Australians might be more likely than anyone else in the Asia-Pacific region, but we're still making a few costly mistakes when it comes to booking online travel, recent research suggests.
Forrester Research's quarterly Asia Pacific Technographics Survey includes a bunch of data on how consumers in Australia, China, Japan, Korea, India and Hong Kong use online services to research and book leisure travel. On virtually every measure, Australians emerge as the most fervent users of the Internet for sorting out travel arrangements. "Online Australians are regional leaders: Half of them researched airline tickets online, and one-quarter bought online," the research summary from Forrester revealed. Around 61% of Aussies have booked some form of travel online in the last year, the study suggested.
However, digging deeper into the statistics suggests that we're not necessarily using the best tools to get the job done, especially if our major goal is getting the cheapest deal possible. Here's some of the issues that emerge from the study.
Mistake #1: We don't use the best tools for research
The most common tool used by Australians when researching travel is a general search engine (like Google), an option choosing by nearly two-thirds of those who have booked travel. This might be an OK strategy for getting information about an area, but it's frequently a lousy way to get a good deal.
My own experience is that travel is one of the most "polluted" categories when it comes to search engines: finding useful booking information via an engine like Google is often a convoluted process of dodging SEO-driven results pushing dubious booking sites. If you're after cheap air fares, for instance, going direct to an airline site will invariably be the cheapest option.
That doesn't mean Google and its ilk have no role to play, but don't use them to finalise your deals. Once you've identified (for example) which airlines fly into a given location (something that's often more easily done via Wikipedia), go direct to their sites to check pricing.
Mistake #2: We wait too long for cheap deals
The notion that last-minute deals will always be cheaper has become pervasive when we think about online travel, and that's reflected in some of Forrester's numbers. No matter what the category -- airline tickets, hotel rooms, or car hire -- the number of people who have actually booked a deal online in the last three months is around half the number who researched those options. Some of that is undoubtedly people doing "what if" research, but I suspect some of it is people hanging out for a cheaper deal.
If you're genuinely unfussed about where you go, last-minute options might prove useful, but booking just-in-time will often get you lousy prices, especially if you want airline tickets. If you have a specific destination in mind, and you see a good price, it's risky to assume that deals will get better. For overseas trips, you also need to factor in the effect of exchange rate shifts.
Mistake #3: Overuse of cars
This isn't strictly speaking a financial mistake, but it certainly qualifies as an environmental concern. Travelling in our own car is by far the most common choice for Australians making leisure trips, an option selected by 70% of respondents. As well, 20% of people had hired a car (multiple responses were possible). Air travel was another common choice, with 55% of respondents having flown for trips, but just 18% had used rail.
There are huge swathes of the country that can only be accessed with a car, but there's also massive stretches of the east coast in particular that are covered by public transport -- something to consider when you're thinking about the overall cost of your trip.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman goes into shock when his travel booking actually involves personal interaction. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.