Whether you’re a frequent flyer or only take a trip every now and then, finding the best flight deal is key. With airfare prices fluctuating daily and many factors affecting ticket costs, knowing where to book can save you time, money, and frustration.
If you’re looking for the answer, we’ll compare booking directly through airlines versus using online travel agencies (OTAs like Expedia or Travelocity).
If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: Booking directly with airlines is usually best for flexibility, while OTAs can help find deals. But it depends on the situation.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at the pros and cons of each booking method, when to use each, and strategies to save money and avoid pitfalls.
Booking Directly with Airlines
When it comes to booking flights, there are two main options: booking directly with airlines or using online travel agencies (OTAs). While both options have their advantages, booking directly with airlines offers several benefits that can enhance your travel experience.
More flexibility to change flights
One of the major advantages of booking directly with airlines is the increased flexibility when it comes to changing your flights. When you book through an OTA, you often have to go through the agency to make any changes, which can be time-consuming and may incur additional fees.
However, when booking directly with airlines, you have the ability to make changes or modifications to your itinerary more easily, often without incurring extra charges. This can be especially beneficial if your travel plans are subject to change.
Access to loyalty programs and special fares
Another compelling reason to book directly with airlines is the access to loyalty programs and special fares. Airlines often offer exclusive deals and discounts to their loyal customers, including members of their frequent flyer programs.
By booking directly, you can take advantage of these special fares and earn valuable points or miles towards future flights. Additionally, booking directly with airlines allows you to have a direct relationship with the airline, which can lead to personalized offers and upgrades based on your travel history and preferences.
Better customer service if problems arise
When it comes to customer service, booking directly with airlines often provides a higher level of support compared to OTAs. If any problems arise during your travel, such as flight cancellations or delays, having booked directly with the airline gives you direct access to their customer service team.
This can lead to quicker resolution of issues and a more seamless travel experience. On the other hand, when booking through an OTA, you may have to go through a third-party customer service representative, which can be more time-consuming and less efficient.
Using Online Travel Agencies
Can compare many airlines and get an overview of options
One of the major advantages of using online travel agencies (OTAs) when booking flights is the ability to compare multiple airlines and get an overview of the available options. With just a few clicks, travelers can see a list of different airlines, their schedules, and prices all in one place.
This saves time and effort, particularly for those who are flexible with their travel dates and are looking for the best deal.
OTAs often provide a user-friendly interface that allows travelers to filter their search results based on their preferences, such as preferred airlines, layovers, or departure times. This makes it easier to find the most suitable flight options without having to visit each airline’s website individually.
May find cheaper fares not available directly from airlines
Another advantage of using online travel agencies is the potential to find cheaper fares that may not be available directly from the airlines. OTAs have partnerships with multiple airlines and often negotiate special fares or discounts that can be passed on to the customers.
This means that travelers may be able to find better deals or promotional prices when booking through an OTA.
Furthermore, some OTAs offer price comparison tools that show the prices of different airlines side by side. This allows travelers to easily compare and choose the most affordable option for their desired flight route.
It’s important to note that while OTAs may offer lower prices, they may also charge additional fees or have stricter cancellation policies. Therefore, it’s important to carefully read the terms and conditions before making a booking.
Easy to combine flights, hotels, cars for package deals
For those looking for convenience and savings, online travel agencies provide the option to combine flights, hotels, and car rentals into package deals. This can be particularly beneficial for travelers planning a vacation or business trip, as it allows them to book everything in one go and often at a discounted price.
By bundling these services together, travelers can save time and effort, as well as potentially save money compared to booking each component separately. Many OTAs also offer customizable package deals, allowing travelers to choose specific flights, accommodations, and car rentals that suit their preferences and budget.
It’s worth noting that not all airlines or hotels may be available for package deals on all OTAs. Therefore, it’s recommended to check different online travel agencies to compare the available options and find the best package deal for your specific needs.
When to Book Directly vs. Using an OTA
Frequent flyers and loyalty program members
For frequent flyers and loyalty program members, booking directly with airlines can often be the best option. Airlines prioritize their loyal customers and offer exclusive perks such as priority boarding, access to airport lounges, and the ability to earn and redeem miles.
By booking directly, these travelers can ensure that they receive all the benefits they are entitled to and maximize their rewards.
Complex itineraries or uncertain travel plans
If you have complex itineraries or uncertain travel plans, it might be wise to book directly with airlines. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) may not always have the flexibility to accommodate specific requests or changes.
When booking directly, you can communicate directly with the airline’s customer service team, who may be better equipped to handle complex itineraries or offer more options for changes or cancellations.
Last-minute travel deals
When it comes to last-minute travel deals, OTAs can often be the go-to option. Online Travel Agencies have access to a wide range of airlines and can quickly compare prices and availability across multiple carriers. They may also have exclusive deals or discounts for last-minute bookings.
If you’re flexible with your travel dates and destinations, using an OTA can help you find great deals and save money.
It’s important to note that the decision of whether to book directly with an airline or use an OTA ultimately depends on individual preferences and circumstances. It’s always a good idea to compare prices, read reviews, and consider any additional benefits or perks offered by each option before making a decision.
Tips for Getting the Best Deal
Be flexible with dates if possible
When booking flights, being flexible with your travel dates can greatly increase your chances of finding the best deal. Airlines and online travel agencies (OTAs) often offer lower prices on certain days of the week or during off-peak travel seasons.
If you have the flexibility to adjust your travel dates, you may be able to take advantage of these discounted fares.
Check both airline and OTA sites
It’s always a good idea to check both airline websites and online travel agency sites when searching for the best flight deals. Airlines sometimes offer exclusive discounts or promotions that may not be available on OTAs.
On the other hand, OTAs often have access to a wide range of airlines and can offer competitive prices. By comparing prices on both platforms, you can ensure that you’re getting the best possible deal.
Use meta search engines like Kayak
Meta search engines like Kayak can be a valuable tool in your quest for the best flight deals. These platforms aggregate flight information from various airlines and OTAs, allowing you to compare prices and find the most affordable options.
Additionally, meta search engines often have features that allow you to set price alerts or track fluctuations in ticket prices. This can help you make informed decisions and book flights at the most opportune time.
Leverage deals and sales
Keep an eye out for deals and sales offered by airlines and OTAs. Many airlines have regular promotional offers, such as flash sales or discounted fares for specific destinations. Online travel agencies also often have special offers and discounts available.
Signing up for newsletters or following social media accounts of airlines and OTAs can help you stay updated on these deals. By taking advantage of these promotions, you can save a significant amount on your flight bookings.
Finding the cheapest airfare takes a bit of work, but understanding the difference between booking directly with airlines versus using OTAs can save you money. Evaluate your specific travel situation and needs to decide which method works best.
And be sure to check both airline and travel sites to find the best fares for your next trip.