Saturday, September 28, 2019

Online Travel Tricks

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking – why is this site suddenly talking about travels and online travel tricks. Well, sometimes it’s nice to take a break and take a diversion – like a short vacation to a leisure destination or a heritage destination. Besides, PM Narendra Modi, on I-Day, urged Indians to visit at least 15 tourist destinations by 2022. And while at Houston, he also asked NRIs and Indian-Americans to bring along 5 non-Indian families on a trip to India:
So, when the PM makes the call, it is our duty that we all go on a vacation. At least those who can afford it should do so. Frankly, I have already been doing this job for years as I make at least 10 trips a year and use hotels. But those who aren’t – to complete 15 tourist destinations, they will have to make 4 trips per year in the remaining three and a half years till 2022 or, they will have to make 1 long trip that covers 15 destinations. It’s not a pain at all, most of us would love to go on a trip to new places or a pilgrimage to heritage destinations we haven’t been to before. A word of caution: The PM’s words are not to be mistaken for people going from Mumbai or Delhi to their “Des” in Samastipur or Dindigul to visit their families on their annual visits. That will not count as tourism.

Since all this came to my mind, it is also my job to put in a word of caution on associated scams with online travel bookings. And that’s the main reason to write this. Scams are a topic of interest to this site. Indian tourism classifies seasons into two. April to September is “Off season” and October to March is “Peak season’. Although, there are summer vacations in schools and courts, so families take vacations to visit relatives or hill stations. Others like celebrities, Bollywoodias, lawyers, judges and Rahul Gandhi go to the playgrounds of Europe where the climate is cooler during our summers.  The first step in travel is obviously ticket booking for transport – Bus, Rail or Air. Here, we aren’t going to talk about Corporate travels as they have their regular systems and hotels for travel and even rate-contracts. We will be talking about individual and family travel, which the industry refers to as “FIT” (Free individual traveller).

Govt bus-fares don’t fluctuate by seasons but private operators might hike their fares a bit depending on the demand. Train fares are also stable except for the “Dynamic fare” element in the AC cabins of some trains like Rajdhani and other Superfast trains. Airfares are a bit hard to predict and there is no pattern in their rates. Contrary to what you might think, the early bird doesn’t always get the worm in air bookings. Here’s a sample on airfares from Mumbai to Chennai and back:
Normally, airfares are higher if the date of travel is very close. However, in the above case the travel for September 27-30 return ticket is cheaper than the same travel for November 14-16. Airfares also go up excessively if there is a major event at the destination. For instance, fares to Delhi around the weeks leading to I-Day or R-Day will be dramatically high. Similarly, travel to major luxury tourist spots in Diwali season or year-end or to Goa during their February carnival will go up substantially. Since our PM’s call does not fall under “Emergency” travel, one must start planning at least a month before the travel and keep watching the fares for at least a week and then book when comfortable that fares will not fluctuate much in the remaining days.

Don’t rely on some travel-agent. He will probably want a higher fare as it increases his commission too. But the biggest trick in travelling is not the transport fares – it is the hotels. Rail and Air travel are regulated by the Govt. but there is absolutely no regulation for the hotel industry and online bookings. It’s an open “Swayamwar’. Their tricks are so coordinated that only an expert traveller can decipher their games and the manner in which they fool customers. The inexperienced one will invariably lose money if he books hotel rooms without learning their tricks. Let me take you through some of the trickery involved in this business. To provide samples for this, I took screenshots of some destinations for hotel booking. Let’s start with one of my favourite places – Udaipur. A Google search for Udaipur hotels produces some hotels like these:
There’s a hotel called Justa Inn for which Google showed two properties and rates. When I actually clicked the Rajputana link, it took me to MakeMyTrip which showed a lower rate of 2497/- as against 3933/- in the Google result. Mind you, when you further click on the 2497/- they might some taxes and fees or 2497/- may be “all-inclusive” as it often is. The travel dates I gave were September-30 to October 1, which is pretty close. But choose more nights instead of one night stay and the results are not very encouraging:
MMT shows rates from 3146 to 3186 for 2 nights and 4 nights. The next best rate is GoIbibo. In all the results, you will always find MMT and GoIbibo as the first or second lowest rates. It’s magic. Given this, what fools on earth would offer rates 5000+ or 7000+ for the same property and the same dates? That then is the question on what these travel sites are doing to the public. Are they in cahoots like a cartel to present you extremely high rates for the same property, same dates so that the two big players can be quickly chosen? Do the two big players pass on commission to the “decoys” who compel you to choose them by those putting up prohibitive rates? Let’s see some more.

