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Why booking travel on your phone is a terrible idea

25 November 2022
Why booking travel on your phone is a terrible idea

You’re probably already aware that booking early is going to be extra critical this year. After two years of pandemic disrupting travel, inflation is the most important concern on travelers’ minds right now.

Here’s an important and timely shopping tip: put down your phone before you book hotels or flights.

Really. Put it down right now.

Your phone is amazing and useful to the point that you can’t live without it, but this is one task where it’s a bad idea to use your phone. Here’s why travel experts and consumer watch advocates advise you not to use your phone to book travel.

Two words: Drip Pricing

Consumer experts like Chris Elliott and the folks at Nerd Wallet have noticed that travelers booking flights and hotels on their mobile phones are overly susceptible to overpaying. With 48% of adults in the US shopping on their phones, the hidden danger is drip pricing.

The term drip pricing refers to ad-hoc fees and surcharges that get added on as the traveler is making a booking.

With travel prices skyrocketing, travelers are tempted to choose the cheapest option possible, which is where drip pricing happens.

Let’s say you find a cheap roundtrip ticket. On many websites, that cheap ticket is the starting price. The initial price that attracts a traveler to the ‘deal’ is almost always lower than a competitor’s all-in price. 

Once you’ve started the shopping process and are moving along quickly on your phone, you may overlook fees like resort fees, boarding-pass fees (yes, it’s a thing), and seat selection fees are getting added on as you go. 

Built-in acceptance

I’ll bet you agree with this: shopping on the phone influences the consumer to accept whatever is being charged.

Think about it. How many browser tabs do you open when researching travel options on your computer?

When you shop on your phone, you expect to move through an easy, intuitive process – almost like the decision is already made. Restarting the entire process means losing all the information, and it’s perceived as a bigger hassle when using a smaller screen.

Booking flights can take time, personal info, and multiple selections. Giving up halfway through over the cost of add-ons you may not even see is just not done.

Built-in speed

If you’ve shopped on your phone, there’s some built-in speed to the process because all the necessary numbers are right there. 

That could be why the Journal of Marketing concluded that those who made purchases from their phones routinely paid higher fees.

Getting out of hidden hotel charges

Resort fees, sometimes called ‘destination fees’ or ‘facility fees,’ are supposed to cover amenities like internet and pool access. Because these are mandatory, however, and automatically added to your total, they act as hidden costs for booking a room. And they don’t appear until the final checkout!

Here are some tips to get out of those pesky hidden fees:

  1. Avoid them altogether by choosing brands that waive fees for award stays (thank you, Hilton and Hyatt!).
  2. Ask the front desk to waive the fees when you arrive. It’s worth a try.

This is where your computer and its larger-than-a-mobile screen format come in handy. You can open up multiple windows and search engines and see all the options.

Getting out of non-mandatory airline fees

Despite some recent upticks, the cost of airfare has actually been dropping. The backstory is slightly more sinister, though. While ticket prices are lower, airlines have been quietly adding add-on fees to make up the difference.

Charging for seat selection is one of the latest, most annoying tricks. These fees often appear during the checkout process, and they look like they’re mandatory.

Here are some tips to get out of those pesky hidden fees:

  1. Choose an airline that doesn’t charge you to select a seat (thanks Southwest!)
  2. Skip the seat selection step and let the airline assign your seat (if you’re willing to risk the dreaded middle seat).

The airlines want you to pay those fees, so they often show scary warnings about the danger of not picking your seat. Here’s the fact: skipping the seat selection step doesn’t mean you’ll get bumped from the flight.

Final word

The underlying psychology of mobile phone use and sketchy marketing tricks aside, the end goal is to avoid paying unnecessary fees.

Shopping on your mobile device is quick and easy for simple purchases like cat food but shopping for travel is far from simple. It regularly requires switching between tabs and apps to find the best deal.

Maybe some of the younger travelers can manage the task on their phones, but for the rest of us, it’s the wrong tool for the job.

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Damian Tysdal
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DamianTysdal

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.

Damian Tysdal is the founder of CoverTrip, and he believes travel insurance should be easier to understand. He started the first travel insurance blog in 2006.