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The American Express Premier Rewards Gold card offers 3 points per $1 you spend on tickets booked directly with an airline. But when you book through an online travel agency, the charge usually comes from the airline, not the online travel agency.
So you can earn 3 points per $1 AND rewards points from the online travel agency, plus airline miles!
And, you could benefit from the sometimes better cancellation window offered by some online travel agencies. Not all airlines let you easily cancel within 24 hours of booking (especially foreign airlines, or for tickets booked close to the date of travel).
I’ll explain why booking through an online travel agency is sometimes better than buying a ticket directly from the airline.
Why Consider Booking Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency?
1. Earn More Miles and Points
The American Express Premier Rewards Gold card earns 3 points per $1 you spend on airfare, as long as the charge comes directly from the airline.
Most (not all) tickets purchased through an online travel agency like Orbitz, Expedia, or Priceline will be billed directly from the airline. So you’ll earn 3X American Express Membership Rewards points, airline miles, and rewards points from the online travel agency (like Orbitz Rewards).
Plus, if you go through a shopping portal or cashback site 1st, you could earn even more!
Exceptions to this include some tickets booked on multiple airlines, or package deals (airfare and hotel for example).
Keep in mind that charges from non-US airlines will probably be billed as a foreign transaction with American Express Premier Rewards Gold. So you’ll pay a 2.7% foreign transaction fee (which might not be worth it).
2. Possible Better Cancellation Policy
Apart from getting extra points, the main benefit of booking through some online travel agencies is their better cancellation policy.
The US Department of Transportation requires that airlines refund a paid ticket (even a non-refundable fare) if it’s cancelled within 24 hours of purchase. This only applies if you’ve bought the ticket more than 7 days before your flight, and if your flight is booked in the US.
Airlines meet this requirement in different ways. For some, you’ll get a refund if you cancel within 24 hours of booking the ticket. Others give you until midnight the day after you bought your ticket.
Online travel agencies have different policies, which may be more flexible than certain airlines.
- Orbitz – Full refund if you cancel by 10:00 pm Central Time the day after booking (some airlines, like Spirit, are excluded)
- Expedia – Policy isn’t detailed online, but they say if you bought your ticket yesterday or today you may be eligible for a refund (I suspect this depends on the airline and if the ticket was booked more than 7 days prior to departure)
- Priceline – Most tickets can be cancelled within 24 hours of booking (except Name Your Own Price or flights where the full itinerary is not disclosed prior to purchase) for a full refund, less any processing fees added when you booked your ticket
Of these online travel agencies, Orbitz seems to have the most flexible cancellation policy. And they don’t add service charges to most tickets.
For example, if you booked a United Airlines ticket at 7:00 am on Monday, you’d have until 10:00 pm Central Time on Tuesday to cancel the ticket and get a refund. If you booked directly with United Airlines, you’d only have until 7:00 am on Tuesday.
And usually, online travel agencies have the same ticket price as on the airline website. But it’s worth double-checking to be sure.
Are There Drawbacks?
If the online travel agency bills you for the ticket (instead of the airline), you will NOT earn 3X points with the American Express Premier Rewards Gold card. That said, in my experience the charge has always been directly from the airline.
Some online travel agencies, like Priceline, may add a non-refundable service charge to airline bookings. You won’t get refunded the service charge if you cancel.
And if you have to change or cancel your ticket at a later date, you’ll pay fees to the airline and the online travel agency. You generally can NOT make the changes directly through the airline if you’ve booked through an online travel agency.
So if there’s a possibility you might have to change or cancel your flight (after the 24-hour cancellation window closes), booking directly with the airline is probably a better idea.
Even though the 3X points applies to airfare purchased directly from airlines, the charge for most tickets booked through online travel agencies comes from the airline.
And you can earn extra points through the online travel agency rewards program, like Orbitz Rewards.
You might benefit from a more generous 24-hour cancellation policy, depending on where you book.
Do you prefer buying tickets directly from the airline? Or from online travel agencies?
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