So, what are the pros and cons of using a travel agent vs going direct? Booking direct often gets you more perks and flexibility, but OTAs do have their benefits.
You’re likely already familiar with online travel agencies (OTAs), even if you don’t travel often. These companies — such Expedia and Orbitz etc — act as intermediaries between you and a travel provider.
Booking your travel through an OTA can be a good idea in some circumstances, but you’ll want to be wary of its pitfalls. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of online travel agencies, so you’ll know what to use to book your next vacation.
Here at Glencoe Country B&B, we receive bookings from both sides…so we’re not biased one way or the other.
Pros of booking through online travel agencies
There are certainly advantages to booking through online travel agencies, though you’ll find different experiences whether you’re using public OTAs — such as Kayak – or private ones like those offered by your card issuer, such as the Chase Ultimate Rewards® travel portal.
It may be cheaper
When searching for flights online, you may see different prices for the same routes that vary across websites.
Although it may be a result of fare type — for example, some search results may not clarify that a fare is basic economy rather than main cabin or economy — other times, the difference comes down to competition for your business.
Online travel services will often offer slightly lower prices on flights in an effort to entice you as a customer. This is true for both hotels and airlines.
Cons of booking through online travel agencies
There are several downsides when it comes to using online travel services for booking travel.
It mainly comes down to the fact that travel providers prefer that you book directly with them — and offer more perks to woo your business.
It can be harder to change a booking
Ever needed to change a flight after it’s booked? No matter the reason, attempting to alter or otherwise cancel a flight can be a hassle — especially if you’ve booked through a third party.
Generally speaking, rather than offering you direct assistance, both hotels and airlines will recommend you contact the online travel agency you’ve booked with in order to make any changes.
While you may be able to make changes or get refunds with the travel agency, airlines and hotels can — and will — offer much more flexibility when you’ve booked with them directly.
You may also be subject to additional fees charged by the online travel agency, which can erase any savings you’ve received.
You may not receive elite benefits
This is the real difference for anyone wanting elite status. Although airlines will almost always recognise your elite status and allow you to earn travel miles even for bookings made through an online travel agency, hotels and rental car companies will not.
This is especially important for hotel chains. Earning elite status with hotels generally relies on elite night credits.
Although these can be earned in a variety of ways — including having complimentary status by holding certain credit cards — the main method of acquiring elite night credits is by spending nights in hotels.
Rooms booked through an online travel agency do not count toward elite status as elite night credits.
Additionally, you will not receive any of the benefits of your existing elite status if your booking is through a third party. This can mean the loss of perks such as room upgrades, complimentary breakfast and even free Wi-Fi.
It may be more expensive
Did you know that many hotel chains have best price guarantees? Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott and IHG all have a guarantee that’ll give you either points or a discount if you find a better rate elsewhere.
These guarantees are generous; Hilton, for example, will match the rate and then discount it by a further 25%.
Although you’ll need to file claims for these guarantees, and they face limitations — such as a 24-hour window from when you made the booking — you can save a lot of money on your stay if your request is approved.
Online travel agencies can be hit or miss
There are two sides to every coin, and this is no different, as there are several benefits and limitations of online travel services – more pros and cons of using a travel agent vs going direct.
Depending on your needs and loyalty program status, you’ll want to choose whether to book directly with a travel provider or rely on OTAs to do the job for you.
Booking travel through credit card portals from issuers like Chase and Capital One can earn you big rewards. But if you anticipate altering your travel plans or aim to earn elite status instead, booking directly is the way to go.
Booking direct with airlines and hotels
While search engines are wonderful tools, sometimes it’s worth it to head directly to the source to make your reservation.
Hotels and airlines ultimately prefer that you book directly with them on their websites and may offer the same price.
This is especially true for hotels, and I would recommend it most when considering chain hotels with loyalty programs.
How is using a travel agent different from booking online?
Making use of a travel agency is a quite different process than doing it yourself online. Besides the actual process and experience of planning your trip, you could also end up with an entirely different experience on the trip.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though – so let’s break it down below.
Other pros and cons of using a travel agent vs booking online is cost
First of all, know that a travel agent could potentially cost extra. While travel agencies generally make most of their revenue from the other side of the transaction, taking a commission from hotels and airlines, there can be a fee that you pay for their services.
This is in contrast to booking online, which generally doesn’t involve any sort of added-on transaction fees. You simply pay what you see in fares or rates and not for any travel advice.
Price is obviously a big factor in planning your trip, so be sure to ask any travel agent upfront what the cost will be to you as their client.
You’ll find that in many cases, it can be zero; but it’s better to be sure you are getting the best value.
Travel agents could save you time compared to booking online
Most of the time, you can spend a ton of time researching your destination and fine-tuning your plan to make your vacation as flawless as possible.
But there is so much information out there to dig through online, especially for a new destination, to be sure you are getting a good deal and booking with a trustworthy company.
Travel agencies take that responsibility from you, and in turn, save you a bunch of time.
As long as you are booking with a reputable agent who is experienced in your destination, you can be sure that they are an expert.
In the same way, you can have a high level of confidence that you won’t be left sleeping on a bench when you get there, and you won’t be riding a scary bus with no AC on your tour.
Your travel agent should know who to trust and who does what best, setting you up for a great trip.
Dealing with problems via your travel agent
In case things do go wrong, you have an extra ally to make things right in your travel agent.
You are their client and their job is to please you; so if something is not to your standards or you believe you aren’t getting the service that you paid for, they should be a quick phone call or email away to help fix that.
Perks and special treatment
On the more positive side, using a travel agent can score you upgrades and amenities for no cost to you.
Hotels generally want to please guests of travel agents so that travel agents continue booking their hotel; and your travel agent wants to please you so that you keep booking with them.
It’s one major difference to booking online.
You’ll often find a welcome dessert or bottle of wine with a card from your travel agent in your hotel room.
Furthermore, hotels often give priority to travel agency guests for things like free upgrades or early check-ins.
Besides that, travel agents can often access lower rates than the general public anyway.
So, you could potentially be paying less, getting better service, and getting free things; all while doing less work. These are just some of the pros and cons of using a travel agent.
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