3 Things Everyone Should Know Before Purchasing Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency

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Million Mile Secrets reader, Lynn, commented:

I purchased JetBlue airfare through Kayak’s Kiwi.com.  Will my checked baggage fees be the same as if I booked directly with the airline?

It doesn’t matter which site you use to purchase airfare.  Because the amount you’ll pay for things like checked baggage or cancellation charges is based on an airline’s published schedule of fees.

But there are other factors to consider when booking through an Online Travel Agency (OTA) like OrbitzExpedia, or Kiwi.com.

For example, depending on the airline, you might earn fewer miles on your flight if you don’t book directly.  Or you could accidentally book a “no-frills” Basic Economy fare without realizing.

Drawbacks Of Booking Airfare With An Online Travel Agency

Purchasing Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency Is Convenient. But There Are 3 Things You Should Know Before Booking This Way

I’ll explain what you should know before booking airfare through an online travel agency.

Drawbacks of Booking Airfare With an Online Travel Agency

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

Many folks like to book flights on sites like Orbitz or Priceline because they’re a convenient way to search routes across multiple airlines at once.  And you can quickly compare prices.

But here are 3 things you should know before you buy.

1.   You Might Pay More for Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency

Certain airlines add fees to airfare bought through online travel agencies to encourage folks to book directly instead.

For example, you’ll pay an extra ~$18 fee when you book flights through sites like Orbitz or Expedia on these airlines:

  • Austrian Airlines
  • Brussels Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SWISS Air

If you’re traveling with family, these fees can add up!

I used Google Flights to search a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt on Lufthansa.  And the results show the extra fee you’ll pay if you book through an online travel agency.

Drawbacks Of Booking Airfare With An Online Travel Agency

Certain Airlines Add Fees When You Purchase Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency

That’s why I recommend checking Google Flights or ITA Matrix first.  Then, you can tell if the online travel agency is adding additional fees by comparing results.

2.   Earn More Airline Miles Booking Directly

Link:   Which Are the Best Miles to Earn on Your Paid Flight?

When you book airfare through an online travel agency, you might earn fewer miles than you would if you purchased airfare directly with the airline.

Drawbacks Of Booking Airfare With An Online Travel Agency

Earn JetBlue Points Faster by Booking Directly, Which You Can Use for Award Flights to Visit Southern California!

For example, JetBlue offers at least 6 points per $1 spent when you book at JetBlue.com.  But you’ll earn 50% less or 3 points per $1 if you book through an online travel agency.

And JetBlue points never expire.  So even if you’re just a casual traveler, you can accumulate miles over time to use for future award flights!

3.   Avoid Purchasing a Basic Economy Fare

I’ve written how American Airlines and others have started selling restrictive Basic Economy tickets. 

While the base fares are cheaper than regular coach tickets, you can end up paying more for things like bringing a carry-on or choosing your seat in advance.

And it can be easy to book a Basic Economy fare by accident.

For example, I searched Priceline for a one-way non-stop flight from Atlanta to New York (LGA).  The search results show flights for ~$124.

But the cheap flight options are for a Basic Economy fare, which is NOT clearly displayed on the results page.

Drawbacks Of Booking Airfare With An Online Travel Agency

It’s Not Clear From the Priceline Search Results the Prices I Found Are Actually Basic Economy Fares

I confirmed the airfare shown in the Priceline search was Basic Economy by searching the same flight directly on the Delta website.

You’ll see Delta gives you more options, including Basic Economy and regular coach.  In this example, the regular coach fare is $15 more.

Drawbacks Of Booking Airfare With An Online Travel Agency

Booking Directly With Delta Gives You the Option to Book Basic Economy OR Regular Coach Seats

If you book this example flight through Priceline, the ticket comes with these restrictions:

  • No seat assignment until after check-in
  • No refunds
  • No ticket changes
  • No standby travel changes
  • No paid or complimentary upgrades

For some folks, booking the cheapest fare is the best option.  But others might be disappointed with the restrictions.

Even if you plan to book through an online travel agency, I recommend checking the airline’s website to see the type of fare you’re purchasing.

Bottom Line

When you purchase airfare through an online travel agency, like Orbitz or Expedia, you’ll pay the same fees for things like checked baggage that you would if you booked directly with the airline.

But there are some drawbacks of booking airfare through an online travel agency, including:

  • Certain airlines add fees to tickets when you don’t book directly
  • You can earn more miles on paid flights booked directly with some airlines
  • You might book a Basic Economy fare by mistake, which comes with several restrictions

If you prefer to book through an online travel agency, I recommend checking Google Flights or ITA Matrix first.  Because these are great tools, which can help you quickly compare prices across many flight options.

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3 responses to “3 Things Everyone Should Know Before Purchasing Airfare Through an Online Travel Agency

  1. In europe it happens quite a lot that prices with travel agencies are lower than on air carriers themselves.
    Booking classes are higher when you use different carriers thus you ll get more miles
    I would however stick with airlines official www when booking long haul flights

  2. Cindy and Rick

    When booking through the UR Portal for a Hawaiian Airlines first class seat, I was not able to get the miles. That was quite upsetting. I opened a Hawaiian Airlines account specifically to start building miles using that portal, but they told me that the UR Portal is Expedia and doesn’t count toward mileage.

    If you have any information for me to make an argument to HA that I should get those miles, let me know; otherwise, I guess I will just always book through the UR Portal (My husband and I build 800,000 miles per year average) and forget the miles.

  3. Another thing to consider when booking through a travel agency are airline schedule changes. If you reserved seats on a flight and a change occurs, the airline will notify the travel agency of the change. The travel agency should then notify you of the change. This is important because when the schedule change occurs, your may have to reserve your seats again on the flight with the change. If the travel agency does not notify you of the change, you will not have reserved seats, even if you paid for upgraded seats.
    This has happened to me when booking a flight through the Visa Discount Air program. If I had not checked on my reservation, I would not have discovered that my seat reservation had been deleted with the schedule change. I called American Airlines directly to reserve my seats on the flight. The extra leg-room seats I had purchased were not available, but similar seats were and they cost less. I travel with my wife and son frequently and it would not have been a happy flight if we were not seated together.
    Booking through a travel agency can have benefits, but requires more attention to your reservation. Had I booked my flight directly with American, none of this would have occured.