Is It Better to Book Airline Tickets Through an Online Travel Agency?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Umair tweeted:

Are there any issues with booking with an Online Travel Agency (OTA) versus directly with airlines?

Great question, Umair!

There are pros and cons to booking with an Online Travel Agency (OTA), like Orbitz, Expedia, or Priceline.  But in many cases, you’ll earn more miles & points booking with an online travel agency than you would directly with the airline.

Is It Better To Book Airline Tickets Through An Online Travel Agency

Booking Airline Tickets Through an Online Travel Agency Is Sometimes a Better Deal Than Buying Tickets Through the Airline Directly

I’ll explain when you should (or should NOT) book your tickets through an online travel agency!

Why Book With an Online Travel Agency?

1.   Convenience

Many people like to book flights with online travel agents like Orbitz or Priceline because it offers a convenient way to search multiple airlines at once, especially if you’re not loyal to a particular airline.

That said, you can get similar results checking Google Flights or ITA Matrix.  And you’ll be able to tell if the online travel agency is adding additional fees by comparing results!

2.   Bonus Miles With Credit Cards

Usually (but not always), bookings made through online travel agencies are charged directly by the airline.

This means you’ll typically earn bonus miles when you use the airline branded card for the same airline you’re booking.  For example, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite(TM) MasterCard®  earns 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines.

Or earn extra miles with bank points cards that award a bonus on airline ticket purchases, like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express or Citi Prestige® Card.

Or consider using a card that earns bonus points in broad travel categories (including online travel agencies), like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card or Citi ThankYou Premier.

If you’re booking a lot of paid travel, those bonus miles add up fast!

3.   Double, Triple, or Quadruple-Dipping Rewards

You can also earn additional rewards or cash back when booking through an online travel agency by first going through a shopping portal like Ebates or TopCashBack.  I always check Evreward or CashBackMonitor to see which portals are currently offering the best deals.

Many online travel agencies like Orbitz also have loyalty programs that allow you to earn points for each dollar spent on their website.  These rewards can be used for future travel booked on that website.

Is It Better To Book Airline Tickets Through An Online Travel Agency

Earn Additional Rewards for Booking Through an Online Travel Agent

And because you also earn miles on paid flights booked through online travel agencies, you can hit the point-earning jackpot with each purchase!

For example, if you start at a shopping portal and click through to Orbitz to buy a flight, you can earn:

  • Shopping portal cash back or points
  • Online travel agency loyalty points
  • Bonus miles on your credit card
  • Airline miles earned by flying

I love a quadruple-dip!

4.   Cancellation Policies

Online travel agencies often have cancellation policies that are more generous than individual airlines.

If there’s a chance you might need to cancel your ticket shortly after you book it, it’s important to compare the online travel agency’s policy with the airline policy directly.

Why Book Directly With the Airline?

1.   Flying Southwest or Allegiant

There’s a lot to love about Southwest Airlines, including 2 free checked bags for everyone, and a generous cancellation policy (no fees for changes or cancellations, and you’ll receive a credit in your account for up to a year after you cancel a flight).

And if you have the Southwest Companion Pass, a friend can travel with you for almost free on both paid and award flights.  It’s the best deal in travel!

But Southwest does NOT allow their flights to be booked through online travel agencies, so you have to book directly through the airline.

It’s also possible to sometimes find Southwest gift cards at a discount, so if you can earn extra points or cash back by buying Southwest gift cards, you’ll have to book directly with Southwest to use them.

Likewise, Allegiant Air only allows bookings directly through their website.

2.   Added Fees for Lufthansa Flights

Last year, Lufthansa and some of its partners added an ~$18 fee for booking flights through an online travel agency, in order to encourage customers to book directly through their website instead.

You can avoid this fee by booking directly with Lufthansa.

Is It Better To Book Airline Tickets Through An Online Travel Agency

Book Lufthansa Flights Directly to Avoid Additional Fees

3.   Bonus Points for Booking Directly Through the Airline

Airlines sometimes award bonus miles for booking directly with them instead of an online travel agency.  For example, JetBlue offers up to 8 points per $1 spent when you book at instead of an online travel agency.

4.   Booking Fees

Some online travel agencies add booking fees that are generally non-refundable.  If you have to make a change to your itinerary, you may wind up paying a fee to both the online travel agency and the airline itself.

Is It Better To Book Airline Tickets Through An Online Travel Agency

You May Have to Pay Additional Fees to Book or Change Flights With an Online Travel Agency

Bottom Line

There are advantages and disadvantages to booking a flight with an online travel agency (OTA), like Orbitz, Expedia, or Priceline.

If your airline allows third-party bookings, it’s a good idea to start your search with ITA Matrix or Google Flights.  You can then compare the price with the online travel agency to see what fees (if any) are added.

Then you can decide if the fees are worth the extras you could get, like online travel agency loyalty points, a better cancellation policy, or bonus points & cash back by going through a shopping portal.

Remember, you can quadruple-dip purchasing your ticket through an online travel agency by earning:

  • Shopping portal cash back or points
  • Online travel agency loyalty points
  • Bonus miles on your credit card
  • Airline miles earned by flying

Thanks for the question, Umair!

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2 responses to “Is It Better to Book Airline Tickets Through an Online Travel Agency?

  1. Is there any differentiation in terms of benefits? Such as who gets priority in re-booking in the event of a cancellation. Or are there any elite benefits that could be nullified as a result of booking through a third party?

  2. The article rightly points out the benefits to travelers, when the flight tickets are booked through an online travel agency. and I like to add a point here regarding cancellation. The cancellation policies do not solely depend on agencies (or airline), but the government guidelines of respective country from which an agency or airline is running.