Travelers who use third-party booking sites to make airline reservations may think they're getting a deal. But if they ever need to cancel or modify the reservation, rebook when a flight is canceled, or deal with any glitches that are even a little bit unusual, they're liable to find a fix time-consuming and costly. Consider these stories:
Jennifer Dombrowski booked a vacation to Egypt through Expedia.com. Shortly before the trip, they were notified that her husband, active duty in the Air Force, was being deployed to Afghanistan. "I contacted Expedia multiple times and talked to everyone from the customer service call center up to emailing executive level management about changing the dates on our tickets," she said. "Expedia kept pushing me to the airline, Alitalia, saying they couldn't help. Alitalia also wouldn't change the dates, and we lost over $1,000 for the tickets." Dombrowksi booked with Expedia again a year later, only to arrive at the airport and discover her reservation had been canceled.
Philip J. Ross, co-founder of Iberian Traveler and Maribel's Guides, says he had clients who booked through a third-party site, only to learn upon arriving at the airport that their reservations had vanished. "They ended up having to paid full fare at the airport and fly business class. It took months for them to get their money back from Expedia (EXPE), and than only happened because one of them was the daughter of a prominent congressman from Hawaii."
Jacquie Whitt of Adios Adventure Travel was stranded when traveling on American Airlines (AAL) with tickets booked through Cheapo Air. While taking a group of high school students to Peru, the group was held up when one student with a hyphenated name had a misprint between his ticket and his passport. The American agents wouldn't let him fly. "We spent over two hours struggling and never did connect with anyone at Cheapo Air who could help us," she said, remembering the frustration clearly. "It was a simple mistake that would have been fixed right away if we had booked directly with the airline." Ultimately, the American agent allowed the student to fly, but as a result of the experience, Whitt says, "I do not buy tickets on third-party sites anymore."
Even aggregators like Kayak.com and Momondo aren't safe bets, as they can redirect clients to small, international travel agents that operate without regulatory oversight. Marion Goldberg, the former U.S. representative for Momondo and current principal of GoldbergOnTravel, said aggregators and online travel agencies should be merely a starting point.
%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%"Most airlines offer their best deals directly through their websites and don't publish them anywhere else. So start a search on a site like Momondo, and then go down the rabbit hole through the different small agencies. But when it comes to booking, it should always be done through the airline itself," she said. "If you must use a third-party site to book, only use an online travel agency if it's based in Canada or the U.S. Otherwise, it might not be regulated, and if you run into problems, you don't have any recourse."
"We no longer recommend our clients book any reservations through third-party websites," Ross said, "simply because of the fact that what they are selling may not actually be there."
7 Simple Habits to Save a Pretty Penny (or $100)
Should You Trust Third-Party Travel Booking Sites?
Have you ever heard of the 30-day rule? As a frugal guy, this is one of my favorite rules in spending. If you’re about to spend any more than $20 on something that is unnecessary, don’t. Instead, put the item down and wait 30 days to buy it. You’ll be amazed at how much money you save by not making unnecessary frivolous purchases.
I literally mean freeze your credit cards. It seems a bit extreme, but think of it this way. The average credit card comes with a 13 percent or higher interest rate. By simply not using credit cards as often, you’ll save a ton. So, get a plastic sandwich bag and put your credit cards in it. Fill it with water, zip it up and throw it in the freezer. Without easy access to those tempting pieces of plastic, you probably won’t use them as much. However, they’ll still be around -- in an emergency, you can retrieve them from the ice.
Have you ever looked around your house, seen a few items and thought, “I could have made that!” You probably could have. The only thing is, you didn’t. Instead you paid for it. From now on, before you buy something you think you can make on your own, give it a shot. I saved a little over a hundred bucks about two weeks ago. I needed a new bird cage for my fiancé’s doves. Instead of buying a cage for $200, I made one that was far bigger for less than $80.
Did you know that a clean air filter in your car can lead to 7 percent more fuel efficiency? That means at current gas prices, with a clean air filter, you’ll save about $100 a year, if you drive the average 10,000 miles.
How often on the way home from the office do you want to stop for a convenient quick meal? You’ve had a long day, and it feels justified. But it costs much more than a home-cooked meal. The answer is your slow cooker. Use it to prepare your meal in the morning on days you know will be rough. This way, you can skip the fast food and rush home to an already ready home-cooked meal.
Do you pay a maintenance fee for your bank account? Why? Tons of banks offer checking and savings accounts without them. Look to your local credit union or even switch to an online bank. When comparing your options, also look at the interest you can earn. Currently, I get about 3 percent on checking and about 3.4 percent on savings, but who knows what kind of great deals you can find?
I’ve had tons of options to sign up for customer rewards programs and I was just too busy. So, I didn’t sign up. Then one day, I realized that I was paying for rewards I wasn’t getting. The cost of the rewards obviously trickles down to the end consumer. So, if the end consumer doesn’t take part, he or she loses money in the process. Since I’ve signed up for every reward program around me, I’ve saved at least 20 or 30 bucks a month in rewards.