on one. We were reminded just how difficult managing reservations can be through OTAs when airline schedules change.
Korean Air-Hotwire Exclusive
In June of 2018, the airline ran an exclusive sale with Korean Air for business class fares from New York City or Washington DC to Bali. The deals were good but not mistake level territory starting at $1870 to about $2200.
For our family of three, we secured tickets from DCA with two adult tickets just shy of $2000 each and our five-year-old daughter coming in at about $1500. It was affordable enough to book after some thought and replace an award booking over the winter – but it wasn’t drop-what-you’re-doing cheap.
The promotion worked well for both brands. Hotwire brought some premium passengers back into the fold who may consider them for travel needs in the future. Korean, filled some planes in low season during travel dead periods and introduced new premium flyers to their brand.
I typically avoid OTAs (online travel agencies) as Matthew recommends, it’s just easier to communicate directly with the airline, one company controls the ticket. Had the fare been available on Korean’s own website we would have booked it there instead.
Hotwire had the ability to control the schedule change to the extent that they could switch the dates and extend beyond a 24-hour connection using Korean Air waiver. Beyond that, the ticket was out of their control. While all of the Hotwire staff members were pleasant, they were not US-based and their command of English and understanding of the concepts were limited. Calls to Hotwire followed a familiar pattern:
- Explain the unresolved issue.
- Hotwire agent attempts, in vain, to solve the matter on their own system.
- Hotwire agent speaks to a supervisor, only to determine that they must contact Korean Air directly.
- After 60-90 minutes on the phone, the change is made semi-successfully, any remaining error will not be discovered for another 24 hours as the systems update.
- Rinse and repeat.
Ultimately, the solution was simple. We called Korean and got the ticket issues resolved with them directly. When doing so, we could be sure that no matter what, the carrier that would fly us would have the ticket correct.
At one point, Delta (who controlled the domestic legs), Hotwire and Korean Air all showed different itineraries. I confirmed on the phone with Korean agents twice prior to departure that the route and seat assignments were correct, and again on their website.
We arrived at Reagan National, checked in with Delta and our bags were checked through. My wife noticed that the tags only printed to Seoul and not onward to Bali. She raised this and indeed, the agent had missed entire segments which reflected the ticket issues shown on Delta’s website. Producing the receipt from Korean put her back at her computer, she then produced the correct bag tags but not onward boarding pass from Seoul, normal for some international connections.
Even after departure, Hotwire never showed the correct itinerary on their website and hadn’t sent the proper changes to Delta or reconciled the issues.
The Problem With OTAs
The issue I have found when booking with Online Travel Agencies like Hotwire is that none of the parties involved ever seem to have full control of the ticket. Korean Air couldn’t make the schedule changes unless prompted first by Hotwire. When calling Hotwire, they could make a date change but not a route change, even when permitted by the carrier – they had to call Korean to get the change made.
To compound the issue, OTAs aren’t clear on what they do and do not control. Seat assignments could be added only by calling Korean Air directly, the same with adding frequent flyer account numbers.
Customers don’t know which vendor is responsible for what. Consumers spend an inordinate amount of time only to discover that another entity needs to be involved. Worse, the carrier and OTAs don’t seem to know which is within their control either, until they attempt to solve a matter only to be blocked by the other.
Hotwire and other OTAs could improve their customer experience by outlining which entity controls which aspect of the experience. The OTAs could provide easy and clear links or phone numbers for aspects of the ticket they cannot affect and better train their staff on the process.
While I was willing to buy this one itinerary through Hotwire, I won’t add them to a regular part of my process for bookings and that, for them, was a lost opportunity as I fear I am not the only one.
Have you had similar experiences with OTAs like Hotwire? Do you have suggestions for how they could improve the process? What do you do with tickets that never seem to be properly reissued?