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Four reasons I quit booking flights online

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Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press/AP/File

(Read caption) An Air Canada jet takes off over the terminal at the Halifax, Nova Scotia, airport last month. A personal travel service, called Tina, does all the Internet searching for you so you don't have to go through the hassle of booking flights online.

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This is a busy business travel season. In the last few weeks, I’ve been to Washington and New York. And in the next few, I’m heading to Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Chicago.

If you’re over 50 (or maybe even over 40) you can probably remember a time when flying around the country was, if not enjoyable, at least tolerable. It afforded the opportunity to sit back, relax, and catch up on work – or maybe catch 40 winks. These days? Not so much.

Air travel today seems like what I imagine the prison system to be: rules without explanation, suspicious guards, big crowds, long lines, and even longer delays, all leading up to being crammed into a space that’s way too small for way too long.

And there’s another thing I detest almost as much as flying coach cross-country in a coffin-sized space: trying to buy an airline ticket online.

If it seems like it takes hours, that’s because it often does. You start by reading articles like 7 Steps to Cheaper Airfares, then go to a consolidator site like Kayak, where you’re confronted with six different websites with a dizzying array of choices. And even after sifting and sorting, there’s no way to know if you’re anywhere near the best deal. Can you pay extra for more legroom? How much will checking baggage cost? Is there a low-cost airline that’s not represented because they refuse to pay commissions? Would a different airport/day/time of day result in a better deal?

Just writing about it stresses me out.

But that’s over now. Because I’ve found a way to book stress-free. It’s called “Tina.”

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When I started in TV news 20 years ago, travel agents were how you got from A to B. Rather than doing stories about how to save on online travel, I was doing stories about how to pick the right travel agent. Then along came the Internet and they all but disappeared from the radar. After all, who needs a travel agent when you could see every flight available and pick it yourself?

As it turns out, I do, because I care about the value of my time way more than today’s tangled Web does. Sure, Tina charged me $26 to do the legwork for me, but she also offers benefits that collectively far outweigh the cost…

  1. I know I’m getting the best deal. Tina looks at every possible permutation. She knows which airports I’m closest to, what my preferences are, and how much luggage I normally check. She has years of experience in getting the best deal and resources retail Web travelers don’t have, including the ability to see all airlines flying to my destination, not just the ones paying commissions to travel websites.
  2. I’m not alone. Imagine you and I both get stranded at JFK because of something like a hurricane. While you’re on hold for three hours trying to get through to your airline, Tina’s calling me with a workaround.
  3. I might get perks. On my flight to Chicago, Tina charged me $26 to book my ticket, but because she works for an agency with pull, she got me free exit row seats both ways – something that would have cost me $70.
  4. I save time and stress. I’ve spent many stress-filled hours booking air travel online. Now I call Tina, have a pleasant, 3-to-4-minute conversation and hang up. About 10 minutes later, Tina calls me back with a couple of options. I pick one, get an email and I’m done. The time I save is more than the time it took to write this article. And the stress saved? Priceless.

When it comes to hiring pros, I’m the last one to suggest paying someone to do something for you that you can do yourself. We’ve written articles suggesting you do your own investing, your own home improvements, your own taxes…even your own will. So if you want to save the $26 that Tina charges, fine. Book your own flights. Me? I’ve taken my last kayak trip.

Stacy Johnson is a journalist, author, and executive producer and publisher of Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web.

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