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"Save money by NOT using third parties (like Expedia?)"

I am a budget-conscious ("cheapskate") traveler.

I have heard Rick Steves say numerous times that you can save money by booking airfare and hotel stays directly through those airlines and hotels, versus booking through a third-party site like Expedia. But every single time I sit down and compare, "booking direct" always costs about 40% MORE than an "airfare+hotel package."

For example, I can book a round-trip flight from San Francisco to Paris for about 6 nights, including a stay at a budget hotel I've used before, for about $1,150.00. When I compare that to booking through the airline and hotel directly, it's always more like $1,500 or even more.

It is such a big difference, and such a reliable difference, that I must wonder if I'm doing something wrong, missing something crucial.

Can anyone shed light on this? I am just perplexed at how Rick's advice does not pan out for me in this one instance.

Posted by
20266 posts

Like all things, it depends. I've used and Orbitz for flights hotels and rental cars. I have gotten better routings using Orbitz for flights, but the after sales service with the airline left something to be desired. Seat assignments can be: "Don't bother us, you booked through a third party so you will get the seats we give you when you show up at the check-in desk." I've actually got better prices for rental cars from Orbitz. Small B&B's and guest houses aren't listed on the big booking sites, but bigger hotels all are and probably not much price difference.
All due respect, but Rick is not prescient. The best advice in the world can prove to be wrong in certain circumstances.

Posted by
10344 posts

Travelers have reported here that, if something goes wrong with a booking, especially airfare booking, they generally have a better customer service experience when they direct book, compared to using 3rd parties.
And of course, packages will give you an apparent savings, but compared to what? Apples to apples comparisons are difficult to make. Did you have a full choice of airline arrival/departure times, or of hotel rooms (probably not).
I don't know if you always get what you pay for, but in international travel you don't get what you don't pay for.

Posted by
7049 posts

You're comparing a consolidator that gets savings from scale/volume (they package stuff together and wring discounts from those suppliers by giving them a certain volume of business) versus "stand alone", so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. There are instances where you can get a better deal from the hotel or airline directly - it depends whether they intentionally price their offerings to drive sales directly through their channels/websites (versus giving commission to a consolidator). Some suppliers don't want to be a part of the consolidator game (or having their stuff bundled), they'd rather control their own sales and set pricing on their own using an a la carte model. When you see lower rates from bundles put together by a consolidator, you can bet there is a profit sharing scheme behind the scenes to compensate the suppliers (i.e., hotels, airlines, car rentals) for cooperating in exchange for volume, which Expedia and other consolidators promise to deliver.

Some people have a moral preference for one or another (a la carte OR bundling) - in reality, it just depends and it's worth comparing both options. I think Rick is espousing a moral preference, not a scientific fact. But be aware that when you introduce a third party to a transaction to save money, clear and direct communication (and accountability) is sacrificed between buyer (you) and seller (the hotel, car rental place, airline, etc). Many folks have a very frustrating experience when there is a big problem, and sometimes it may not be worth the cost savings. Most of the time, there are no big problems and that keeps people taking the risk on bundled products sold by third parties in order to save money. But you will have to give up something in order to save, whether it's accountability or choice of offerings or something else.

Posted by
3521 posts

"Can save money" not "Will save money". That one word makes lot of difference. :-)

One thing booking directly does is give you more flexibility. The bundled packages sold by most online companies can have inconvenient flight schedules and routing with extra stops and the rooms you get when booked that way are never the better ones at the hotels. In other words, the things they have difficulty selling through normal channels. When you book directly, you can choose the flight times you want and the room options you want without being assigned something that is for their convenience.

One option to try to save money with hotels is to offer to pay cash. Many smaller hotels in Europe do give a good discount for cash. But you have to talk to someone at the hotel to work this out. Not by booking through a web site but actually calling or emailing the hotel. They will most likely still require a credit card to guarantee the room, but that varies as well.

Even if it costs me a few dollars more, I will still continue to book directly with the airlines and hotels. If there are any issues with the reservations they can't point at the third party booking agent and say it is their fault.

Posted by
2768 posts

Yes, third party booking is sonetimes cheaper. Often because you get weird flight times, no seat choice, and hotel rooms that aren't selling. Maybe not a hotel you'd choose otherwise, or maybe just happenstance. I got a great deal in Florida once because shortly before I booked thru Expedia a large party (maybe a business or conference?) had cancelled. Lots of rooms suddenly available.

BUT I refuse to use third party for airfare or rental cars. Too many horror stories about disputes not being resolved, poor servuce, etc. I do use it for hotels, carefully making sure the hotel is what/where I want.

