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Cheap, Convenient, or Flexible? The Pros (& Cons) of Booking Flights With Online Travel Agencies

Cheap, Convenient, or Flexible? The Pros (& Cons) of Booking Flights With Online Travel Agencies
Taylor Rains

Airfare is one of the biggest expenses of any vacation but can be overwhelming considering all the factors that go into it, including airline, date, time, layovers, fare class, and ancillary costs. According to Statista, 73% of people compare flights on at least three different websites before making a purchase. However, each Online Travel Agency (OTA) and search engine offers benefits, such as freeze fares and express deals, and drawbacks, such as no free 24-hour cancellation, that are important to understand before making a purchase. Outlined below are the good and bad aspects of popular booking sites.

Airline’s Website

Booking directly through the airline’s website may not always be the cheapest method, but it may be necessary when using frequent flyer miles or when airlines, such as Southwest, do not show up on OTAs. If you like to book directly through the airline’s website, it will be beneficial to use an OTA to quickly determine which airline is cheapest or offers the best departure and arrival time for your itinerary.

  • Pros
    • Can use frequent flyer points
    • Deal directly with the airline for any changes, cancellations, or questions – no third parties
    • 24-hour cancellation (on most airlines)
  • Cons
    • Not always the cheapest option

Momondo

Momondo is a top pick for many travelers buying airfare because the site is very visual and has tools to help you easily compare different flight prices on different days. It is important to remember that the website is only a search engine and will show flights offered directly by the airline or OTAs, such as Kiwi.com, JustFly, and Orbitz.

  • Pros
    • Price alert: You can save a flight and the website will track it for you. It will alert you by email (or notify you on your phone when using the app) about price changes and advise you of whether or not to book.
    • Price trends: When searching for flights, the website will show you the price trends on different days, helping you save money by tweaking your itinerary.
    • Mix and Match: The website will find two one-way flights and bundle them together at the best price. This is good for those travelers that want to fly into one city and out of another.
  • Cons
    • Mix and Match requires you to make two separate reservations.

Skyscanner

Skyscanner is a search engine similar to Momondo in that it only shows flights from airlines or OTAs, such as eDreams, Vayama, and CheapOair.

  • Pros
    • Price alert: Skyscanner’s price alert tool works the same as Momondo.
    • Color-coded calendar: To help find the most affordable dates to fly, use the Skyscanner smartphone app. The app’s calendar will mark the cheapest days as green, moderately-priced as yellow, and red for the most expensive.
    • Greener choice: In some cases, the website will tell you which flights have less CO2 emissions than others – for those that are concerned about their carbon footprint.
  • Cons
    • The website offers the same gimmicks and tools as any other, so it is nothing unique.

Hopper

Hopper is a bunny-themed, app-based search engine. It is simple, easy-to-use, and boasts cheap flights and special hotel rates when you book through the app.

  • Pros
    • Flight watches: The flight watch feature will send airfare change notifications directly to your phone and advise you to buy now or later.
    • Cashback: Hopper routinely offers cashback when booking certain flights. The most recent one to pop up on my phone is $100 cashback on Marrakesh flights and hotels ($50 for the flight and $50 for the hotel).
    • Color-coded calendar: Green is the cheapest, yellow and orange are moderate, and red is the most expensive.
    • Price freeze: If you are worried a flight price will go up, but you need more time to decide, you can pay $4 to freeze the price for seven days. If you book within those $7 days, you’ll get the $4 back, and if the price increased, Hopper will cover the difference.
  • Cons
    • Minimal filters available (can only filter for “basic economy” tickets and number of layovers)
    • Cannot search multi-city flights
    • Only offered as an app – no desktop version

Kayak

Kayak is a search engine that is good when you want to bundle two one-way tickets instead of a round-trip, known as hacker fares. Finding this on your own can be a challenge, but Kayak makes it easy to find cheap one-way combos.

  • Pros
    • Hacker fares
    • Price tracker
    • Shows prices for flexible travel dates
  • Cons
    • Kayak is most beneficial for travelers with flexible travel plans, so searching for a specific date may not yield the best results.

