If it hadn’t happened to me…

Last year I read an article which stuck out to me. The piece purported to say that one booking website seemed to have access to fares at far lower prices than others, somewhere in the vicinity of 40% off, and especially for last minute bookings. I read with interest, and moved on – because in most cases, I try to book in advance. But like many travelers eventually do, I finally hit a snag this week. I needed to get back from Barcelona on a tight time table, and prices were exorbitant, even on EasyJet. Before giving up and giving in, I made one last search – and it saved over $300 per person…

CTrip

CTrip is the largest online travel agency in China, which makes it insanely large, one of the two largest in the world in fact. The company offers various subsidiaries within the Trip.com brand, and before giving in and paying $400 per person for a 2 hour ride, I gave CTrip a whirl, selecting the English Hong Kong version. The total price? $125 per person, not for EasyJet or Ryanair, but British Airways and Iberia flights via Madrid.

How?

It’s no secret that scale can do a lot for a business. Expedia is often able to sell hotel rooms lower than the competition because they have more inventory or preferred pricing agreements with the brands that offer the rooms. Is it the same for CTrip? Pricing anomalies are very, very rare in the airline game, so naturally I checked Expedia, Momondo, Kayak, Orbitz, eBookers and quite a few others, to see if anyone else had these prices. The result: no one else did, nor did British Airways or Iberia directly.

Explanations

All in, our tickets came to $246, or about $123 per person. The purchase was made in HKD using a card with no foreign transaction fees, and the UK’s Curve card would accomplish the same result. Is it possible that CTrip sells these fares without one way penalty, or that they are allowed to sell fares generally reserved for bundles with flight and hotel or car rental? I tried pricing out round trips and one ways, and CTrip was lower on both counts. $246 for two last minute tickets is steep by European standards, but it sure beats $800+. If you’re ever in a last minute pickle, or are just curious, give a search on CTrip.com (maybe the HK version is magic?)

Bottom Line

Will this work every time? Doubt it. Did I have doubts? Totally. Some online travel agencies see pricing lags, and when you go to purchase, they call you after you think you’ve booked to say the fare is no longer available. That was not the case, nor was it for the other substantial blogger who encountered this exciting surprise. If you buy British Airways tickets, it can certainly be worth checking out CTrip.com, especially for last minute tickets when the prices are extortionate. You never know what you may find…