5 Risks of Buying Third-Party Airline Tickets

Posted By Katie on Jun 24, 2014

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Hey there!

I consider myself a fairly savvy traveler, but to save a few bucks, I made a rookie mistake with my airfare over spring break. In the interest of saving you the hassle I experienced, I encourage you to always book your airline travel direct through the airline instead of through a third-party discount website.

The day I pulled the trigger on buying 7 plane tickets, it was $20 cheaper per ticket to buy through Orbitz than to buy direct through Frontier.  So I did it.  But in the long run I ended up spending over $200 in extra baggage fees that I could have avoided by buying directly through Frontier.

Here’s what I learned about the risks of buying third-party airline tickets.  It could be that Frontier’s policies are particularly punitive to fliers who do not buy direct from them, but I still recommend the safety that comes from buying directly from the airline.

5 RISKS of buying 3rd Party Airline Tickets. That cheap fare could end up costing you a lot of unplanned expense and hassle. :( | tipsforfamilytrips.com | travel tips | travel hacks | cheap airfare | family travel |

Economy class is better than the alternative

I spent two hours on the phone with Frontier the night before my flight trying to check in.  I used to think that economy class was the lowest class in airline travel, but I quickly found out that there is an even lower class:  economy class tickets purchased through a third-party website.

Since I didn’t have a Frontier record locator, it took forever to find my record and confirm we were on the flight.  The issues with my flight just continued.  The agent who helped me quickly explained my ticket was marked as a third-party airline ticket, and thus I would incur extra costs for things that even economy class flyers could expect for free.

Hidden fees erase any cost savings

To save money, we wanted to carry on as many bags as possible.  We found out 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 their policy and as of April 28, 2014, economy fare ticket holders must pay $25 to bring a carry-on bag.

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.

third-party airline tickets

Assigned seats are optional

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 $8 per ticket to purchase a seat assignment.

When we finally checked in, we were assigned the last seats left on the plane–7 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.

Tips for finding the BEST price on your airline ticket | tipsforfamilytrips.com | cheap airfare | air travel deals | spring break | family vacations | travel hacks

A Better Way to Buy Airline Tickets

So how do you find the best airfare without spending hours trolling the Internet?  Use a major travel search engine (my personal favorite is Expedia), and when you find a flight you like, go directly to that airline’s website and book directly through the airline.  You will almost always find similar pricing, and if there is a discrepancy, you may still end up saving money in the long run.

You could also call the airline and see if they will price match the lower fare you found online if they are not offering it on their website.

Whatever you do, save yourself the headache and do not purchase third-party airline tickets if you can possibly avoid it.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. Thanks for the tips, Katie! When you’re flying alone, taking risks for a cheap fare can be worth a try, but the stakes are always higher when you’re traveling with your children. Air travel can be unpredictable under the best of circumstances.

    We set up a weekly fare alert on kayak.com months before our recent trip and watched the trends. We bought directly from the airline when prices were lowest, chose our seats and thankfully, experienced minimal complications.

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  2. Sorry that you had this struggle, but thanks for sharing your tips so that others can know better. I had to chuckle when I read about the class lower than economy.

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  3. wow beautiful post. u save my tour. Glad to read, i was about to book from Orbitz, now never ever will think. only will go direct booking. Thanks so much

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  4. OMG we have a flight in the morning through ORBITZ and though we paid/planned weeks ago, the itinerary said “YOUR RESRVATION IS BOOKED AND CONFIRMED. THERE IS NO NEED TO CALL US TO RECONFIRM THIS RESERVATION”. However, today while attempting to check-in online, I had trouble and had to call the airlines directly, and they said WAIT FOR IT…THE 3RD PARTY (ORBITZ) DID NOT ASSIGN US THE SEATS (OR ANY SEATS) WE REQUESTED INITALLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ALL OF THE SEATS ARE TAKEN AND THE FOUR THAT WERE LEFT COST EXTRA…OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG NEVER AGAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    • Oh no! That is terrible. Until these third-party sites get on top of problems like this, they just aren’t worth the risk. I’m so sorry this happened. I hope it all works out!

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  5. americans are hustlers–these sites are geared for hustlers, hucksters, and opportunists. The best thing to do is deal DIRECTLY with the airline. Do NOT deal with these american shyster companies.

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  6. Thank you, We’ve had scares but never had problems. But learned quickly not to do 3rd party either. One travel app I love is hopper. It has a predictive component that tells you if it is a good time to buy or wait. Then you book through the airlines. I’ve used if for about a year and found it very useful. It will send an alert if you want that says buy now.

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  7. Thanks for the tips. I recently bought 2 tickets through a 3rd party, then in the middle of the night (2:00am) they cancelled both of the tickets. When I called, they said that the airline had changed their prices and they would no longer be able to honor the price we bought our tickets at, but they would be able to get us on the same flight for $75 more. I don’t know about you, but that sounds illigal to me, like bait and switch. I will never do that again. I did end up calling the airline and booking through them but had to pay $40 more per ticket. GRRRR!!!

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