Priceline

I’m sure you’ve seen Kaley Kuoco, the face of Priceline, in commercials boasting about the OTA’s ability to compare thousands of prices in real-time. The website is known for its Name Your Own Price (although it was discontinued for flights in 2016), Price Match, and Express Deals. Unlike search engines, flights can be booked directly through Priceline.

  • Pros
    • Express Deal: If you have flexibility, the Express Deal may be cheaper than the retail price for many major carriers, including Emirates, Lufthansa, and Delta. There is a catch, though: you will not know the departure time, layover time (if any), arrival time, or airline until you book – and there is no cancellation allowed.
    • Price Match: If you find the same flight cheaper up to 24 hours before your flight, the website will refund 200% of the difference.
    • Free cancellation within 24 hours of booking.
  • Cons
    • Express Deal is nonrefundable: Booking this is a gamble and requires flexibility.
    • You cannot search for flexible dates – comparing different days requires you to generate a new search.

CheapOair

CheapOair is a unique OTA in that it has its own credit card with no annual fee, offering a $50 rebate after making $500 in purchases within the first three months. The website advertises cheap fares and its “cheapOpick,” but has crazy booking fees – some as much as $100.

  • Pros
    • Credit card: If you cannot afford travel credit cards such as Chase Sapphire Preferred or American Express Gold, then the CheapOair card may be worth it.
    • CheapOpick offers discounts on some flights, which can help offset the booking fees.
  • Cons
    • The booking fee can be extremely high, sometimes making the total fare more expensive than booking directly with the airline.
    • The 24-hour free cancellation is only allowable for flights operating to or from the United States.

Expedia

Expedia has been a go-to booking tool since the 1990s; however, it does not offer much lower prices than similar OTAs. Expedia allows customers to bundle flight+hotel packages and offers a rewards program, earning 1 point for every $5 spent.

  • Pros
    • Rewards program
    • Bundle feature
    • 24-hour cancellation policy
    • Vacation bundles
  • Cons
    • Eligibility for upgrades can be limited

Orbitz

Orbitz, like Expedia, offers airfare and hotel bundles cheaper than booking separately. Like Expedia, Orbitz has a free rewards program, called Orbitz Rewards. The program gives 1% back on all flights, hotels, and vacation packages in the form of Orbucks. However, they can only be redeemed for hotels.

  • Pros
    • Rewards program
    • Bundle feature
    • 24-hour cancellation policy
    • Low price guarantee: Orbitz will refund the difference if you find a lower price on another website within 24 hours
  • Cons
    • Orbucks cannot be redeemed for flights
    • Orbitz charges a booking fee

OTAs With No 24-Hour Cancellation Policy

This is not an all-inclusive list, but in my experience, these websites do not offer a 24-hour cancellation fee. Although the prices have been the lowest I could find and well within my budget, I had to be 100% certain on the flight I was booking.

  • eDreams (offers free cancellation within a specific, few hour time frame)
  • Gogogate
  • Vayama
  • Kiwi.com
  • JustFly
  • Travel2Be
  • Trip.com
View Comments (2)

2 Comments

  1. Dr.Ells

    February 4, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    Apologies in advance. Are not most FlyerTalkers savvy enough to know the value of loyalty to a chosen airline? Most of us are high level flyers. Perhaps FT wants to attract TPG readers?

  2. skidooman

    February 8, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    One advantage not to do business with an airline and with a Travelocity?

    I am a 1k member with United. I usually never have problems getting the line, even in troubled circumstances, so I give United.com my preference… when the UA flight is price competitive. Unfortunately, these days it rarely is.

    But then United likes me to do business with AC. And they are price competitive. Problem is that AC has a horrible call center.

    Two weeks ago, I tried to call them and they just said « sorry, we won’t put you on hold, our lines are swamped because of the virus thing » and « call us back only 48 hours before departure ». Best way to be stuck forever,

    I called Travelocity (through which I booked the ticket instead), and they dealt with AC in my stead. They called me back, problem fixed.

    I needed another ticket and again AC came back as the cheapest. I could have booked though their web site. But no way. Lesson learned. They are unreliable. ALWAYS through a travel agency.

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