Guide to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs)

Lets start with that there are two main ways to buy flights online – you can do that directly via the airline or via an online travel agency. The most important question is whether OTA is reliable enough? It is very beneficial to understand more about online travel agencies before you decide to book a flight with them and save some money.

What are online travel agencies?

OTAs are simply a middleman between airlines and a traveler though their prices can often be cheaper than booking directly through the airline. Some of the top online travel agencies include: Expedia, Priceline and Orbitz. But also there are a lot of smaller travel agencies like Webjet, Travelgenio, Tripsta and much more.

Whenever you book directly through an airline you will get your ticket almost immediately. That is because the certain airline is both the seller and provider of this flight. On the other hand with online travel agencies, especially the smaller ones you can expect a delay to receive your ticket simply because they don’t have these tickets that they do sell. Online travel agencies get a small commission from the airline in this process when buying with OTAs.

When you buy a round trip JetStar flight from Sydney to Cairns with lets say Expedia then what happens is that OTA charges your credit card and then goes to check with JetStar whether there are any tickets left at that price. When they find the tickets they sell it to you and get a small commission from JetStar.

Why are flights most of the time cheaper on online travel agencies?

  • OTAs negotiate with airlines to allow them sell certain flights with a nice discounts.
  • OTAs sometimes sell flight fares for less then the actual price is in the hopes that you will book something additionally with them like a car or hotel. Also with hope that you will book your next flight with them.
  • OTAs spend less on managing their process, they don’t need to have big support teams as airlines does.
  • Sometimes OTAs pass their commissions on certain flight and customer, again just to establish strong relationship for customer to come back and book again.
  • OTAs charge for canceling or changing your flight.

Is it possible to get scammed by online travel agencies?

Well the worst that can happen is that you will purchase a flight fare that no longer exists. In that case you will be contacted by OTA and told that you can’t get that certain ticket for certain price. Then you can either go for a higher price or have your money refunded. You shouldn’t be scared that even a small online travel agency could scam you.

Should you book through an OTA or directly with an airline?

Well that is completely on you my friend. You may find that OTA fare is way cheaper than booking directly with an airline, but it is completely fine if you don’t want to buy from an OTA that you have never heard of before.

Follow few simple rules: if prices are same booking via OTA or directly then of course book directly through an airline. On the other hand if you can save over 500 AUD you should go with an OTA.

If you are certain that you are going to take this flight and not change or cancel it then OTA is worth it. But if you don’t exactly know your plans then the initial cost savings may not be worth the potential fees for altering your plans.

If you can save somewhere around 20 AUD with OTA then it would be wise to just book directly with an airline. But anyways here you are paying for your own comfort, is paying an extra $100 worth the additional peace of mind when booking directly with an airline?

All in all, there are some questions to think about before choosing an OTA over an airline and vise versa. The main thing you should know that booking with an online travel agency is most of the time cheaper, but slower, secure, but sometimes could cause paying extra if you wish to cancel or change something in your flight.