A month in the life of an online traveller

A month in the life of an online traveller. What Travel Retail can learn from the digital game

By: Ivor Smith   •   Founder at dutyfreeonarrival.com

I’d say I’m quite tech-savvy as a non-geek, after all I run a multi-lingual Travel Retail website, with a complex database of information for potential shoppers. I generally get “cookies”, “meta tags”, “code”, “scripts” “sql databases”, “hyperlinks” and history.

I’ve been at it for a decade, dealing with Developers, Designers, SEO, Paid Search and Blogger platforms. I’ve got all the usual Social sites and connections, used on a Desktop, Mobile or Tablet. So, I am reasonably au fait with how to use and work with all things Digital.

And then, just before Christmas I decided that I needed to organise some travel for 2018, maximise my costs and use up all my Points which would expire in the coming year.

Little did I know that this would turn into a full time job, spending hours online trying to resolve login and password issues, payment issues, finding hidden Terms & Conditions, re-claiming missing points and deciphering unintelligible emails from support departments. These are the help lines who think that if they address me by my first name, everything will be hunky dory!

Let’s begin with the good news, but it is all downhill from there.

I start by spending my soon expiring miles with American Airlines AA Advantage. AA are good, one of the best in my experience, you can call them and get straight through to an Agent. I did just that a few times via a no-cost number, they sorted out my payment failure and arranged the bookings.

The payment had failed because I hadn’t entered, or couldn’t remember the extra layer of security that My Credit Card Company had installed without telling me. I have since returned to them and updated this, adding the details to my 250 line spreadsheet of passwords, logins and numerous Mother’s Maiden names, first car, famous cities and different emails I use. Not to mention letters 2-5-7 of my password, deliberately designed to confuse those with dyslexia, word blindness or simple digital device fatigue.

Then, I realised that I had forgotten to ask about my baggage allowances and seat allocation and went to the AA link to explore. By this time, my Lawyer was in bed asleep and unable to assist me to interpret the morass of confusing and ambiguous terminology. I just gave up in the end, all too difficult.

So, I moved to book some Hotels. Again, trying to maximise some points

free airline miles and rewards schemes that are currently on offerI have used Agoda for years for Hotel Bookings. In fact, Agoda is really Booking.com

Turn up at many Hotels and say “I have a reservation with you via Agoda .. and most will say “who”?

They’ll then say “we have a reservation with you under your Booking.com account”. Nice to find out I have a Booking account, where it transpires that everything is duplicated there without my prior knowledge.

Not to worry, I tried to use an Agoda discount voucher received by email after I started searching for hotels. But, the voucher link returned a “500 Server error” and didn’t work. So, I contact their online chat. Three foolscap pages later of text and nothing was resolved, I was told to email in. I did, but to this day have never received a response, nor the so called “AA Points Max” I was supposed to get. (They wanted me to track-back 2 years to find details… as if).

Meantime my AOL inbox was now filling up with emails from Agoda offering me discounts on hotels at least 1000 miles away from where I was going. Within days, I was receiving up to 6 emails per day with Hotel Offers that were either not relevant or not working. So I decided to take the plunge and move everything away from AOL Mail (which is in meltdown) and eventually moved all my logins to Gmail to see if links worked better.

This is when I had to give up the day job!

free airline miles and rewards schemes that are currently on offerFirstly, because of various email and password failures, I had to “clear my cache” and “History” (according to these so-called tech support experts), so to recover my accounts. But, by doing this, Google, that’s the Google that claims to know everything about us, suddenly thinks that my logins are a security risk because I am logging in from a new Device. Artificial un-intelligence!

Of course, it’s not a new Device at all, it’s just one that has had a spring clean with a cleared cache, because that’s what those support people told me to do when I tried to follow their advice and update my logins!

No worries, I added line 251 of my password spreadsheet and set about re-entering my details into each device to keep Google happy.

Five Devices later, I then set about maximising my Tesco Points, so to acquire more Avios to buy another flight, (I needed a return one way flight from the USA to get back home), after using my AA Points to get out there.

Then, (forgetting their login failures because it didn’t match my Aer Lingus AerClub details) I discovered that the charges on a BA Avios flight booking can cost almost as much as buying a simple return ticket, because the so-called “charges and taxes” can be equal or close to a normal cash ticket price. Further investigation showed that the Aer Lingus “Taxes & Charges” can be much less than those of BA. Don’t even go there with trying to work out why the alleged “Taxes & Charges” back into the UK could be cheaper via Dublin than Heathrow!

free airline miles and rewards schemes that are currently on offer

I am now almost a month into this exercise, I reckon that had I enrolled in The Open University for a 1st Class Honours in “spending Loyalty Points for Free Travel” I’d receive a 2-1 by July. Simply, the entire market has become an Industry of mathematical complexity for Consumers, who were told that they were getting something for nothing, only to find out that they need a Financial Advisor to wade through these issues with them.

The good news is that Travel Retailers are well behind the Digital Curve, much talk, very little action. It’s almost a blessing, perhaps?

The whole purpose of Digital Innovation was (or should be) about stimulating sales and protecting their Retail modus operandi. It’s going the opposite way with Travel Tech and Loyalty as described above.

For your average travelling Consumer, those very people that are likely to spend their money in Duty Free Shops, they now need to bring their Lawyer with them when they login to spend their money or use their points online. And, this is before Travel Retailers catch up with the curve.

To my mind there is a big lesson here, from which Travel Retailers can really benefit. If they can be brave enough not to follow Digital convention.
Make your Customers’ life easy, tell him as it is and make sure you employ Service or Support Staff that properly answer questions, rather than sending url links that really say “go find out yourself” and then you might just gain respect and who knows, acquire Loyalty and incremental sales.

At least Travel Retail now has one big advantage. They can sit there are watch the so-called Digital Revolution and realise that most of it is designed by those who can easily put a man on the moon, hack into the Pentagon, but have never left a darkened room to live in or understand the real world of Consumer spending habits.

They have certainly never worked in a proper Store as a Sales Assistant and learned how to properly treat a Customer and overcome objections or explain the product benefits. so to win a sale.

A salutary lesson for all, if Digital can bring themselves to listen and learn, as to how best to sell.

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