After nearly two years of isolation from the rest of the world, Australians can now start booking for overseas travel but they need to beware of the pitfalls of unexpected additional costs when organising your journey through online booking sites.

What may initial seem as a great travel bargain may quickly balloon with extra charges applied for things we would normally take for granted, such as flexible ticketing, protection against flight cancellations, and emergency cover to customer support, seat selection or the collapse of an airline.  These cost add-ons are often freely available were you to deal with airline itself and often many more terms and conditions in place to protect you.

According to 9News some travel booking sites have offered 10 or more extra paid products such as medical insurance or cancellation guarantees worth several hundred dollars as part of the booking process.

Navigating flight and accommodation booking sites on the internet can be a difficult but it pays to do the research before committing money to a ticket, advised Jodi Bird, a travel expert for Australian advocacy group Choice.

“When you are booking on these comparison websites, they will throw a lot of extras at you to try and get you to pay more money and it can be very confusing,” Mr Bird said. “It is designed to pressure you into paying more. Keep a clear mind and make a decision as to whether you genuinely need those extras.”

He said that websites that compared flight prices on offer helped to find the cheapest price offerings, but booking directly with an airline or through a travel provider was often a simpler process and could provide better overall value for the customer.

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“Travel booking sites can be good for narrowing the options and finding out what’s available and what the price range is. But you just need to bear in mind that you will be subjecting yourself to two sets of terms and conditions: that of the provider and that of the booking site,” Mr Bird said.

In the event of your cancelling your flight, you would, as a result, have to pay two sets of cancellation fees where you would also have to contact the booking site to cancel, rather than the airline.

Other charges that could apply through an online booking agent would include seat selection, special meals, online check-in or baggage – services that are often provided free of charge by the airline.

With COVID-19 still a major factor in the world, it is important to know if you are covered in the event of having to test for the COVID-19 virus in another country, receiving treatment in the event of infection and undergoing a period of isolation.

A way to avoid many of these pitfalls was to work through a travel agent. The CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA), Dean Long, said travel agents could help a travel prepare for many contingencies, such as accessing the most recent relevant travel information from embassies and consulates.

Mr Bird advised: “The best way to protect yourself from COVID-related changes is to make sure you are getting flexible bookings. If you are travelling internationally you need to get travel insurance to protect yourself if you get COVID-19. And make sure the travel insurance actually covers COVID-19.”

He warned that it was not enough to simply click on the boxes that popped up on an online booking site but it was important to read the small print to know exactly what medical cover you were being provided with.

He also advised that before even starting the process, it was important to check your passport to ensure that there were six months or more still left before the expiry date.

“We know two million Australians have had their passports expire in the past 20 months,” Mr Long said.