Cheap flight deals: Booking with Online Travel Agencies vs directly with the airline

Today popular flight search engines like Skyscanner.com and Momondo.com make almost everyone capable to find cheap flight deals themselves. Flight search engines along with airlines usually return many online travel agencies in their search results.

It is important to know that search engines are not the actual flight sellers. They only find and compare cheap flight deals from airlines and online travel agencies, providing the user with the best possible itineraries and rates.

After you click on your preferred cheap flight deal search engines redirect you either to the online travel agency’s or directly to the airline’s website where you can complete your flight booking.

In the process of booking some extra charges can be added to the flight price which was initially displayed by the flight search engine. Additional charges may include such fees like a baggage fee, an insurance fee, a flight booking administration fee, etc.

What are online travel agencies (OTAs)?

Online travel agencies (also refereed to as OTAs) are companies which sell travel products (flights, hotels, etc.) online. Gotogate.com, Expedia.com, Bravofly.com are some of the OTA’s examples which Skyscanner.com often returns in its search results. These OTAs usually display the cheapest flight deals and have relatively good customer reviews.

Usually online travel agencies have an agreement with suppliers (airlines, hotels, etc.) to resell their products at net prices. OTAs earn a small commission from suppliers for the products they manage to resell.

After you make a booking with the online travel agency you receive an electronic voucher. You will need to present this voucher to the supplier to obtain the service. In case you need to contact the OTA you will have to provide the reference number which is displayed on the voucher.

How online travel agencies can offer cheaper flight deals than airlines?

Online travel agencies often offer cheaper flight deals than airlines.

Below is an example from Skyscanner.com search results which were returned when searching the cheapest flight from Paris to Singapore for January 2019.

In this example even nine online travel agencies offer better prices than the airline for the same route and dates.

online travel agencies

An example from Skyscanner.com search results which were returned when searching the cheapest flight from Paris to Singapore for January 2019.

Below are the main possible reasons online travel agencies can offer cheaper flight deals than airlines:

  • OTAs can share a part of the commission they receive from the airlines with the client. Offering a cheap flight deal OTAs are trying to make more sales and to attract loyal clients for the future.
  • Larger online travel agencies which sell many flights may receive discounts from the airlines. In this case they add a mark-up fee to the discounted flight price to cover their own costs. The lower mark-up fee they add the lower flight price they can offer.
  • Online travel agencies often buy flights at the lowest possible rates. Such flights are usually non-refundable and can only be changed or cancelled paying high change or cancellation fees.

Is it safe to book flights through online travel agencies?

It is safe to book flights through online travel agencies which have many positive reviews on popular search engines like Skyscanner.com and Momondo.com.

Make sure you receive an electronic voucher (usually by email) after booking a flight through the online travel agency. The voucher will contain your flight booking reference number which will be required when checking-in for a flight.

Below is an example of the electronic voucher we received from Bravofly.com online travel agency when booking our return flights from Kiev to Sri Lanka.


An electronic voucher we received from Bravofly.com online travel agency when booking our flight

Our flights were operated by Air Arabia airlines and to double check the status of our booking we entered our personal details and flight booking number on Air Arabia website. We managed to find ourselves meaning that Bravofly.com online travel agency had booked our flights for us and our booking was confirmed.

Along with Bravofly.com we can recommend Expedia.com travel agency who we have also booked flights with and had only a positive experience.

However, before making a booking with an OTA it is worth to be aware of some advantages as well as some disadvantages of not booking flights directly with the airlines.

Advantages of buying flights through online travel agencies

There are two obvious advantages of buying flights with online travel agencies:

  • Due to discounts and commission online travel agencies receive from the airlines, they can often offer cheaper flight deals than airlines.
  • Online travel agencies can combine several airlines in one booking while airlines sell only their own flights. Combining several airlines often allows to get a better itinerary and a lower price.

Disadvantages of buying flights through online travel agencies

However, there may be some drawbacks to using OTAs. The main ones include:

  • Small OTAs do not offer a good customer service. If you need to change or cancel your flight they may ask you to pay a high flight change or cancellation fee. They can be also slow in responding your emails or they can be not working on weekends.
  • It takes longer to receive tickets when booking with an OTA than when booking directly with an airline. It happens because online travel agencies don’t have tickets they sell and only purchase them after a payment is received from the client. This delay may result in a flight price change. In this case you will be given the option to either buy a ticket at a higher price or have a full money refund.
  • Online travel agencies often tell their clients that all flights are non-refundable, even if they are refundable according to the airline’s policy. Some OTAs do this in order to keep the airline’s refund to themselves in case the client decides to cancel the flight. Therefore, before making a cancellation it is always advisable to check with the airline whether you are holding refundable tickets or not.

Is it better to book directly with an airline or through an OTA?

We recommend booking flights directly with an airline unless the savings are significant.

If the savings are worth it before booking through an OTA make sure you are not going to change or cancel your flight. OTAs usually offer non-refundable flights or apply high flight change or cancellation fees.

When booking error fare flights we again recommend booking directly with an airline. OTAs don’t have the tickets they offer and only buy them after they receive a payment from the client. Error fares may disappear any second and this delay may result in a flight price change.

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