Online travel booking services

Lately there seems to be a glut of online services being advertised on TV through which one can make airline ticket purchases, hotel reservations, car rentals, etc. Such services include Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Travelocity and Hotwire.

I’m not asking for people’s opinions of the various services nor their experiences with them (such a question would be better suited for IMHO). Instead, I just want to know if there would be any benefit to using one of these services versus going directly to the airline’s or car rental agency’s web site, which is how I have always done it. These services claim to save you money (of course), but when my mom recently asked me to check out some airfares for her via one of these travel sites the fares weren’t any less than what was shown on the airline’s own web site.

My question is: how do these services work and why would someone want to use them instead of just going directly to the web site of the airline, hotel, etc.?

With the rapid fluctuation of airline ticket prices, it’s extremely hard to tell if something actually saved you money versus buying through the airline’s web site or agent.

Still, if you go to United or American, you only see flights and prices for them. These other sites can show you flights, availability and prices for several airlines at one site.

Remember, though, Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline and the others all add on fees. They get their taste. It might save you some money if you use them to find the convenient/affordable flight then check with the airline’s web page to see if they will beat it.

Also, check the terms. Non-refundable, unchangeable, etc…

The benefit is that they search multiple airlines. That’s pretty much it, but it is a lot easier than checking 5 different airline websites all with different interfaces. And then you still might miss flights offered by a smaller carrier like ATA.

I generally use Expedia than lookup the flight on the airline to avoid the $5 fee. But there are certain moral arguments against that, I suppose.

I’m with SmackFu. I’ll often look up flights on Expedia and Travelocity, then, to avoid the fee, book with the individual airline that the travel site lists as least expensive and most convenient.

There are instances where I do book through the travel site though. Sometimes I can get a decent deal on an entire package (Flight, Hotel, and Car) all in one place. In that case I’ll go with the travel site.

The biggest thing is to shop around. Check a couple travel sites, check the airlines that seem to meet your flight requirements, try designing a package or two to see if there’s a sweet deal somewhere, and make a decision.

No idea what the US position is, but in the UK an advantage of booking other than through an airline’s website is that you’re covered by ATOL and ABTA regulations, so if the airline goes bust you’re not stranded and left to find your own way home. Sounds implausible, but don’t forget Swiss Air and Sabena both (suddenly) went bust in the past few years, and another small British airline (Duo) went out of business two weeks ago.

Recently I got a deal on a United flight (round-trip, non-stop, two tickets, flight only - no car/hotel) by booking it through Orbitz, and the same flight on United’s website was more expensive. Yes, even after the fee.

However, I’ve used them before for business trips. My husband registered with them to search for good rates but never bought any tickets through them. The same day, both of us got “Great rates out of Chicago!” promotional E-mails from Orbitz - and when we clicked on the links in our respective E-mails (within less than 5 minutes apart), the rates I was shown were lower. I suspect that current customers of theirs get sent occasional true promotional bargains on airline flights, with them hoping you’ll also use their service for a car and/or hotel at non-bargain rates.

As someone else said, not all airlines are covered by this service. When I’m traveling, I’ll pull up the major travel sites and run numbers on fares, then hit the websites of the airlines shown on those sites, and then take a look at smaller carriers - sometimes even checking out the gate maps of Chicago’s airports to see who flies in and out of here, then looking up their sites.

ATA is actually covered by Orbitz, but I realized too late recently that Southwest isn’t, and ended up with an inconvenient and surely more expensive ticket than if I’d remembered to check them out.

Flights: One advantage is Travelocity (maybe the others) will check close-by airports. We saved $700 on two tickets by flying from our local small airport instead of the large hub airport 70 miles away. I didn’t even think about checking that out as an option. Still, I booked the flight from the airline’s website to save the $10 ticket charges.

Hotels: Expedia has really nice room descriptions, maps, pictures, etc., but again as for airlines, look at the chain’s web site and you’ll often find better rates. Hilton and Ramada are two chains that claim their own web rates are better. Expedia can be useful for finding an off-beat non-chain hotel.

Expedia also has that really neat feature where you can see a calendar with actual prices on it. I think it comes up if you say your dates are flexible.

Orbitz is actually a joint venture organized by the airlines. At least at the start, one of their advertising points was that they had certain exclusive deals, not available from the airlines directly. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that they dangled this bait to hook customers at the start and eventually stopped offering such deals. In any case, I find that always beats Orbitz by about two dollars for some reason.