travel sites versus airline's sites directly
June 7, 2006 4:10 PM   Subscribe

Why would I consistently get a better price bypassing the big travel sites (Priceline, travelocity, expedia...) and getting my tickets straight from the airline?

Doing research on 2 round-trip airline tickets from MSP (Minneapolis/St Paul) to AVP (Scranton/WIlkes-Barre). I tried all the big travel sites and it seems not one of them is any better on price or schedule on non-refundable tickets than if I go to the airline's sites directly and get a quote.

Each time the airline directly was $30-$70 cheaper per ticket for the same trip. And that is including all the taxes.

Also, the travel sites are wildly inconsistant on price (among each other and day-to-day), whereas the airlines seem very consistant.

My schedule is flexible in that I can take my trip (depart Thursday evening and return the next Monday morning) any week this summer, but I'm inflexible on the time of days (has to be departing Thursday evening and returning Monday morning).

Of course I want to get the best deal, but am I missing something? How is it that the big travel sites get anybody to use them if one can bypass them and get a better rate?

Bonus points: Can anyone point me to a site that actually offers tickets below the airline price? Or consistantly has competitive rates?
posted by sandra_s to Travel & Transportation (14 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
No guarantees but Sidestep and Kayak are websites for great air fares. I purchase most of my tickets through Sidestep.
posted by junesix at 4:31 PM on June 7, 2006

The big travel sites can charge more because they supposed do all the legwork for you. They're banking on people not knowing about Kayak, which will search the Airlines' web fares and all the big travel sites for you.
posted by zsazsa at 4:32 PM on June 7, 2006

Kayak seems to be a fairly consistant bisection of travel sites - supposedly skimming from all of them.

As for why the carriers are cheaper than travel sites: who do you think supplies the travel sites with tickets to sell?

In my experience it's been very much the same. The gimmic is that you can see many airlines so it seems you are getting a good deal. It's a heck of a lot more legwork to check 10 airlines individually, but usually pays off.
posted by jimmy0x52 at 4:33 PM on June 7, 2006

Usually after you know who has the cheapest tickets, it is pretty easy to double-check that they aren't selling them even cheaper on their web site (they frequently are).
posted by grouse at 4:41 PM on June 7, 2006

wow, i almost posted this exact question yesterday. i'm interested to see what people say. i was using three ticket services: expedia, cheaptickets, and travelocity, and between the three of them, travelocity was consistently cheaper than the others. that said, grouse's point is a good one- find the best deal on travelocity, then see if the airline is selling it cheaper.
posted by purplefiber at 4:57 PM on June 7, 2006

IIRC Travelocity also is used by Yahoo travel which I find particularly helpful because I can keep a list of upcoming trips via My Yahoo and look to see what the lowest prices are on a slew of trips. Usually these involve awkward dates or other stuff, but it's a good baseline to start from when you're looking for tickets elsewhere. I find that Kayak is a great site, but sometimes results change, like I've been able to find cheaper tickets ten days before my trip than I was able to find 14 days before. Also, Priceline used in combination with biddingfortravel has found me some cheap tickets [and rental cars] when I had more flexible dates.

I buy a lot of tickets and a lot of figuring out what's cheap is knowing which airlines have hubs near where you're going (Continental is rarely cheap for me, but flying into Houston they were great) and what the window is for flying more cheaply as well as rules like "saturday stay" etc etc.
posted by jessamyn at 5:14 PM on June 7, 2006

Let me mention something that might level the playing field when buying a ticket:

This site is awesome. I can't wait until it's available for more that just Boston and Seattle. It predicts when it is the best time to buy a ticket.
posted by hokie409 at 6:07 PM on June 7, 2006

I find this strange, it is the opposite whenever I fly internationally.

Straight from the airline (back then, not checked now) ticket from Tokyo to Auckland was 180,000yen, travel agents were 80,000 yen.

I could never work out why the travel agent were always so cheap compared to the airlines.
posted by lundman at 7:04 PM on June 7, 2006

I just bought aticket using Orbitz via Sidestep searches a bunch of sites. It was as cheap as the airline had listed. The airline didn't show the taxes and fees, so it looked cheaper, but was not.
posted by theora55 at 7:05 PM on June 7, 2006

Last year I wanted to book a ticket about 1 week before the flight. I tried 2 of the major services and both went through the nasty two step:
1) I would identify flight/routes that they listed at about 1/3 the price of the most expensive option.

2) I would try to book one of those flights and somehow the price would magically double just before it was time to give my credit card info.
Going through the above identified airline sites gave me tickets as cheap or cheaper than the cheap fairs quoted by the services before they doubled.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:16 PM on June 7, 2006

Nothing to add except a thank you for the link to Kayak. I'd never seen it before. Great site!
posted by drstein at 9:15 PM on June 7, 2006

lundman - Travel agents were probably pulling consolidator fares, which are often super restricted or non-mile earning fares.

Nothing else to add here, but ITA Software's Trip Planner is extremely powerful once you learn how to use it.
posted by nathan_teske at 11:37 PM on June 7, 2006

Note that Kayak searches exclude Southwest.
(Complete list of airlines)
posted by Rash at 11:35 AM on June 8, 2006

Only Southwest includes Southwest
posted by jimmy0x52 at 3:28 PM on June 8, 2006

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