Booking travel online is clearly popular, over $750 billion dollars was spent doing so in 2019 alone. But booking travel online should also be simple, however, start the process yourself and you may quickly find the task overwhelming. Worst of all it can be hard to tell if you really are getting a great deal. Checking different websites often reveals different prices and each travel website will have differing policies over the transparency of different fees that may wind up included in the final price. These differences all can add up to make it harder to have an apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to price.
So, with all the different options out there, how can you be sure you are truly getting a steal of a deal? Well, luckily there are some tips we can share that will make booking less stressful and may even save you some money in the process. Don’t be paralyzed from booking your next vacation due to fear of overpaying, or otherwise being hoodwinked, you’ve come to the right place. Below we will compare the eight top online travel agencies (OTAs), looking at the pros and cons of each in detail, all in hopes of helping you find the best option for your own needs. Be sure to stick around afterwards as we will have some tips that will have you booking travel online like a pro in no time. So, without further ado, let’s look at the eight top travel booking websites.
Most people are aware of Tripadvisor thanks to its preeminent position in the travel reviews segment. Because of its leadership in this space, millions of people already use the website to plan what restaurants and attractions to see at their destination. More recently, Tripadvisor has also started to offer its own booking services for flights, hotels and even entire vacation packages. Tripadvisor has also rolled out a new subscription service, which costs $99 dollars annually, and the company claims the cost can be made up in savings provided by the first booking.
The flight booking experience is unique is that the platform also uses its reviews to score each airline and even each route for its users. Tripadvisor will also show Southwest flights and even roundtrip flights with differing carriers for inbound and outbound legs. Because of this you can at times find good deals on Tripadvisor, like a roundtrip flight from New York to Los Angeles for only $109.
Pros of Using TripAdvisor:
- Ability to see other user’s reviews and book trips right on the Tripadvisor platform.
- A wealth of options for booking local attractions that are not always available on other OTA’s websites. For example, this food tour in the Twin Cities.
- Good recommendation system for users who already are active on the platform, as it is based on your own reviews and bookings.
Cons of Using Tripadvisor:
- Not the cheapest or most expensive option on this list. Fees can be obscured until point of purchase.
- Not as robust of a concierge or help desk service as other OTAs if you run into trouble on your trip and are looking for a single point of contact for a resolution.
Kayak is different from other OTAs on this list in that its beginnings actually started as a metasearch engine whose purpose was to compare rates on various rival online travel platforms. This worked by having users input their trip data once into Kayak and then having them pull the information from the disparate sources for the user, though the user would have to go to one of these other OTAs to complete their bookings. Today, Kayak has evolved
to take care of the booking aspect on their own platform, while maintaining the ability to easily compare amongst other websites.
Kayak lets users book and compare rates on flights, hotels, activities, train tickets and even entire vacation packages. One great feature that Kayak has in an explorable timeline called “Price Trends” that shows the fluctuations in price over the coming months for whatever travel you are hoping to book. For example, the lowest priced roundtrip tickets available from New York to Los Angeles on Kayak will cost you $73 dollars in the middle of April and closer to $245 at the peak summer travel season.
Pros of Using Kayak:
- Able to easily compare with other OTAs thanks to Kayak’s metasearch capabilities.
- Good use of visualization tools to illustrate to users when the best times to book a trip and save are.
- Ability to leave your destination blank and explore great travel deals all over the world.
Cons of Using Kayak:
- No typical OTA features like the lowest price guarantee or dedicated help rebooking in unforeseen circumstances.
- A noticeable lack of reviews that other websites featured on this list.
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Expedia is one of the largest and most well-known travel booking websites and, being founded in 1996, it is also one of the oldest such websites still in existence today. Expedia is an almost impossible to miss presence due to its size in the online travel space. This is because Expedia has grown from its days pioneering the travel fare aggregator space and has since subsumed many of its former rivals. In fact, Expedia Group, Inc., Expedia’s parent company, also owns and operates Hotels.com, Orbitz, Travelocity, trivago, and VRBO to name just a few. So even if you think you might be avoiding using Expedia by using another website, chances are you may be using one of its subsidiaries.
One of the best benefits that Expedia offers its dedicated users is the ability to sign up for its free rewards program. By booking through the website and signing up for Expedia rewards you can earn credit that can be used to discount future travel. There are different tiers of rewards that get more generous as the amount of hotel nights or money spent by the user grows. For frequent travelers this program can be an easy way to double up on any miles your airline might be rewarding for with their own frequent flyer programs.
Pros of Using Expedia:
- Often has some of the lowest pricing thanks to its industry leading position.
- The ability to do things like split itineraries between different airlines or look for flexible bookings are welcome and money saving features.
- Expedia Rewards is a free program that offers perks and discounts for the travel you are already booking and taking.
Cons of Using Expedia:
- Expedia recently settled a dispute with United Airlines that had threatened to have the latter’s flights removed from the platform.
- It can be harder to book upgraded seats or hotel rooms when you use an OTA like Expedia’s reward program versus a hotel or airlines own loyalty programs.
Hopper is a part of a new breed of OTAs that functions primarily through a smartphone app. The company is based out of Montreal, Canada and has over 50,000,000+ downloads of their app so far. Hopper is unique in that is promises to keep an eye on your itinerary and book your flight for you to ensure maximum savings. In fact, they claim that they can predict prices of flights with up to 95% accuracy up to a year out. When Hopper notices the best price, it notifies the user so that you can complete your booking and realize the savings yourself.
Pros of Using Hopper:
- Convenient smartphone app with easy-to-understand user interface that allows customers to save and watch the trip they want to book.
