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Like China and Indonesia, booking domestic air tickets for India is not a straightforward proposition. The three challenges:
- Major international OTAs like Expedia generally only list flights from Air India and Jet Airways, and not all their flights or best prices.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For those with non-Indian credit cards, the best approach is:
- Search prices on ixigo.
- Book direct with the airline or expedia.co.in.
- Carry the credit card and backup copy in case of loss.
- Keep calm, the India experience is just beginning.