Posted by
9 posts


Thank you for your helpful replies.

I know the Mighty Rick Steves is not perfect, and I don't expect him or his advice to be infallible. But as an avid user of his books, website and videos, I know that when he makes a point to advocate for one method or another, there is usually a reason for it. Even when there are exceptions, I can usually understand the reason for the "rule," and decide confidently for myself, armed with the knowledge. This one, however, seems to just be incorrect. Having spot-checked with different airlines, third-party sites and times of the year, I just don't see the price advantage I understood him to espouse.

Convenience advantage? Yes. Variety? Check. The moral advantage of not buying through a quasi-oppressive consolidator service? Sure, I see that. But price? Not seeing the truth of it.

I am glad for the warnings about customer service and travel glitches being more-smoothly resolved when booking directly. That, I totally get (although I am mindful that it is not an absolute saving grace, either). And anyone with an eye on Paris would be a fool to think that a labor strike can't pop up and complicate a trip, no matter how careful the buyer is personally.

But I have been lucky, I guess. I have booked two trips thru third-party sites, and I am careful to have all my ducks in a row and my backside at the airport on-time with a simple carry-on bag, ready to go.

When the difference in price is nearly half the overall cost of a trip, it means the difference between going this year, going next year, or maybe not at all. I guess I'll have to mark this advice as just plain incorrect, which is very unusual for one of the most conscientious and knowledgeable (but still-human) travel entities out there.

I will keep an eye out for more posts on this topic, in the hopes of resolving this apparent disconnect. Thanks again to all.

Posted by
16894 posts

Tom, $1150 certainly sounds like a good deal. (For most of the travel season, we can rarely get just airfare for that price from Seattle.) Would you mind sharing which Paris hotel you use in this example? I'm just curious.

Posted by
1223 posts

Part of the fun of booking a big trip for me is to research flights, hotels, restaurants, transportation and attractions and finding the best possible deal whenever possible.

I would prefer to book direct whenever possible. However, that will not deter me from using a website like Expedia. On our last trip to Italy, we found our flights via Kayak which directed us to book via Expedia. When i tried to book the same flights directly with Alaska Air and British Airways, I could not do it. And 2 of our 3 hotels were cheaper and had better currency exchange rates using Expedia than using the hotel website.

I had one issue years ago when i booked a stay at a Ramada in New York using Our flight came in at 1 am and Ramada had given away our room and tried to sell us another room at a higher rate. Things eventually got straightened out.

What i do now when I use a third party booking website is to make sure i establish email communication directly with the hotel to confirm the booking. Plus I email or phone a day ahead to make sure the booking is confirmed and to let them know if i may arrive late or early.

In the case of our recent trip, once I booked our flights via Expedia, i went and confirmed the bookings on the Alaska and British Air sites.

I think millions of people use these websites and for the most part there are no issues.

Posted by
9 posts

Hi Laura,

Sure thing!

I refer to the "Hotel Paris Liege," in the 10th arrondissement, mere steps from the Gare du Nord. Expedia shows a mid-March 2016 trip for $1,068. Tempting! Via non-stop flight on AirFrance coming and going. Holy cats.

Their website here:!/splash

Not perfect, but pretty darn good in my opinion, especially for the price.

And Laura, if you can shed any light on my apparent discrepancy, I would love to know what I'm missing, if anything. Thanks. :)

Posted by
9 posts

To funpig,

I agree, the shopping is (nearly) half the fun, and whets my appetite mightily for the big travel meal to come!

You sound like a savvy shopper, I bet you get a lot out of your trips with that mindset.

Au revoir!

Posted by
19118 posts

I've found that you can save even more by staying in really nice, small, family run Pensions and Gasthäuser. Places like this are not likely to be found on a booking website like Expedia or Booking, and those that are are more expensive. You have to go through the town website.

Posted by
3211 posts

I book BA flights directly with the airline, not because it is less expensive, but because I have my favorite flight. It would be less expensive through cheap, which I have used in the past for other destinations with no issues. However, now I book flights with the airline. I've always used,, venere or expedia with no issues and getting a less expensive price than published by the hotel. I do not confirm my reservation either. Rather than panicking due to a lost reservation 2 days before my trip, I like to show up with my paperwork and have them tell me I don't have a reservation and try to get this gray-haired woman out of their lobby! So my vote is that it is less expensive on the broker sites than direct.

