Online travel agencies and third-party booking websites will try to entice you with cheap flights, hotels, and other travel amenities. However, these services are not always as great as they may seem, especially when it comes to flights. According to Phil Dengler, co-founder of thevactioner.com, booking a flight through a third-party website is never the way to go. Buying your ticket directly with the airline is just as important as opting for nonstop flights.
Flight delays and cancellations are nearly unavoidable for frequent travelers. When these problems arise, it is best to be able to contact the airline directly. They will give you more leverage when rebooking your flight or helping you find accommodations if you get stuck in a foreign city.
When you book through an online travel agency, you will likely need to contact their customer service, which is never as efficient as dealing directly with the airline. These customer service representatives do not work for the airline and, therefore, will not have all the information needed to solve your problem. This often means you will be directed back and forth between the airline and the travel agency before coming to a solution. These are likely hours that you do not have to spare if you are trying to make a quick change to your travel itinerary.
Even if the change is successful, you may be penalized for making it. Some airlines charge customers an additional fee for making modifications through third-party sites, making your flight more expensive than booking directly with the airline.
Even when booking directly with an airline, receiving a refund for a canceled flight can be challenging. This process becomes even more difficult when booking through a third party. Online travel agencies can take weeks, or even months, to process your refund (if you will even receive one at all). The travel agency once again becomes a middleman, making it more difficult to bat for yourself and receive the compensation you deserve.
Although the deals that online travel agencies offer may seem like the smarter choice upfront, this is not always the case. When booking with a travel agency, you need to consider hidden costs, such as the inability to earn loyalty benefits or the potential for additional fees when modifying plans. Many airlines also offer special perks when you book directly through them, such as extra miles, free wifi, lounge access, and priority boarding. Booking through a third-party website can eliminate these luxuries and make your overall flight experience less enjoyable.
Some airlines will also pay the difference if the price of the flight changes after you purchase your ticket. For example, Southwest Airlines will give you a refund in the form of future flight credit if the price of your flight changes before you board. Expedia and Travelocity both offer a Price Match Guarantee, but this is only valid for 24 hours after booking.
Ultimately, online travel agencies offer potential cost savings, but unforeseen delays or disruptions can quickly turn a good deal into a bad one.
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