Travel SOS: do I save money by booking directly?
Jackie wants to know if she’ll save money by booking her flights and accommodation directly, rather than through a third-party website, such as Hotels.com, Expedia or Webjet. In today’s Travel SOS, Leon guides her towards the best savings.
I’m in the process of booking a holiday to the States, and I was wondering if I’m better off booking everything directly with the hotels and airlines, or if I’ll save more money by booking through a third-party website, such as Expedia or Webjet?
A. Jackie, because you’re booking a trip to the States, you may well save money by booking your accommodation directly from the hotel’s website, depending of course, on the hotel.
Typically, third-party booking sites – or online travel agencies – such as Flight Centre, Webjet and Expedia, buy flights and rooms in bulk at a low rate, then resell them to you at a competitive rate. Because these third-parties have such buying power, they can often give you a better price than buying straight from the hotel or airline.
However, when booking through massive hotel chains, such as Hilton, Hyatt or Intercontinental Group, you can often get accommodation for much less than through a third-party site. In the US, a lot of hotels are owned by larger chains, so you’ll be more likely to find savings straight from them. In other countries, hotels are often individual entities, so you’re more likely to save by booking through a third party.
When booking flights, I recommend using a third-party site such as Webjet or Flight Centre to do your research and comparisons. Once you’ve found a flight that suits you, take note of the details. Then close your browser window and empty your cache or open a private (or incognito) window and search again (it’s a little trick to see if you can get a cheaper rate on the same flight – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t). Once you’ve found the lowest price, head to the airline’s website and search for the same flight. You may find that the flight costs are the same, but you’ll save on a booking fee. It may only be $10 or so per flight but, as they say, every penny saved …
It’s also worth hunting around for travel package deals. At the very least, they will give you a decent price point to compare. And although you may not get exactly what you’re after, you may also be surprised at the bargains that you can find. The savings may be worth the compromise.
A travel agent, online or otherwise, will save you hours of research but they’ll charge you a premium. In all fairness though, a travel agent can be worth their weight in gold and if you ever find yourself in a jam they will help you out of it. So, that can be worth more than you realise. You may spend a little more at the outset but if something were to go wrong, such as missed flights or incorrect bookings, your travel agent could save you a bundle down the track.
Travel agents also have the ‘hook-ups’ and can answer any questions about your destination, accommodation or transportation.
However, researching and booking your own holiday can give you total control and flexibility. You’ll only have yourself to rely on, but if you know your way around terms and conditions and you’re happy to rely on user reviews, then you can save a heap of money.
There are good arguments for and against travel agents versus DIY booking. The bottom line is that the best way to find savings is to do the research yourself. And if you find some really good prices, you can always go to a travel agent and see if they’ll match them. Often, they will match it or at least come close – and you’ll enjoy the peace of mind of extra protection. I hope some of these tips help!
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