If a summer getaway is on your agenda, doing some online research is a great way to find deals. But is it better to book through a third-party travel website, like Expedia or Orbitz, or directly with the airline, hotel, or car rental agency? Although there's not always a clear-cut answer, using a variety of online tools can help you find a good value.
Let's take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
Third-party websites: An excellent starting point
Most people use travel websites like Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, and Orbitz for one main reason:
- Convenience. These sites let you research options from a number of companies all at once, making it easy to compare prices. Plus, many offer handy features like price predictors that alert you if the cost of a particular flight drops.
Of course, using these websites as your sole vacation planner can have drawbacks. For example:
- Canceling or rebooking can be tricky. If your plans change, it may be difficult to get a refund or modify your reservations. Airline tickets booked through third-party sites may be nonrefundable. Be sure to understand the site's policies before you book.
- You may miss out on perks and promotions. Airlines and hotels often offer deals on their websites that aren't available anywhere else. You may also sacrifice some frequent flier miles or loyalty points by booking at a third-party site.
- Seating options are limited. Third-party sites usually can't guarantee airplane seat choices, which could be a problem if you're particular about the aisle or window seat.
Booking directly: Often the safest bet
Though using a third-party website is a great way to explore your options, booking directly allows you to avoid a middleman in the transaction—a valuable benefit if your plans change.
Other advantages include:
- The most up-to-date information. Besides running specials that aren't available elsewhere, the companies' own websites tend to have the most accurate pricing and availability information. Plus, purchasing directly with an airline helps ensure that you receive timely updates on cancellations or delays.
- Price matching. Companies like Delta, InterContinental Hotels, and Starwood Hotels offer best-rate guarantees to encourage travelers to shop on their sites. Delta, for example, will make up the difference and throw in a $100 travel voucher if you find a price lower than what's published on its website.
Third-party websites are a useful place to start your vacation research, and many offer great deals, but booking directly with the airline, hotel, or car rental agency may be your best bet if you want a good value and peace of mind.