Editor’s Note: This is a recurring post, and is updated regularly with new information and offers.
Online travel agencies and third-party booking sites are everywhere. You may recognize names like Expedia, Booking.com, Travelocity, Priceline, Hotels.com, Kayak, and many more. Even Walmart has a reservations site now for Walmart+ Members.
Most of us have probably browsed these sites at some point and perhaps used one or two to book a flight.
Online travel agencies, or OTAs, can certainly help you sift through prices and itineraries across many airlines, hotel chains, rental properties, and car companies. In theory, it prevents you from having to visit a bunch of different websites before booking a flight.
They also offer the added benefit (in the eyes of some, at least) of having all your travel details in one place, from your flight to your hotel stay and car rental.
But these sites also have glaring drawbacks to consider. Changing and canceling flights after booking with an OTA can be more complicated (and sometimes more expensive). In some cases, hotel loyalty members as well Unable to earn points or enjoy elite status benefits.
over the years, We’ve heard from a lot of TPG readers Who have had problems trying to change, cancel or get assistance after booking through an OTA.
Here are some reasons why booking through one of these sites may not be right for you.
Cancellation and change fees can be more punishing than booking directly
Coming out of the depths of the pandemic, one of the most lasting positive changes to air travel is that the largest U.S. airlines have generally kept change fees at bay — at least when it comes to their full-fare economy tickets (in other words, not basic economy).
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However, you may still face fees when changing or canceling tickets booked through an OTA.
In some cases, airlines may penalize customers who book through a third-party site and want to make changes to tickets. For example, American Airlines Policy “An additional fee (per person) will be required for bookings made by travel agents or through another website that are changed by our reservations staff, airport or travel centre,” he says.
Generally, you can expect these types of additional fees to be passed on from the OTA to customers.
Some third-party booking sites also charge their own fees for certain ticket changes or cancellations.
If you are traveling with a budget or affordable airline Do Include fees charged by the airline to change your flight path, which may mean paying fees to your booking site At the top of the Whatever the airline charges.
For example, Breslin says It may impose its own fees even if the airline does not do so.
“If your flight fare rules allow the change, an exchange processing fee will be charged for each ticket maybe Apply,” the OTA website warns.
Although some OTAs never charge additional service fees, why complicate things and add a middleman to the process if you don’t need to? Unless you find a price you can’t book directly with an airline or hotel, there’s often a good reason to use an OTA.
Getting a refund can be difficult
It can be difficult enough to get a refund for a canceled flight or hotel stay, even if you are Anyone is entitled.
Airlines doled out billions of dollars in refunds during the worst of the pandemic, but have since tightened some of the ultra-flexible policies they had in place at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.
Even when you’re due a refund, requesting a refund from the airline isn’t always the easiest process…whether you choose Wait on hold with customer service By phone or email.
With an OTA, you often bring a middleman into the discussion since your booking site may need to check with the airline to see if they can process a refund on your behalf.
And if the travel provider is less willing to refund your money, would you trust the OTA to do the same for you as you would for yourself?
When these travel disruptions occur, you can end up stuck in a lot of hassles with the airline or travel provider and the OTA before Get the money you deserve.
You may not earn points or elite credit
This one’s pretty simple: When you book hotels through online travel agencies, don’t expect to earn points or elite-qualifying credit for your bookings. Most major chains consider these third-party reservations to be “non-qualifying rates,” so you’re usually out of luck if you’re trying to earn points for your next redemption.
Likewise, if you book a hotel through an OTA, don’t expect to get any of your elite benefits.
So, if you carry The Platinum Card® from American Expressyour free Hilton Honors Gold And Marriott Bonvoy Gold The status is meaningless if you decide to book through OTA. Say goodbye to free breakfast at Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi.
Now, there are some caveats here. You usually can Earn airline miles and elite qualifying credit Even when booking through OTA.
And travelers who are nowhere near elite status and who have a large hotel loyalty program may not be interested in earning hotel points — especially since some OTAs now have their own loyalty programs. Most notably, there is something new One key program They include Expedia, Hotels.com, and the property rental site Vrbo.
However, you don’t have to be a road warrior to earn points; Right Credit card strategy That can be taken care of.
You can’t rely on instant customer support
Reaching customer service when something goes wrong is often not easy when you’re booking via OTA.
Some sites made it difficult to talk to a human unless you were within a week of your scheduled trip.
And even if you do manage to contact someone, finding an agent willing to work with your itinerary can be a challenge.
To reduce their costs as much as possible, online travel agencies generally avoid providing robust customer service.
Instead, you will often be asked to complete all changes and ask any questions online; You will only have the option of speaking with a representative over the phone when things get really bad.
Deals are not always as good as they seem
Now, you may be asking yourself why would anyone book through an OTA. It always comes down to the fact that booking via OTA is cheaper than booking directly with the travel provider. But I would argue that it may not be as good a deal as it seems.
As I mentioned, you won’t earn hotel points or get elite benefits on OTA bookings.
If you have a status that would give you free breakfast, parking, lounge access, or late checkout, the value of those benefits can add up quickly. If you book through OTA, you are not entitled to any.
Furthermore, most hotel chains have a best price guarantee. If you find a lower price on an OTA, you can often try price matching first with the hotel chain.
If you’re successful, it’s the best of both worlds: you get your loyalty benefits at the lowest price.
Now, you might argue that this logic doesn’t apply to flights You still earn miles When booking through an OTA, airlines generally do not match prices.
However, you should always keep in mind the possibility of needing to change your itinerary.
In this case, as mentioned earlier, you may end up paying an additional service fee on top of what the airline charges you. Not to mention, you’ll spend some time navigating phone trees and waiting.
So, even if it sounds like a good deal on paper, be sure to factor in the additional costs – money and stress.
Good luck during snowstorms and thunderstorms
What happens when your flight Significantly delayed or cancelledOr you can’t reach your hotel due to weather or other problems?
Typically, during major weather events, flights are subject to airline exemptions, making it easier for travelers to make changes to their itinerary without any fines.
However, if you booked through an OTA, you will likely still need to go through the process of contacting that booking company’s customer service to make changes. Suffice it to say, getting through can be a challenge during a big snow storm.
Furthermore, OTAs will generally follow the airline waiver to the letter of the law, while an airline agent may be more flexible.
While airline customer service may find a way to get you on a flight the day before a snowstorm without charging you any difference in cost, an OTA agent may not be able to extend you the same courtesy.
The same applies to hotels. I needed to cancel hotels last minute when travel plans were derailed by weather. The few times I’ve booked through an OTA, I’ve always been told that I need to follow the OTA’s written cancellation policy. However, when I booked directly, I had almost no problem getting the cancellation fee waived.