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Consumers enjoy certain advantages when booking a trip on a travel booking site

Travelers may be able to take advantage of some nice perks, but they might also lose some flexibility

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Photo (c) Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
The Independence Day holiday weekend saw huge spikes in travel, both on the nation’s highways and in the air. Industry experts expect the wave of travelers to continue to build, especially if vaccination rates rise and cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to fall.

For consumers planning to get away from home this summer, one of the first considerations is whether to book directly with an airline, hotel, or rental car company or use one of the growing number of third-party travel sites.

Opinions vary about using one of these sites to book travel. Consumers generally like the convenience, but they sometimes give up some flexibility if travel plans change. With some sites, it may be difficult to cancel.

Hotels, airlines, and rental car companies set aside a certain amount of inventory for these sites to sell. The rates they charge are generally no more than the business itself would charge but rarely less.“

You can save money by using a third-party site,” said David Fiorenza, associate professor of economics at the Villanova University School of Business, in an interview with ConsumerAffairs. “There are companies where you can compare many hotels within a city. Consumers have told me they search the pricing on third-party sites first and then call the hotels directly.”

Reviews show some satisfaction with booking sites

An analysis of reviews posted on ConsumerAffairs suggests consumers are generally happy with the services they receive from third-party travel sites. Of seven companies reviewed, none is rated lower than 3.6 out of 5 stars, and four are tied with an overall rating of 3.8 stars. The ratings are based on thousands of verified reviews.

Kayak: 4.0 stars

Booking.com: 3.8 stars

Hotels.com: 3.8 stars

Hotwire: 3.8 stars

Orbitz: 3.8 stars

Expedia: 3.7 stars

Priceline: 3.6 stars

When there is a complaint with one of these sites, it is often because the traveler showed up at the hotel, airline, or rental car company and did not have a reservation as expected. Last month, Laura, of Salem, Ore., said she made a hotel reservation through Booking.com and received a confirmation.

“Called the hotel and was told they did not have any rooms and the reservation was not made,” Laura wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post.

Some consumers complain that when they search for a particular hotel on Google, a travel site pops up instead. Some consumers try to book directly with a hotel so they can use rewards points. However, there are cases when a person unknowingly lands on a third-party site and can’t use those perks.

Some travel sites have their own perks

To get around that issue, some sites now offer their own rewards programs and give users points on any hotel they book. Elias, of New York City, likes the rewards program offered by Hotels.com.

“Their rewards nights program is one of the best guest loyalty programs out there,” Elias recently posted on ConsumerAffairs. “Their customer service is actually another big plus. In the sea of lousy service by travel companies, they actually stand out by answering calls right away AND taking care of any issues.”

That said, there may be advantages to dealing directly with a hotel or airline when you book travel. Some hotels may offer a lower rate if you are sure of your travel plans and take the “non-refundable” rate. There are also fewer opportunities for miscommunication that can spoil a trip.

“Check to see if you can change dates and times with a third-party site,” Fiorenza said. “It is easier to change reservations when dealing directly with a hotel. It is harder to solve issues when a middle person is involved.”

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