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Comparing Flight Booking Options 🤔 Third-Party vs. Airline Direct

Discover the advantages and disadvantages of booking flights through third-party agencies versus directly with airlines for your next trip 💁‍♀️

Booking flights can be an exciting yet stressful part of planning any trip. With so many options for booking sites and airfare deals, travelers want to find the cheapest flights without compromising their plans if something goes wrong. Third-party booking websites like Expedia and Orbitz provide a valuable service by allowing you to quickly search and compare prices across different airlines and routes. However, there are risks to using third-parties that you should consider before purchasing your airline tickets.

What is a Third-Party Booking Site?

A third-party booking site is any online travel agency (OTA) that is not owned by an airline. Sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline allow you to search for flights across different airlines, dates, and routes. They make money by charging service fees or earning commissions from the airlines.

These sites act as middlemen that transfer your reservation details to the airline and allow you to purchase tickets. The third-party holds your booking, not the airline itself. This introduces some advantages like easy comparison shopping but also key drawbacks when changes need to be made.

The Benefits of Using Third-Party Sites

Comparison shopping: Easily see flight options, prices, departure times, and more in one place instead of checking individual airline sites. Often show cheaper options than booking directly.

Packages and bundles: Build flight and hotel or rental car bundles that can save money. Site handles combining itineraries.

Rewards programs: Many third-parties have their own rewards programs for discounted future bookings.

Refundable fares: Some third-party sites offer refundable fares that airline sites do not.

The Drawbacks of Third-Party Bookings

No direct airline contact: You cannot call the airline directly if problems arise, only the third-party site’s customer service.

Change/cancellation fees: Making any changes to your itinerary or travel dates often incurs high fees from third-parties.

Hidden fees: Third-parties sometimes charge extra hidden fees for seat assignments, baggage, etc. that the airline does not.

No frequent flyer miles: Booking via third-party sites means you earn no airline miles for status or rewards.

What Are the Risks of Booking Through Third-Party Sites?

Using third-party websites to book flights does carry more potential risk than buying directly from an airline. If any problems with your trip come up, you lose the ability to modify your itinerary directly with the airline.

Instead, you have to go back through the third-party site, which likely charges heavy change and cancellation penalties. They may also provide subpar customer service. And if they make a mistake on your booking, you have no recourse with the airline to fix it.

Additionally, third-parties sometimes use technical tricks to display airfares that no longer exist or fail to clarify restrictions. Travelers can get caught with pricier tickets than expected, unusable flight credits rather than refunds, or find that the airline has no record of part of their itinerary.

Follow these tips to avoid issues with third-party flight bookings:

  • Read all policies carefully before purchasing tickets – Know change/cancellation rules and look for hidden fees
  • Confirm flight details directly with the airline after booking
  • Consider trip insurance for further financial protection
  • Book directly on the airline website if your travel dates may fluctuate

The Best Third Party Booking Sites

Not all third-party booking sites are equal. If you decide to use one, stick to a reputable site with better protections in place. Some of the best OTAs include:

Expedia

Offers real-time pricing and a “Best Price Guarantee.” Refundable rates available.

Orbitz

Displays all flight costs upfront instead of adding fees later. Flexible change and cancellation policies available.

Travelocity

Part of Expedia Inc. but focuses more on package deals and bundles that can increase savings.

Kayak

Allow users to track price changes on specific flights to find the best deals. Compare across travel sites.

Priceline

“Name Your Own Price” bids for unpublished discount rates on flights, hotels, rental cars.

Should You Book Directly Through the Airline?

Booking flights directly through an airline’s website eliminates the risks that come with using third-party services. Airlines want to encourage direct bookings and entice travelers with these perks:

  • Earn frequent flyer miles/points
  • Access seat upgrades, early check-in, priority boarding
  • Get flight status notifications directly
  • Change/cancel itineraries with lower fees
  • Use flight credits easily for future bookings
  • Receive customer service directly from the airline

Direct airline bookings give travelers far more control over their flight details and trip. You can modify your reservation yourself at any time without going through a middleman. And you’ll get the best service possible from airline representatives dedicated to that carrier alone.

The only disadvantage of direct booking is that comparing prices across multiple airlines requires checking each website individually instead of using an aggregated search engine. For many travelers, the benefits outweigh this small inconvenience.

The Complexities of Third-Party Bookings

While third-party sites make finding cheap flights easier, the booking process itself can introduce more complexity. When you purchase tickets through an OTA, your reservation is held by that company, not the airline. If any changes occur, the third party handles modifying your itinerary instead of the airline directly assisting you.

This introduces communication issues where notifications from the airline may not reach you. Additionally, combining flights across different airlines on a single itinerary can cause problems if one flight is delayed or canceled. Since the airlines did not sell you those tickets directly, they hold no responsibility in getting you to your final destination if an OTA builds an impossible connection.

Research Third-Party Cancellation and Change Policies

Make sure to carefully research any third-party booking site’s policies around cancellations, changes, and refunds before purchasing tickets. While some sites like Expedia offer refundable fares, most OTAs charge high change and cancellation fees that end up being costlier than if you had booked directly.

These sites also make it very difficult to use flight credits compared to the airline that would simply place the credit on your frequent flyer account. If your travel plans are uncertain due to work or health, avoid using third parties.

Pay Attention to Restrictions on Third-Party Tickets

In addition to cancellation/change fee and flight credit policies, third-party tickets often come with more restrictions that don’t exist when booking directly with an airline. Certain discounted fares may prevent you from selecting seats or checking bags without extra fees that wouldn’t apply if purchasing from the airline.

Make sure to read all the fine print so you understand luggage allowances, boarding groups, upgrade eligibility, and partner airline policies. Sometimes third parties sell tickets that align with one set of restrictions but don’t clarify exceptions on partner flights.

Tips for Booking Direct Airline Tickets

Here are some tips for finding the best flight deals when booking directly with airlines:

  • Be flexible with travel dates whenever possible to catch lower fares as availability shifts
  • Check both regional carrier and major airline sites
  • Use an airfare prediction site like Hopper for future deals alerts
  • Book early for peak travel dates when fares will only go up closer to departures
  • Use airline sites over online travel agencies to find seat sales
  • Enroll in airline email lists for exclusive discount promo code offers

Follow airline social media accounts for surprise fare deals not always advertised elsewhere. Signing up for airline credit cards can also unlock special member rates year-round.

Just remember that booking direct with any carrier gives you the most flexibility to modify plans later – crucial for a stress-free trip!

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