So, I looked up the same property (Justa) in Gurgaon as they have properties in various locations. The Google search and their “view more rates” page showed up these rates for Gurgaon:
 Once again, MMT and GoIbibo are the best rates and others are priced around 1000/- more than them. How is it possible to play the game for the same hotel, same dates, same rooms with such a big difference in rates? Some of the ones with higher-rates may be just “parking plots” to divert business. But I have good news too. When I click on the link and go to MMT for dates within the range shown in the above image, I get a price that is dramatically lower for the same property:
But I haven’t got lucky. When I click on the 1876/- and try to make a booking, the final rate shown is 2974/. The 2974/- has some taxes and fees but when they show the 1876/- they often don’t mention “taxes extra” or “fees apply” – no such warning. The first thing is to get you at their door. In the next step they will almost compel you to buy. But when you see 2974/- you will end up searching again. And MMT will put up a caution when you try to leave the page with a pop-up “If you leave this page, this offer may not be available again”. At least they have some sense of humour in fooling you. Surprisingly, the 2974/- is for a night on October 1. But if you check for one night for September 27, there will be a dramatic fall in the price:
And all of them show the original, inflated price as some 5075/- and in some cases even over 12000/- for the same property. They are all fishing for “Bakras”. An unfortunate NRI or a traveller with extra money will usually fall for these tricks and pay a lot more than necessary. The other thing that travellers should be aware of is that both MMT and GoIbibo are the same company – they merged in 2018. But when it comes to online booking, they act like “Salma-Sabrina” of hotel bookings:
How do they do it? Firstly, when you visit them, they track your IP address. Each time you search with them, they will give you almost identical results as the previous search. How do you beat this? Here are some simple tips:

# Unless there is an emergency, for leisure trips wait till the last 3-4 days to book a hotel online. When the hotel rooms threaten to go empty, the rates fall dramatically. So, the best chance is to book only 3-4 days before. However, if it’s a peak festival season make a prudent decision as rates will not alter dramatically.
# When you are closer to your travel dates, clear the history from your laptop and mobile and all cookies. This will give you the latest rates which will normally be lower than what you saw before.
# If you have multiple mobiles, check the rates from each mobile as you get closer to the date of travel. DO NOT give your mobile number or email ID while merely searching as they will tempt you stating “Unlock Special Offer” by registering your email ID or mobile phone. That’s just a silly trap to fool you. And these sites are like “Strip-dancers’ that will keep tempting you with ads that show more reduced rates for the same property on sites that use Google Ads:
These price-games and trickery are mostly in the medium to higher end hotels. Sometimes the minor rate difference can also be for “With” or “Without Breakfast” inclusion. If you go through OYO rooms for budget hotels, they have hotels ranging from 500 to 5000 a night and more. The lower end rooms don’t fluctuate in rates all that much and are more stable. Lastly, take the images of the hotel rooms with a pinch of salt. Photography also uses trickery that can be deceptive. Some travellers also put up pics of their hotel experience, check on those too. Many online sites have a “Pay at hotel” option without a change in rates. If that is available, take that option and don’t pay in advance. Most OYO rooms have this option. Just for fun, if you wonder where that Justa Inn rate will end up 2 days before your travel – I predict around 1800, all-inclusive, if it’s not peak season or some festive days.

We cannot expect the PM to regulate the hotel industry. It’s “Buyers Beware” business. But the Tourism minister should surely take note of these online tricksters where online hotel booking is concerned. And online booking will still be cheaper because if you land up a hotel without a booking, then the same hotel is likely to charge 25-30% more than the online rate. In any case, India is a vast country with thousands of great places to visit. One lifetime won’t be enough but make the most of it if and when you can. 

