Hey there! Are you booking a trip? Wondering if it's safe to book that cheap flight through a third-party website?
If it's a reputable travel website, it may be OK. You'll probably be fine if you read the fine print carefully and nothing goes wrong with the flight.
But if anything goes wrong – and nothing ever goes wrong with flights – you may have to work with the third party's customer service because that's who sold you the ticket. And they don't usually have a desk at the airport.
I consider myself a fairly savvy traveler. I've flown with my five children many times and I was confident about booking a cheap flight for our family from Virginia to South Carolina for Spring Break. But I learned this lesson the hard way…
I bought seven tickets through Orbitz because they were $20 cheaper than buying directly through Frontier. It was $140 savings! But in the end, I spent over $200 in baggage fees and hours dealing with customer service – all of which I would have avoided if I had bought directly from Frontier.
Here's what I learned about the risks of buying third-party airline tickets.
Economy class is better than the alternative
I used to think that economy class was the lowest class in airline travel, but on this flight, I found out that there is an even lower class: Economy class tickets purchased through a third-party website.
I spent two hours on the phone with Frontier trying to check in the night before my flight. Since I didn't have a Frontier record locator, it took forever to find my record and confirm we were on the flight. Then the agent explained that because my ticket was marked as a third-party airline ticket, we would incur extra costs for things that even economy-class flyers could expect for free.
Frontier is already a budget airline, so we felt like the lowest of the low.
Hidden fees erase any savings
To save money, we planned to carry on our bags for free. We found out when we arrived that Frontier allowed passengers who booked tickets directly through Frontier to bring one carry-on for free, but we would be charged $25 each way for each carry-on bag. Frontier has since changed its policy and now charges for all carry-on bags.
Many third-party websites also charge a change fee in addition to the change fee charged by the airline. Orbitz charges $30 per ticket, in addition to the airline change fee, which can be up to $200 for a domestic flight.
If you book a third-party ticket, read the fine print VERY carefully! Watch for hidden fees.
Assigned seats may not stick
Orbitz allowed me to request seat assignments, but when I called Frontier, I was told that my family of seven didn't have seat assignments, and wouldn't get them until we checked in 24 hours before the flight. They offered me the option of paying extra to purchase seat assignments.
When we finally checked in, we were assigned the last seats left on the plane – seven middle seats scattered throughout the plane. If you want to add stress to family travel, consider driving to the airport knowing that your young children don't have seats near you. We arrived early and an agent was able to give us five seats in the very back of the plane, and my husband and oldest daughter had to stick with their middle seats further up. I rode in the back with my four youngest kids.
Customer service is notoriously poor
When I tried to call Orbitz about my check-in issues, after a lengthy wait on hold, I was told to work directly with Frontier anyway. The time I spent trying to reach Orbitz was a waste. Reports of poor customer service from Expedia, Orbitz, and the like abound on the Internet.
Changes to your itinerary can be difficult to resolve
If your travel is disrupted and you call the airline for help, they will likely direct you back to the original source where you booked your ticket. This means instead of working with Frontier to rebook your ticket if a storm, mechanical issue, etc. impacts your flight, you must reach an Orbitz agent and rely on them to sort out your travel issues. No one at the airport is required to help you rebook your travel.
Related: Review of Families Fly Free
What You SHOULD Do…
If you find a great airfare on a third-party travel website:
- Look for that fare on the airline's official website. Book it there if possible.
- If the fare is not on the website, call the airline and ask if they will price match.
If something goes wrong with your flight – and unfortunately, that's somewhat common – the airline agent at the airport can do a lot more to help you if you buy your ticket directly from the airline instead of a third party.
I still think that reputable travel websites like Expedia are a great way to search for flights, hotels, rental cars, activities, and more. And if I see a great hotel deal on Expedia, I'll book it if I can't find the same deal on the hotel's official website.
But flights are different. Stuff goes wrong ALL. THE. TIME.
When you are traveling with a family, you don't need one more thing to worry about. Book directly with the airline every time. You'll usually get a competitive price, and the best customer service available if something goes wrong.
I hope that our experience helps your family plan a great trip! If you have a tip or experience to share, please use the Comments below.