Booking India Domestic Air Tickets

Like China and Indonesia, booking domestic air tickets for India is not a straightforward proposition. The three challenges:

  1. Major international OTAs like Expedia generally only list flights from Air India and Jet Airways, and not all their flights or best prices.
  2. India-based OTAs like Via often have ridiculous security requirements for transacting with non-Indian credit cards. Some of these have global counterpart sites, often with much higher prices.
  3. Direct booking with airlines is generally easier than with OTAs, though security systems often block transactions as well.

I had 15 flights over two weeks spread among India’s major airlines: Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.

International OTAs:

Starting with international OTAs I rarely found the best deal. For instance, many Jet Airways flights are code shares among Jet Airways, JetKonnect, and JetLite, all with different prices. Indian OTAs picked up these options, while global sites like Kayak did not. I also had purchase failures on Priceline where the quoted price suddenly jumps when trying to purchase.

Indian OTAs:

Several Indian friends recommended ixigo, a Kayak-like, India-specific aggregator. ixigo did generally find the best price options, often with Indian OTAs like Via. Some of these purport to accept non-Indian credit cards,  requiring cards with Verified by Visa, MasterCard SecureCode, or sometimes Amex. Every attempt to purchase from these sites, or Indian airline websites, was rejected unless I called the bank in advance and got the fraud dept on the line to watch the transaction go through and give it a green light. In the case of Chase I had to be on the phone with dedicated Verified by Visa representatives, a tedious process.

Via.com Payment Failed

Transaction fail

This is just the beginning with some, as Via, for instance, then hit me with a demand to send, within 5 hours, (1) signed authorization form, (2), credit card front side copy, (3) photo ID, and (4) last credit card statement.

Via.com Documents Required

Not a chance am I giving up all this info!

I told them to stuff it. Not going to email them any of that. They canceled my reservation.

The only ITA that did not require additional documentation was expedia.co.in, so I used them for several bookings even if not the lowest price.

The Indian OTAs like MakeMyTrip and Yatra that have global sites typically listed flights at $30-$50 more than their India domestic sites, quite a mark-up for typically sub-$100 tickets.

Direct Booking with Indian Airlines:

Here I had the most success. I had all the same issues with rejected payments but was always able to resolve with the bank and none required additional documentation. I purchased direct from all of: Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet.

They did not always have the best prices on their websites, particularly Jet which has multiple websites and location-specific pricing. It took searches on ixigo plus clearing browser cookies to get best prices to load.

Bring Your Credit Card!!!

The most important thing to remember is to bring the card used for the booking on your trip. Each of the airlines required physical verification at check-in at least the first time I flew them. This also prevented online check-in or even airport kiosk check-in.

IndiGo Self Check-in Watch List

On the watch list to Kashmir due to my credit card

Subsequent flights on some, like Jet, allowed me to check-in online, even on different reservations, without additional verification. Others, like SpiceJet, needed verification each time.

Summary:

For those with non-Indian credit cards, the best approach is:

  1. Search prices on ixigo.
  2. Book direct with the airline or expedia.co.in.
  3. Carry the credit card and backup copy in case of loss.
  4. Keep calm, the India experience is just beginning.

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  • Aptraveler

    Nice one Stefan, great info to know as I consider the possibility of doing the India trip that I had to cancelled at the last minute back in September. I sure wasn’t easy to make those domestic flight reservations. So thanks for the write up, it will certainly help!

  • In my years of booking Indian tickets, the best prices have always come up on the airline website. the only way to beat that has been to apply promotions on OTA websites.

  • @Ajay Awtaney – looking back at my records, I only ended up using Expedia.co.in once, for a Jet flight DEL-IXB, where that was lower that what I could find with Jet. Jet had the most inconsistency as I alluded to in the article, difference prices kept popping up on their various sites depending on location, I even resorted to using my VPN to get a New Delhi IP address for some of the bookings.

    Some of those promos with the ITAs I could not access because of payment restrictions.

  • Glad to see that you found ixigo useful. Do keep sending feedback to us directly from our site, and do try out our mobile apps too.

    Cheers,
    Aloke
    CEO
    ixigo.com

  • Have you tried MakeMyTrip (makemytrip.com)? I remember that you’ve used Ctrip before for China, and they are somewhat like the Indian version of Ctrip.

  • @WeddingSpend – I checked them out but their global site that takes foreign credit cards had prices significantly more expensive than the Indian site.

  • HD

    I plan to travel to HYD from Chicago via Delhi. So if I have immigration check at Delhi and try to catch a flight to HYD, will there be a charge on 2 check in bags?

  • @HD – if you are on the same ticket from Chicago to HYD, many airlines have interline agreements to be able to check you all the way through in which case whatever baggage rules from Chicago would apply. If you have totally separate tickets or if the airlines don’t have an interline agreement you mean need to check in new in Delhi and potentially pay for baggage. You can usually find out who has interline agreements by searching online. If you are connecting to Air India or Jet I think it very likely there is an interline, the others I am not so sure.

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