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  1. This is a good educative piece of information. Thanks.

    Feeling of getting cheated hurts more than the monetary part of the cheating. As long as "come cheat me" kind of people are there, cheaters continuously find ways to cheat them.

    Here is one of my interesting experience:. Once I was booking an Ola ride. After booking confirmation, the wait period was 20 minutes. So I cancelled & re-booked the ride. Surprisingly the new date was nearly 8% cheaper. So, I repeated the "exercise" 3 times. Final fare I paid was Rs 168 against first ride booking fare of Rs 193 !!!

  2. I'm sorry sir, I'm a travel agent and charge a service fee to my clients. Besides most of the airlines have stopped giving commissions already.
    The domestic airlines gives commissions on achieving targets, so travel agents have moved on to charging Management Fees. Selling cheap tickets is better as we can sell it in bulk.

  3. @Darshit

    I understand... I am aware the online travel business has affected the conventional travel agents on the ground. In fact, I would like to know how you do business and what are the products/services that you now offer that are the mainstay of your business.You can write to


  4. Good idea would be to clear the cache of computer and restart the search.

  5. Check on and check out times are also used to fool the customer.

  6. I observed this and when the price drops would upgrade the accommodation from promised two star to three star for our package tour customers without charging extra making them happy. But the secret is out now courtesy mediacrooks.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Ravi Sir

    Please don't write such articles.

    Yours faithfully,

  9. Know what, there are two types of Indians, only two types. One is a crook by birth, conman by culture and a thug by practice, The second is outright BAKRA, an ignorant fool. When a corrupt, anti=national neta gets arrested, his whole community feels pain. Even their Godman guru jumps in to defend the criminal. It happens only in India. Indians fall under 'Risk Category' in many foreign countries, lakhs of illegal immigrants even in USA. Something is wrong in DNA. Shame on us.

  10. Hi Ravi,

    One can use private or incognito mode of the browser while searching..use VPNs if you have one..

    Do not keep opening multiple windows and keep searching multiple times a day.. traffic generated is demand price is bound to increase.

    Other options are, use MMT or other similar sites as reference..use the hotel website or call them directly..this may give additional savings on bookings

    Some may upgrade the booking like providing spa or pool, provided you are good in talking

  11. Hi Ravinar -
    There is no other way to using this method.

    PMC Bank Fraud Probe Leads ED to Posh Houses ‘Gifted’ to Politicians by HDIL Owners in Maharashtra

    It was found during the searches that the owners of Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd (HDIL) gifted a number of houses to politicians in some of Maharashtra’s posh locations. The ED remained tight-lipped about the identities of these politicians.

    Interestingly, the ED has found that HDIL was one of the sponsors of Kolkata Knight Riders, the IPL team co-owned by Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. HDIL was also the organiser of a Mumbai fashion event -- HDIL Couture Week India, which was later shelved. HDIL also had stake in Adhikari Brothers' firms and Hindi news channel Live India.

    The agency had also filed a money laundering case against HDIL promoters bank fraud case. The financial investigating agency is looking for the details of the other 18 companies linked to the HDIL

    None of the so called powerful business media channels, none revealed or exposed or mentioned in this in past when they said that this stock is good or bad.

  12. Very informative piece. I book the way you have recommended and added to the same if I am travelling to that place in an off season, after seeing the Hotel name I will check its contact from Google, call them to block the room. Will make payment once I reach. This will further reduce cost

  13. I usually read your articles on same day; however very late on this one. I am a revenue manager for a large 5 star hotel in Auckland and my key job is to play with room rates on-line and off-line. You are bang on the buck about rates being cheaper closer to date during off-peak season and the opposite for high demand season as they will end up full occupancy. Other trick is always search for prices and call the hotel direct and ask them for discount on the lowest available online price. Most often then not they will give some kind of discount or upgrade as direct booking will save them at least 15% of the commission.
    I have been your fan since 2013 from NZ


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