If you want to book a flight or hotel accommodation online, you have two choices. You can either book directly with the airline or hotel or you can use an online travel agency (OTA). Expedia, Priceline, and Orbitz are among the biggest names but there also hundreds of smaller agencies. They act as intermediaries between consumers like you and hotels and airlines. OTAs have risen in popularity because they offer many conveniences for travelers. However, they also offer some drawbacks. We’ll discuss both in this article.
Advantages of Using Online Travel Agents
One of the advantages of OTAs is that they often offer cheaper prices. How? They may offer a cheaper flight than the airline in an effort to tempt you to buy add-ons like a hotel room or car rental. They may also do this so they can broaden their market share. In addition, sometimes OTAs get special discounts from airlines. Airlines may give these special rates to only one or two agents so they can control how many seats are released at that price.
Another plus is that some online travel agents let you book itineraries involving multiple airlines. When you book directly with an airline, the most you can do is the book with their partner airlines. With OTAs, you may be able to book your first leg with one airline and your second leg with an unrelated airline.
OTAs also make it easy to compare prices. This is especially convenient in relation to hotel accommodation. Instead of having to visit multiple hotel sites to find what you want, you can enter your dates and destination into the OTA’s website and get a list of options. You can narrow down the options by location, ratings, amenities, reviews and more.
Disadvantages of Using Online Travel Agents
The lower prices can come at a cost. Some small online travel agents charge high fees for flight changes and cancellations. If you choose to book with an OTA, make sure you check to see what the penalties will be if you have to cancel at the last minute or request a flight change.
Another downside is that you may not be able to cancel your plane ticket without penalty if you do so within 24 hours. This guaranteed by the federal government if you book directly with an airline. Some OTAs offer their own guarantee but it is not a requirement. Many OTA sales are final.
The lower prices may also mean OTAs have fewer customer support staff than airlines do. It may, therefore, take a long time for them to respond to your email or call. If something goes wrong and you need urgent help, you may not get it. It may also take a long time for staff to receive your message, consult with the airline or hotel and get back to you.
As you can see, there are both benefits and disadvantages of using online travel agents. When choosing between an OTA and a direct booking consider the following:
- Is the price difference substantial?
- Are you sure you won’t need to change or cancel your flight?
- Is the OTA fare a mistake fare which may not be honored by the airline?
Once you take these factors into consideration and weigh the pros and cons, you will know what’s the best booking option for your next flight.