- Hopper keeps track of the prices for you and alerts you when your trip has reached its base of affordability.
- You only book and are charged after you are notified and complete the process yourself.
Cons of Using Hopper:
- Less control over the booking process due to Hopper’s unique functionality.
- No options for booking attractions or certain travel arrangements that are common on other OTAs.
Google Flights has gained popularity in recent years as the search giant has reinvested in the online travel information space. Google Flights is different in that it offers the full price with any taxes or fees included upfront without having to click through to the point of purchase. Google Flights also offers helpful infographics that attempt to illustrate if the price is good or not by showing it in one of three categories: low, medium, or high priced. Google will also let you know what the regular price range is for the flight you want to book.
Pros of Using Google Flights:
- The ability to track flights means you can easily keep an eye on a trip you want to take and wait to be notified when the price becomes more affordable.
- Agnostic in terms of airline, meaning you get all possible options, including budget and smaller carriers like Southwest airlines.
- The ability to find and book flights right through Google’s own platform is even easier if you have personal information such as credit card information already stored with the tech giant.
Cons of Using Google Flights:
- Showing the total cost reflected in the price upfront often makes Google Flights offerings at least appear more expensive than its rivals.
- Lack of true concierge service or other OTA features that some may find useful in a pinch.
Orbitz is one of the original online travel agencies with roots that date back to 2001. Orbitz was actually founded by four airlines, Delta Airlines, Continental Airlines, Northwest Airlines and United Airlines, who hoped to use the website to blunt the rise of third-party OTAs such as Expedia or Travelocity. Ironically, it was one of those very OTAs who bought Orbitz when Expedia bought Orbitz in 2015 in hopes of gaining the upper hand in their competition with Priceline.com.
Pros of Using Orbitz:
- Users can get a coupon worth $20 dollars when they refer friends to the platform.
- Orbitz has its own version of Expedia Rewards called Orbucks, which customers can use to save on future flights or hotels.
- Orbitz also offers deals on leisure cruises, which are not a part of every online travel agency’s offerings.
Cons of Using Orbitz:
- Besides cosmetic changes, there is little reason to use Orbitz over other Expedia platforms.
- Some of the best Orbucks perks, like reimbursing the $85 dollar application fee for TSA Pre-check, are hidden behind the rewards programs higher tiers.
Travelocity, thanks to its parent company Expedia Group, Inc., now basically functions as a re-skinned version of Expedia itself. This makes Travelocity’s situation most similar to Orbitz above it on this list. Since the same company owns both websites very little seems to separate the two besides cosmetic differences. This makes sense as there is little incentive to build and maintain the backend structure to have two unique search processes.
Still Travelocity remains one of the most popular travel websites for those looking to book flights, hotels or cars, with over 64 million page views in the United States alone.
Pros of Using Travelocity:
- A solid user interface makes the website easy to navigate.
- Travelocity allows users to build their own vacation packages ad hoc with the addition of things like rental cars and hotel rooms to already purchased flights.
- A “customer first guarantee” that offers the user assistance before, after and during their trip should any issues arise.
Cons of Using Travelocity:
- No real reason to or differentiating factor to use Travelocity over Expedia
- Prices can be more expensive than on other Expedia Group branded websites. For example, a roundtrip flight from New York to Los Angeles will cost $137 dollars on Travelocity when compared to $119 on Expedia itself.
Nomad from Kiwi.com
If you are dreaming of big, multi-legged vacation and you have some flexibility in the order in which you can visit your destinations, Nomad from Kiwi.com is an indispensable tool. This is because Nomad will not only shuffle the order of the destinations for your trip, but the website will even go so far as to mix modes of transit in hopes of finding you the best price. This means that your trip could change from flying from Paris to Rome to London, to a Rome, London and Paris itinerary with a train trip replacing a flight somewhere along the way.
Pros of Using Nomad:
- Nomad will automatically combine disparate modes of travel such as flights, cars and trains.
- No idea of you own? Nomad can create an itinerary for you based on nothing but your current location, like this one leaving from Chicago for a month in Europe.
- In beta currently is Nomad’s “Deals” section, which promises to curate some of the best saving for users within a geographic range of their destination.
Cons of Using Nomad:
- Not an ideal platform for those that have a strict schedule or little flexibility in their travel plans.
- Only currently offers bookings for cars, flights and hotel rooms.
Tips for Booking Travel Online
Now that we are familiar with some of the best online travel agencies, we know where to look to find the best travel prices online. But that only solves one part of the puzzle. Today airlines and hotels will update their prices multiple times a day in response to consumer demand or inquiry, this means there are other important factors to consider when booking your travel online.
For the best possible results and prices, keep the following tips in mind when booking online:
- The best deals can often be found when consumers bundle their flights with hotel rooms, this is an option available on most of the above websites.
- As prices can often fluctuate due to perceived demand, never sign into an account until you are ready to purchase.
- Search for all airports in a city’s region instead of just the most popular ones. Smaller, more remote airports often have cheaper fares.
- Consider flying into a different city nearby your final destination and completing your journey by another mode of transit such as car or train. This is especially useful when leveraging airline’s own hub and spoke system.
- Some budget operators, like Southwest Airlines, will only offer fairs from their own website.
- The old wisdom that Tuesday is the best day to book a flight is no longer true, as the difference in price between all days of the week is about four dollars. Instead of worrying about what day it is, try searching for deals at off-peak hours when there is less competition for cheaper seats and rooms.
Thus, concludes our look at the best online travel websites and tips to ensure you get the lowest price. We hope that you have learned something new about booking online travel and that you enjoyed reading through the process. Thank you!
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