Traveling internationally requires a lot of planning and consideration. This means starting early and devising a realistic budget based on the time frame that is available. In order to meet a budget one question that gets typically asked is it cheaper to book directly with the airline? Alternatively, is it cheaper to book through a website or a travel agent? The answer to this question is it depends and this article will explore this question a bit more in detail.
With the dawn of the internet and travel web sites, I find travel agents suffering the fate of the dinosaurs. Travel agents are unable to compete with sites offering low airfares and airlines trying to save money by cutting expenses. To highlight some of issues with using a travel agent, on the trip that I am currently planning I consulted a travel agent and was advised they could not book internal US flights. I was further advised they could book me on a flight to a US that cost more than what I would pay on the web. Then I looked at other alternatives that they had to offer. They offered me a great 7 day holiday in Greece. However it was on a small island far from Athens that had nothing but beaches and if I wanted to go to the mainland I had to travel by ferry at my expense. As I sat there asking what was included, I soon learned I would be paying for everything including water and food on the plane. After researching the island further and finding out everything that I will be paying for, the Greek paradise soon sounded like a holiday money-pit. The one advantage a travel agent can give over the internet is their knowledge. Using a travel agent’s knowledge can be helpful if you are traveling some where you have never been or if you are a nervous traveler who is afraid they might miss something when planning a holiday / vacation.
This leads me to the question is it better to book directly or use a large travel portal? The answer comes down to four questions that seek to balance cost against needs.
- when are you traveling?
- where are you traveling?
- what is your tolerance level for journey time and connections?
- will you need a hotel?
- Are you bothered where you sit on the plane?
For example, if you are traveling to a popular tourist area from a large metropolitan city, for example Las Vegas from London then you might find a good deal off of travel portal such as Expedia or Opodo. On a recent trip to the States from Manchester, I had a multi-stop flight that included Las Vegas for around £500 per person from Expedia and since my need a was a hotel for a part of the trip, I was able to book separately a hotel on the site for about £30 a night in Las Vegas. However, I had lousy seat selection for one segment of the trip and it was not what I requested.
Another, possible drawback to using an online search portal, is some sites will buy seats in bulk and then sell them to you. This means your choices are limited and you have to in most situations deal with the site for any issues, not the airline. For example, I recently looked at flying to Taiwan by using a travel web site. The flight would have been cheap if I was willing to accept a 35 hour journey time and two changes of planes in China. However, the price would be more if I did no use their selected carrier but my journey time would have been halved. This can mean you are at their mercy and unless you are willing to be flexible you may find you have to give up a lot to save some money.
Final drawback, I have noticed, is the search sites tend to favor certain airlines. This means you may not always get the best connections, routes, or prices. Instead it means shopping around to different sites until you can find the best deal.
In contrast, if your destination is a less traveled area like Israel then it may be cheaper to book through the airline. Plus when you book with the airline then you deal with them directly and find you have more control over your journey. Another advantage I am finding is with some airlines their fares are about the same or slightly lower than the same flight being advertised on the travel portals. On my last trip I did no use a travel web site. The fare was about the same on the travel web sites, I was happier since I made the decisions about flights and hotel.
From the above you may feel as though I am recommending booking with an airline instead of a travel web site or a travel agent? I am not a fan of travel agents and I feel they can offer advantages. The biggest advantage they offer is their expertise and they offer an advantage for people who do not like searching the internet for the best possible deal. Nonetheless, I feel booking with an airline can offer some advantages. However, I have found airlines can charge significantly more than if you book through a travel website and the advantages they can offer is outweighed by the potential cost. Also, I have found travel websites can offer tremendous savings if you book a flight with hotel. Therefore in answer to the above questions there is no right answer. Instead it involves researching along with trying to strike a balance between cost, needs and comfort. By doing your research, identifying your needs, and planning your budget you will be able to determine the best route for your journey.