Vayama's (www.vayama.com) name might not yet be familiar to you, but it will be soon. With its cuddly, map-based interface, the latest big-time online booking agency is the spawn of a Dutch travel conglomerate that includes a major business travel agency, a European ticket consolidator and the Park n' Fly off-airport parking company.
For now, Vayama is a fun, visually-oriented way to pick your flights and see connections. In the future, it could change the way we buy international flights entirely.
The current Vayama site is in "beta" mode. It's unusually fun to use, showing the route you're booking on a map of the world and letting you click on countries to see nearby airports to your proposed destination. Results come in an attractive list with plenty of destination information, though there's no flexible date searching, flexible airport searching, or overall flight grid -- time-saving innovations we've come to expect from top sites nowadays. You have to scroll way down to see all of your options, which is much less convenient than, say, Orbitz's grid approach. On the positive side, Vayama has a few routes that may not make it to other sites, like Air Greenland's flights to Greenland and the L'Avion all-business-class flights from New York to Paris.
Overall, it's worth bookmarking. Sometimes it has the lowest fare around -- for a sample trip from New York to Barcelona I found that it beat both Expedia and Orbitz by at least $10. Sometimes it totally flames out -- when asking for tickets from New York to Ljubljana, Slovenia, it had a nervous breakdown and wouldn't show me any flights. (At least four airlines, including Delta, run that route with one connection.)
Vayama's map-based layout is already starting to pay off. When I tried out the Slovenia trip, I then zoomed in on Vayama's map and clicked on nearby countries to see if there were other airports I could use. The map showed me Klagenfurt, Austria, 30 miles away, and I found a flight to that airport for $200 less than Expedia could give me to either Ljubljana or Klagenfurt.
"The next release [of Vayama] will have a function that you can click on other airports and you can get the fares to that airport as well," said Andre Hesselink, Vayama's co-CEO. "We'll have it connected to the dot where you fly into, and then you can click on the dot and see the next flight option and the price."
But hop over to WeGoLo (www.wegolo.com), one of Vayama's partner sites, and you'll see what the future of online travel booking could become. For years, we at Frommer's have been cautiously but enthusiastically telling Americans about the growth of low-fare airlines abroad that don't show up on the main international travel booking sites. The biggest example in Europe is Ryanair, whose "one penny" fares are legendary.
WeGoLo lets you book those low-fare airlines -- and Vayama may in the future be able to make connections between international flights from the US and low-fare flights in Europe, a first among online travel agencies. Vayama has similar partners to let their customers book low-cost flights within Asia, China and South America, Hesselink said. That's the "stealth" reason for their map-based approach. If you click on Barcelona as your destination, for instance, Vayama may eventually be able to show how close nearby Girona and Reus are -- and how taking low-cost airlines to those nearby airports can save you money.
There are some serious hurdles to be overcome. Low-cost airlines don't have interline agreements, which means that if you miss your connection they won't take pity on you. They often have much lower baggage allowances than transatlantic carriers. And transfers to low-cost airlines may require bus rides between airports in the middle of your trip. But the savings can be so great -- often hundreds of dollars per flight, especially if you're going to more obscure locations -- that more adventurous travelers will probably consider the risks worth it.
So put Vayama on your list of travel sites to check. Yes, we know it's getting long, but they've got good fares. And if they can live up to the promise inherent in their site, they may change the way we buy travel entirely.
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