by Danielle Garrett of PlanIt Travel Designs for The Aha! Connection

You may be asking “what is an OTA”?  An OTA (online travel agency) is a website or online service that sells travel products to customers (flights, hotels, etc.)  There are many of them, but a few of the big names are Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and  Covid exposed fundamental problems with OTA bookings…lack of customer support and they will not go to bat for you!  Below are 5 reasons why you should NOT book with an OTA.

  1. Making changes or canceling a flight can be a nightmare! If you booked your flight with an OTA, the airline would require you to deal directly with that OTA.  Many times, the OTA will ask you to contact the airline directly or you will get stuck in a loop of mis-information with your OTA’s customer service department.  OTA’s are known for having horrible customer support.  I have had this happen with a client that had booked their flight with an OTA before calling me to plan the rest of their trip.  Fast forward, their regional flight in Europe was canceled and dealing with the OTA was time consuming, frustrating and a complete hassle!  Some OTA’s like Orbitz typically charge cancellation/change fees, so read the fine print!  It can also be difficult making changes for your hotel booking, as they will direct you back to your OTA.
  2. As mentioned above, customer support is non-existent! There is no comparison between dealing with an OTA or dealing directly with an airline/hotel/travel agent.  Either be your own advocate or a good TA (Travel Advisor/Agent) will always advocate for you!
  3. If you are one that cares about your room placement or hopes for an upgrade, OTA bookings are at the bottom of the list for the better rooms. The hotels always give preference to direct or Travel Agent/Advisor bookings.
  4. No earned points for hotels. If you care about collecting your Marriott or Hilton points, then an OTA is not the route for you.  Most major chains consider third party bookings to be ineligible rates for earning points. 
  5. The better deals on an OTA site are many times not better. First, check to make sure you are not looking at a non-refundable rate as that is always the first rate they will show you.  Most refundable rates are the same as the regular hotel rate and if not, many hotels will match to avoid an OTA booking.  Airlines will not match an OTA rate, but many times once you click through the rate it’s a case of “when it’s too good to be true, it’s not true”.  Also, with airlines make sure you are comparing apples to apples.  Is the OTA rate lower because of the flight time or is it a 2-stop flight?  Bottom line with airlines, if it is the same flight and there’s a minimal cost difference…forget the OTA!

It’s one thing to shop around using an OTA, but these 5 reasons should convince you not to actually “book” with an OTA.

Please remember to travel responsibly, wear your mask and do not travel unnecessarily if you are elderly or immune-compromised! And remember to check your destination’s travel restrictions/requirements before and during planning, as well as double-checking before departure!

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