Monday, 23 September 2019

Thomas Cook bankrupt - another one down, many more to come?

The museum of Islamic art in Doha

The tragic bankruptcy of Thomas Cook, one of the largest travel groups in Europe, reveals the truth about the future of mainstream package travel: there is none. As much as the traditional travel industry claims there will be a steady demand for package travel including transport, transfer and accommodation, changing travel behaviour will marginalise this segment of the market.

Really, who's still making a booking through a traditional high street travel agency? Browsing through catalogues with similar looking beach properties in locations that have become the relics of sixties' and seventies' mass travel? Obviously, younger generations make their own arrangements through new channels.

And, yes, of course, there is still demand for such package holidays, but it is decreasing and it will keep on decreasing for years to come. Margins are so thin that one wonders who still wants to be in that business. It's not a coincidence that so many hotel inventory is 'leaking' through online travel agencies (despite the demise of amoma.com just last week).

The 'margin game' is being played elsewhere, not in traditional package travel, but online. And although by the signs of it the game has ended in favour of the large online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Booking and Expedia, it actually hasn't. Signs are there that OTAs are stalling - which makes sense.

An ever larger choice of accommodation and an interface full of psychological tricks are starting to frighten bookers away. If you visit Booking, you're made to believe that even the darkest shithole in London is a great place to stay - just because its review scores are pumped up by its central location and great wifi.

Moreover, how to make a decent selection from thousands of accommodations (nowadays including many of the properties that are on Airbnb) when the ranking is mostly driven by the commissions paid, not by the customer's interests? Is the new adage of the travel industry: if you can't convince them, confuse them?

Yes, then there should be a market for parties who give a clearer overview of relevant options. But my guess is that it won't be traditional package travel companies that will take up this role. There's a market for personalised travel looming, based on technology rather than human agency. With knowledge of individual preferences, it should be possible to automate large parts of one's travel planning.

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Another online travel agency bankrupt: Amoma leaves guests stranded

Amoma.com was one of the smaller hotel booking platforms. It used to have good hotel rates, and I used it quite a few times myself. Now it has filed for bankruptcy, and people with a booking via this platform will not see their reservation honoured.

Always remember to use a credit card when you book a hotel online. In case of a bankruptcy, this will very probably protect you against loosing the deposit you made - in case of Amoma.com, this will probably be the full sum of the booking.

However, the misery might not end there. If you turn up in a hotel and have an Amoma booking which wasn't paid for by Amoma to the hotel, you have to make new arrangements. That might very well be more expensive than your original booking.

A few tips if you find yourself stranded: download the app 'Hotels tonight' and check if there is availability via this app - check rates elsewhere as well, because not all rates are good. What is more, I have once seen a lousy property being advertised for almost 500 euro a night.

The usual suspects for checking last minute hotel rates are Trivago.com, Momondo and Kayak, but also check your favourite hotel chain's app, because they might have very good last minute rates sometimes.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Latam Frankfurt - Madrid flight in business class

In Europe, Latam, the merger of TAM and LAN airlines from South-America, is a relatively unknown member of the OneWorld alliance. It is well known among aviation enthusiasts, though, because it flies a short-haul intra-European route with a wide-body plane, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. That plane is known for its comfortable atmosphere, a higher cabin pressure and higher humidity.

Apart from that, because the route is only flown once a day each way, the tickets are often sold against incredibly low fares. My wife and I just flew over to Madrid for 152 euro return - in business class. You get a lot of bang for the buck: priority check-in and security (not in Madrid), lounge access, priority boarding some 45 minutes before departure, and of course a very nice 2,5 hour flight including catering.

The business class cabin consists of five rows in a 2-2-2 layout. This is ideal if travelling as a pair, less so if you're flying as an individual. The seats turn into flat beds - however I'd rather stay awake on such a short flight. For those connecting from South America, this will be different: after the long haul leg from there, they will probably want to catch a few hours of sleep on their way to Frankfurt.

Latam provides a limited catering on the short flights; there is no choice for a main, only for a desert (which are delicious, by the way). The 'main course' consisted of a lovely cold cuts platter on the FRA-MAD flight and a rather meagre brie-turkey sandwich on the reverse leg. That said, food presentation is much, much better than on regular intra-European business class so there is no reason whatsoever to complain.

Personnel is generally friendly and speaks English well. They respond very quickly to calls made after the meal service. All in all, for those enjoying the experience, including lounge access 152 euro buys you 10 hours of 'quality time', which is truly amazing value. If you credit the tier points and miles to British Airways Executive Club, the return tickets also earns you 80 tier points and some 2,000 avios, worth some 20 euro.

You can find availability either by searching on the latam.com website or on matrix.itasoftware.com, where you can do a 30 day window search for business class flights between FRA and MAD. I would recommend you to book directly via latam.com (slightly more expensive at 168 euro) but if you like to take the risk of booking via a discounter OTA this will save you some additional 16 to 20 euro depending on the means of payment.