Booking Flights Online: Travel Websites vs. Airline Websites

Booking your flight online? Travel websites still offer more services than airline websites

Credit: TV Week

Travel websites often have package deals the airlines simply can’t offer

Is it better to use a travel website or book directly through an airline?

American Airlines, North America’s fourth-largest airline, recently inked a deal with Priceline, a travel website that lists and compares airfares to help you get the most bang for your buck.

You might recall that late last year, American Airlines had removed itself from the online travel website Orbitz, which then resulted in Expedia yanking American’s listings from its site. Since then, however, American received a court order to resume ticket sales through Orbitz, while the airline has also reached a settlement with Expedia.

What does all this mean for consumers? American Airlines had said it was changing its business strategy and offering customers better service if they shopped direct. That left many people wondering if there’s a reason to stop using travel sites like Expedia and instead go directly to the airlines themselves.

Online Travel Sites vs. Airline Sites

Sites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz are basically acting as online travel agencies. They’ve been around for years and there’s a good reason why so many millions of people use them. They provide services that airline sites simply don’t, including offering quick and easy comparisons of not just fares but different schedules on many different airlines at a glance. This is something you’re not going to get from a single airline’s website.

They also allow you to do flexible date searches. Most airline websites allow flexible searches over plus or minus three to 30 days, whereas Travelocity, Cheapair and other aggregator sites perform searches for more than 330 days ahead — very helpful if you’re willing to travel whenever the best fares pop up.

Sometimes your best scenario for low-cost flying is to book the first leg of your trip with one airline and the second leg with another airline. Online travel agencies — or bricks-and-mortar travel agents, for that matter — are the only ones that can work out the best fare in such scenarios. 

You’ll also notice something called the “Total Trip” option on Travelocity. On some trips, especially last-minute ones, you can get hotel-plus-air packages for half of what airfare alone would cost. You won’t find that option when dealing directly with any airline. 

So, just a few features to keep in mind when trying to decide where to do your online airfare shopping. The bottom line is that time is money for some, and you’ll spend less time cruising the Internet for the lowest fares if you’re using an aggregator site. That is, after all, why these sites became so popular in the first place.

Benefits of Booking with a Travel Agent

Despite the convenience of online booking, there are still some significant benefits to working with a travel agent to arrange your trip:

  • You have the security of knowing you’re dealing with a live person located at a physical business
  • Agents can offer travel advice from experience
  • An agent can provide updates and help while you’re at your destination
  • You’ll qualify for protection from tour operator bankruptcy through Travel Assurance Fund.

Watch Claire Newell on Global BC News: Final (Mon.), Early (Wed.), Morning & Noon (Thur.), Noon (Sat.). Or catch her Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. on Shore 104 FM.

Originally published in TV Week. For daily updates, subscribe to the free TV Week e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the weekly magazine.