After a long, hard winter across the U.S., many people are looking forward to warmer weather—and summer travel. According to an Orbitz.com survey, 88 percent of Americans plan to take a vacation this summer, up 11 percent from last year, with the average traveler planning to spend $2,000 or more. Unsurprisingly, airfare and hotel prices are also up, as much as 6 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
If a summer getaway is on your agenda, doing some online research is a great way to find deals. But is it better to book through a third-party travel website, like Expedia or Orbitz, or directly with the airline, hotel, or car rental agency? Although there’s not always a clear-cut answer, using a variety of online tools can help you find a good value. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method.
Third-party websites: An excellent starting point
No matter your destination, travel websites like Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, and Orbitz make it easy to book flights, hotel stays, and vacation packages. Many of these companies partner with other travel websites to offer a vast selection of deals and packages. (Expedia, for example, is affiliated with more than 7,500 other sites.)
Why use these websites? For most people, the answer is simple:
Convenience. These sites let you research travel options from a number of companies all at once. Just enter your dates and destination to see what’s available and compare prices. Plus, many of these sites offer handy features like price predictors that alert you if the cost of a particular flight drops.
Of course, using these websites as your sole vacation planner can have drawbacks. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:
Canceling or rebooking can be tricky. If your plans change, it may be difficult to get a refund or modify your reservations. Airline tickets booked through third-party sites may be nonrefundable. Be sure to understand the site’s policies before you book.
You may miss out on perks and promotions. Airlines and hotels often offer deals on their websites that aren’t available anywhere else, including third-party sites. You may also sacrifice some frequent flier miles or loyalty points by booking at a third-party site instead of directly through the company.
Seating options are limited. Third-party sites usually can’t guarantee airplane seat assignments, which could be a problem if you’re particular about the aisle or window seat.
Booking directly: Often the safest bet
Though using a third-party website is a great way to explore your options, booking directly allows you to avoid a middleman in the transaction—a valuable benefit if your plans change. Other advantages include:
The most up-to-date information. Besides running specials that aren’t available elsewhere, the companies’ own websites tend to have the most accurate pricing and availability information. Plus, purchasing directly with an airline helps ensure that you receive timely updates on cancellations or delays.
Price matching. Companies like Delta, InterContinental Hotels, and Starwood Hotels offer best-rate guarantees to encourage travelers to shop on their sites. Delta, for example, will make up the difference and throw in a $100 travel voucher if you find a price lower than what’s published on its website.
Third-party websites are a useful place to start your vacation research, and many offer great deals, but booking directly with the airline, hotel, or car rental agency may be your best bet if you want a good value and peace of mind.
Sara Romaine is a financial advisor located at 300 Crown Colony Drive, Quincy MA 02169. She offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. She can be reached at 617-471-6800 or at email@example.com.
© 2014 Commonwealth Financial Network®