Should You Use An Online Travel Agency For Your Next Trip?

Should You Use An Online Travel Agency For Your Next Trip?

by Chris Elliott // Forbes

Ron Brown wants to know why people bother with online travel agencies anymore. When he travels, he uses sites like Expedia and to find a low airfare or hotel rate, but then buys directly through an airline or hotel.

“I’ve never found a better price through an online travel agency,” he says. “So why bring in an unnecessary third party?”

His question goes to the heart of a debate many travelers are having as they start planning their summer vacations. Should you use an online travel agency for your next trip? If so, when?

To answer, just try planning a trip without an online agency. That’s right, use only the websites or toll-free numbers of an airline, car rental agency or hotel.

Frustrated yet? You’re not alone. New research commissioned by the travel technology company Travelport suggests travelers — and particularly younger travelers — don’t like to spend lots of time trying to find the best price or not being able to see what’s included with a fare.

“Online travel agencies have the ability to ease the challenges, and offer travelers a level of personalization that individual airlines and hotels don’t have the ability to deliver on their own,” says Greg Webb, Travelport’s CEO.”

This is when you should use an online agency

“Consumers who shop for travel on an online travel agency get access to all of their options in one place,” says Steve Shur, president of the Travel Technology Association, a trade group that represents online travel agencies. But online travel agencies offer much more:

  1. More choices. If you book through an online travel agency, you see all the choices — not just the ones owned by the hotel chain or airline. “The vast majority of travelers are not loyal to any single brand,” says Devon Nagle, a spokesman for Priceline. “They like to compare Delta flights with JetBlue, or Hilton hotels with Marriotts.”
  2. The ability to compare prices. Online agencies allow travelers to comparison-shop, selecting the best airline or hotel at a low price. A recent study by Piper Jaffray found that consumers find the same or lower rates on online travel agencies 87% of the time.
  3. Package deals. Online agencies also offer customized package deals that bundle air, hotel and activities into one affordable price.
  4. Independent reviews. Online agencies host reviews that allow users to evaluate travel products. When you book directly, you don’t get any independent reviews.

Shur says an online agency can improve your next vacation. For example, if you’re traveling to downtown Nashville, you could check the sites for the major hotel chains and find a few options. “But if you only book directly with a big hotel chain, you’d never know about really great independent hotel options such as The Bobby, Dream, The Hermitage or even Margaritaville — all of which would show up in a quick online travel agency search,” he says.