Booking Battle: Online Travel Agent vs AirlineWhen booking flights, online travel agents like Bestjet, CheapOair and are often cheaper than the airline’s own website. But are the savings worth it?

An AFF member was recently searching for three Singapore Airlines Business class tickets. Laffer found the same flights available on for $1,500 cheaper than Singapore Airlines’ own website.

It is not uncommon for online travel agents to have lower fares than you would get by booking direct with the airline. For example, we found literally dozens of online travel agents selling this Virgin Australia flight from Sydney to Perth for cheaper than Virgin Australia’s website with a quick SkyScanner search:

Screenshots from SkyScanner
Screenshots from SkyScanner

But there is a catch to the savings you can gain by booking online with a third-party online travel agent. Admittedly, many online travel agencies are legitimate businesses with good customer service. But some online travel agencies – especially the cheapest ones – have non-existent customer service. And if you ever need to make any changes to the booking, the charges can be exorbitant.

Of the 1,124 reviews for on Product Review, an independent online review website, 907 or 81% of reviewers rate the company just 1 star out of 5. Common complaints include:

  • Very long call centre wait times and/or an inability to contact anyone at all
  • Problems making booking changes and cancellations
  • Lack of assistance (or even notification) when an airline cancels or changes a flight
  • Exorbitant fees and charges to change a booking
  • Bookings not being ticketed for weeks (or even at all)
  • Long delays with getting refunds
  • Seats not being allocated after paying for seat selection

It’s not just that has received poor reviews. AFF members have previously had problems with BYOjet and various other websites.

If you’re just making a simple booking for A to B that you’re unlikely to need to change or cancel, you may not have any problems with using an online travel agent. But for more complex bookings, it can be fraught with risk. Even if you don’t plan to make changes to your booking, the airline itself may change or cancel your flight. If this happens, it’s normally far easier to contact the airline directly than having to deal with an online travel agent.

The biggest reason dodgy OTA’s like Bestjet can undercharge by so much is because they make their money off screwing passengers with change fees, etc. So if everything runs smoothly, you ‘should’ be fine…BUT, if you need to change, cancel or if there are disrupts, good luck!!!

You should also check that the online travel agent’s fare has the same inclusions as you would get when booking on the airline’s own website. For example, you might not receive the same baggage allowance.

Keep in mind that many airlines offer a price-beat guarantee for bookings made on their own websites. If you find a fare on an online travel agent that is cheaper than the airline’s website, you could always try to submit a claim for the price difference. Admittedly, many airlines have a poor track-record at honouring price-beat claims. So if you do decide to make a claim, be sure to read the terms and conditions carefully.

In laffer‘s case, they ended up booking the flights at the lower price using a bricks-and-mortal travel agent. Travel agents can sometimes do things that you can’t do yourself online, and the service provided by professional travel agents can be very good.

Just to close out the thread. SQ website still showed about a $1500 PP difference. OTA actually moved up in price. I ventured into a high street TA. Asked my questions. They were able to offer a great price. Much better than SQ direct. For some reason SQ direct wanted to add a huge premium for the stop in SIN. The TA was able to navigate that. Very pleased.

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: OTA v Airline v TA


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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]