travel CD-Rom business (remember those?). A young executive realized that travel agents made ridiculous fees off of booking vacations, and that they could develop a user-friendly travel booking service for the masses. It was spun off in 1998 as Expedia and changed how the travel industry operates.
While we do owe a debt to Expedia for being the first travel booking website, the question for us is: does is still stack up against the competition? Are there other sites out there that offer cheaper prices or a better booking experience overall? That’s what we decided to do. We booked several vacations on various booking sites last year to assess the quality of each site.
The Good: Clean Layout and Auto-Fill Features.
The website layout itself is an example of clean web design, with bright background images making for an online experience that’s user-friendly and easy on the eyes. Starting to shop is easy enough with the auto-fill features built into the site’s search bar, and bold tabs near the top of the screen let you easily toggle between flight, hotel, bundle, car and cruise browsing options. You can shop for these a la carte, or you can go all-in with an Expedia travel packages (which Expedia loves and offers discounts for).
Searching for the Best Flight:
When searching for a flight, you can shop individual options for each leg of the journey or search round-trip itineraries. The site includes a really helpful flight score that Expedia calculates based on the length of a flight, airplane quality and the amenities offered on during the trip. The only downside is you must enter exact dates of travel. One obvious feature missing is that the site does not allow searches that include a range of time (many sites will let you know that you can save money if you leave the next day, as opposed to the day you’re currently searching with).
The menu on the right side of the page allows you to tailor the results listings to meet your airline, number of stops, departure times or airport preferences.
Even on Expedia, the cost of flights change from day-to-day. The good news is that Expedia allows shoppers to create daily e-mail notificationsd that tell you how your flight’s prices fluctuate. Simply conduct a search using the criteria related to your trip and then use the “Trends” tool located on the upper left of the search results window.
Finding the Right Hotel:
The site’s hotel search results include a mix of Expedia’s green-bannered daily deals, sale-priced listings and general hotel room offers. You can easily see customer ratings, some amenities and photos before making a selection on the individual hotel cards that rollup on your screen.
Sometimes the initial amount of options in search query seems really overwhelming, For example, searching hotels in Paris, France often returns more than 2,000 vacation stay options. Thankfully, Expedia offers users the ability to narrow down the results by desired neighborhood. This is great for finding a vacation spot that’s near – or far away, depending on your preference, – from popular tourist attractions.
You can also sort the list by hotel name, price, star rating and hotel preferences like babysitting services and free parking.
The cruise section of the site appears less developed than the fight and hotel search areas. Expedia only offers two options for browsing when searching these vacation listings: month of departure and destination. Given the rate at which cruises take place, it almost seems better to indicate “Show All” in both fields initially, and then use the left-side menu to find a cruise that leaves when you want and goes where you want.
With all of the listings displaying, you can also sort by the most popular packages and itineraries. Customer ratings appear in blue below the title of each offer. The listings also show available dates, total price and price per night. Expedia sweetens these deals with various extra perks like free meals and discounts on additional guests.
Once you make a selection, you will see that the sticker price increases based on where you’d like to sleep on the ship.
Insuring a Pleasant Vacation:
Some of us enjoy the peace of mind that comes with planning for any and all contingencies when traveling. Expedia seemingly recognizes that car accidents, illness, lost luggage and emergencies pop up and that dream vacation falls through.
The company dedicates an entirely separate section of the site to its “Travel Protection Plans.” All of the information regarding available coverage is searchable for any cautious traveler. Just be sure to read all the fine print.
The Bad: Details that Might Keep You Grounded
So while you can score a great vacation through Expedia, try Googling the site’s reviews and you will understand that not all customers enjoyed their vacation booking experience with the site. Nothing good in this world comes without a few drawbacks, right?
More Bad: Expedia Loves Emailing You!
Unfortunately, Expedia sends quite a few promotional emails once you’ve made a purchase online. These come from Expedia as well as the site’s partners and can arrive as many as a several times a day! If we travelled as much as Expedia suggested we would, we’d never be home. We wish Expedia had a more intelligent email targeting service that only sent a few, highly-specific deals to my inbox. If they knew that we liked to travel in May, and that we like Hawaii, then offer deals related to our behaviors that way. We feel it’s better than Expedia’s ‘throw all the deals at them and hope something sticks’ approach.
Loathe overloaded inboxes? Carefully uncheck any an all opt-in communication boxes when you submit payment, and unsubscribe to any new junk advertisement when it shows up in your inbox the first time. Even with all of the annoying communication, sometimes a deal is just too good to pass up.
Expedia clearly states it will not ever ask for personal account information through these emails, and asks that you report any communications fishing for those details.
Pet and Cancellation Policies:
Many hotel and flight reservations offer the ability to cancel within 24 hours, as indicated on Expedia listings. A number of online reviews, however, suggest poor customer service and miscommunication between the hotel and Expedia make the process of cancellation unnecessarily difficult, if not impossible.
Bottom Line: It always pays to call the hotel directly to confirm that location’s specific pet and cancellation policies if you believe you will need them. Don’t risk having to scramble at the last minute.
The Curious Case of Customer Reviews:
Since Expedia is the old-travel site on the block, it has the most customer reviews for hotels and flights of any other travel site. But we suspect that they may be picking and choosing reviews to give hotels a more rosy picture than what the average traveller would encounter.
For example, we stayed at the Westin Los Angeles last year for a summit. The entire five days were an exercise in frustration: the hotel was undergoing loud renovations, the hotel keys wouldn’t work and the general cleanliness of the place seemed to set to ‘optional’. We submitted our one-star review to Expedia, and it was denied. We’ve tried less-than-glowing reviews of other hotels (we only give negative reviews when the experience truly reflects it) and those reviews tended to be denied as well.
Just keep that in mind next time you’re considering staying at a certain hotel. Remember that the reviews you’re reading are the ‘rosier’ ones that Expedia has approved.
Making the Final Decision:
One study found that the average user of travel booking sites visits as many as five different sites 38 times before he or she commits to a purchase. That’s a lot of work, but it literally pays to do your homework before making a purchase on Expedia.
A bit of advice? Start planning your vacation as far in advance of your departure date as possible. Check other sites and revisit Expedia occasionally for the latest deals and offers before you commit to a purchase.