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Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr tests out a new platform for booking airfare to see whether it can truly deliver the savings it claims to offer.
It seems that with every changing season, a new website rises to promise yet another alternative to the standard online airfare search model. Enter Germany-based Tripdelta, which promises savings of up to 90% and an average savings of $90 per booking compared to mainstream online travel agencies. When travel sites make these kinds of claims, I enjoy putting them to the test. In this post, I’ll dive headfirst into Tripdelta to see if this upstart booking engine truly offers the airfare solution of the future.
What’s Different about Tripdelta?
Tripdelta has a well-produced (albeit vague) description of how the new model works:
According to the video, the site searches for connections and alternative routings — strategies that are already utilized by more prominent online travel agencies (OTAs) like Expedia, Priceline and more. Specifically, Tripdelta co-founder Dr. Maximilian Ibel states that the site “achieves savings by breaking up alliances, performing a smart near-by search and smart open jaw tickets.”
It is unclear whether or not Tripdelta is executing a few techniques known as hidden city ticketing, hidden fares and split tickets. Hidden city ticketing is when someone wants to fly from (for example) Newark to Chicago, but finds that flights from Newark to Wichita by way of Chicago are cheaper. You could book the flight to Wichita, fly the first leg to Chicago, and then just abandon the segment from Chicago to Wichita. The airlines aren’t happy about this practice, to the extent that they are seeking damages from those who make it easier for consumers to find such fares.
Tripdelta’s tactics to find lower airfares include combining two separate tickets booked on carriers that have no alliance or codeshare agreement, searching airfares on low-cost carriers, and booking passengers in and out of airports near your origin and intended destination.
There are risks to booking with some of the above methods. For hidden city ticketing, you could be re-routed during irregular operations, causing you to miss your first connection and intended destination. Also, you have to commit to traveling only with carry-on luggage, since any checked bags will be routed to the final ticketed destination, and convincing the counter agent to check baggage only to the first layover in your itinerary is a mountain you don’t want to climb. Furthermore, if you take advantage of hidden city ticketing often enough, you may gain the attention of the airline and risk being blacklisted or having your frequent flyer account canceled.
Booking two separate tickets is also risky, as it requires your first flight to be on time so you can catch the start of your second ticket. If you’re delayed, you could end up stuck at your layover point.
The Rubber Meets the Road
Living overseas and needing a few flights in the next 6 months, I decided to see what Tripdelta could offer for my upcoming itineraries compared to other options. As described in the video, Tripdelta’s website offers its own suggestions next to original OTA results. In the charts below, the Tripdelta figure is based on its own, unique suggestion.
1. Tokyo – Atlanta
I have a wedding to go to this fall in Atlanta. Finding Delta’s nonstop service at an affordable price is always my first goal, though the price is rarely competitive with a one-stop itinerary. Tripdelta did not start out on a good foot, admitting up front it offered a suggested itinerary $3 more expensive than a traditional search engine.
|Travelocity||829.80||Air Canada, 1 stop|
|Kayak||$830.00||Air Canada, 1 stop|
|Tripdelta||$830.00||Air Canada, 1 stop|
As you can see, Tripdelta offers no advantage on my first itinerary, as it more or less matches the offerings from traditional OTAs.
2. Tokyo – Washington/New York – Tokyo
Later this fall I’ll be speaking at a travel conference in D.C., followed by an appointment in Manhattan. There are plenty of nonstop options for each leg on several different airlines, so I was curious to see what Tripdelta would find. Star Alliance has United and ANA flying these routes, so I decided to also compare flights from United.com with those from online travel agencies.
|Tripdelta||$649.00||Air China, 1 stop (long layovers)|
|Kayak||$649.00||Air China, 1 stop (long layovers)|
|United.com||$850.70||ANA/United, nonstop going, 1 stop return|
|Travelocity||$852.00||ANA/United, nonstop going, 1 stop return|
Air China’s fare is extremely affordable, and I would take advantage of enough time in Beijing to see a few sites, though my tight schedule wouldn’t allow it. Kayak came up with the same fare as Tripdelta, which once again offered no competitive advantage.
3. Tokyo – Kuala Lumpur
A business trip on somewhat short notice has me headed to Kuala Lumpur for a week later this summer. Given the growing number of low-cost carriers serving Tokyo and the rest of Southeast Asia, I was hopeful Tripdelta could show me something on this itinerary.
|Kayak||$246.00||AirAsiaX, nonstop, no baggage|
|Tripdelta||$275.00||AirAsiaX, nonstop, no baggage|
|Travelocity||$322.94||AirAsiaX, nonstop, 1 checked bag|
Tripdelta’s lack of information about baggage charges with low-cost carriers is a sticking point for me. Travelocity.com clearly states that baggage is included, but Tripdelta doesn’t give a clear indication one way or the other until the check-out page. Either way, Tripdelta was still $30 more expensive than Kayak for the exact same flights, once again offering no competitive advantage.
4. Berlin – Bangkok
Having no luck with my three upcoming itineraries, I wanted to give Tripdelta the benefit of the doubt and search the itinerary it uses in its own promotional video above. Unfortunately, the results weren’t any better.
|Travelocity||$572.60||Etihad, 1 stop|
|Kayak||$573.00||AirAsiaX, nonstop, no baggage|
|Tripdelta||$590.00||Ukranian International/Norwegian Air, 1 stop|
For this route, Tripdelta offers Ukrainian Air outbound and Norwegian Air inbound at a higher price than flights on Etihad. That should be enough to cement your opinion of the site, especially since it’s on the one route the site chose to show off its capabilities.
After searching the above 4 itineraries with no sign of Tripdelta offering any discount (much less the advertised average savings of $90 per person), I began to run through a series of searches originating in the site’s home country of Germany. I was trying to find any itinerary where Tripdelta would show me a unique option that saved money over other online travel agencies.
I completed 4 more searches with no sign of a discount until I found this round-trip flight from Frankfurt to Glasgow in September:
Tripdelta says it saved me $83 by showing me flights originating from Cologne (a 2-hour drive or 1.5-hour train ride from Frankfurt) to Edinburgh (1 hour from Glasgow), with a 12-hour outbound layover and a 22-hour inbound layover. You might as well search for flights by only selecting a starting country and destination country. To borrow from an old saying, with discounts like these, who needs higher prices? I think I’ll just pay the extra $83.
The scenarios you face with unorthodox booking options can be unsettling from the start. Flying low-cost carriers requires you to become familiar with all the associated fees, which can throw a wrench into your plans.
To offset the inconvenience of being unable to check a bag, anxiety attacks over flight delays, the risk of upsetting my frequent flyer accounts, or other similar complications I would need to be saving a significant amount of money. From my searches with Tripdelta.com, I don’t see even a hint of those savings, much less the advertised $90 per person.
Have you used Tripdelta or other lesser known booking platforms? Please share your experiences in the comments below.