Posted by
19118 posts

"... getting a less expensive price than published by the hotel"

The only time (out of 10) that I've ever paid more for a room booked directly with the hotel vs with a booking website, it was 1€ more! Seven times I've paid the same or less (2€, once). But twice when I booked a package offered by the hotel, but not shown for that hotel on any booking websites, I saved an average of over 20%.

But the real difference is booking directly with properties shown on town websites, but not offered on any booking website. I've stayed in such places 21 times out of 31 in the last eight years and saved a third vs the best alternative I could find on a booking website.

Posted by
1221 posts

If a problem comes up with a flight, and something is cancelled, flyers are automatically rebooked based on algorithms that take into account status level and fare type. So if you are paying full fare first class, or you are a platinum or gold, you are getting rebooked first over someone with no status with a promotional fare in economy class.

That's if you're passive enough to wait for the airline initiate the rebooking and aren't proactive. As a veteran of the Atlanta ground stop recovery process, if it looks like my flight or connection is decidedly going wrong, I'm finding an available and lightly used gate agent or ticket agent and very politely and cheerfully saying that the rest of my flying day is about to go hella pear-shaped and could we see what other options there are to get me to my final destination not too much later? I can be no status and traveling on an award ticket (really east to pick up miles on non-flight activities with some airlines like United) and effectively line jump over a couple hundred people who are passively waiting for the auto rebooking feature to kick in.

And booking direct with the airline is more likely to get you a GA who can make those changes.

Also some complex routings essentially can't rebooked automatically and have to be done by fourth level customer service ninja who can force changes in fare class and open up partner airline inventory in order to get you to your final destination within a week of your original departure. I've seen it where people on an international ticket were given priority over anyone else in rebooking because they knew planes were already full before the ground stop hit, and they knew the only way they could make it work was to find someone with the permissions to get creative in the system and manually go to work.

I know Delta has ninjas who can change my ticket from deep discount economy to full fare economy (if you're IRROPS because of mechanical problems, they can even change a deep discount economy ticket to business elite/first class if those are the only seats left) and rebook me on a route that involves a different airline and a connection in a different country than my original route. They have done this for me. It seems like this is beyond the scope of the third party online travel agencies, so I'm willing to pay a modest amount more for better service recovery when things have gone pear-shaped. Yet again.

Posted by
20266 posts

And Delta just announced they're laying off a bunch of those ninjas. "Not productive" ie. They cost money doing all these wonderful things for customers.

Posted by
2754 posts

A couple years back we had a stupid booking from Expedia to go Philadelphia to Budapest connecting in Boston and Zurich, returning from Kraków through Munich and Dulles, basically because we didn't yet know better and were not working direct. Anyway, on flight day there were storms up and down the east coast, and by midday I could see the actual plane we would be on to Boston was way behind schedule. This was on USAir, which happens to have a direct Philly to Zurich flight (like I said, a stupid booking), and still had a couple of seats. So immediately on arrival at the airport, after going through security, we went to an empty USAir desk and showed them the problem. Problem understood, that we would be in Boston overnight, and switched on to their Philly-Zurich flight (with a great big thank you from her when she asked for our bag claims, and we pointed to our stuff on our backs!)

Posted by
6 posts

Third party booking is generally cheaper, though not a 100% of the time. However, the service that you get while booking while booking direct through the airline website is far superior.
You could deal with long layovers, multiple connections and bad customer service when you flight is delayed / missed.
When you find the cheapest fare on Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak etc. you can check out the corresponding airline website to see if the price is same and book that airline. It has happened to me several times. For example, I used Kayak to search for a flight to Australia and saw that Air New Zealand had the cheapest flight. I went to the Air New Zealand website and saw that the price was the same, so I booked through Air New Zealand.

Posted by
1221 posts

The three closest commercial airports to me are all quite small and the third party sites are not generally falling over themselves to provide cut rate deals out of VPS, so the Expedias of the world aren't generally going to offer me a screaming deal.

I like Hipmunk and its 'agony index' and that it's a click through site where you end up booking directly with the airline in the end, complete with the airline granting frequent flyer miles for the flight and providing IRROPS services directly. I just wish it didn't seem to have intermittent problems displaying Sky Team alliance airlines since Delta has 2/3rds of the flights out of my closest airport.

Posted by
2916 posts

After many years of European travel, this is what I now do: For airline tickets, I now always book direct, often after checking fares and flights on Hipmunk. For hotels, I sometimes book direct and sometimes through, depending on rates and ease of reserving. For car rentals, I usually book through AutoEurope or Kemwel, but occasionally have booked directly though Europcar.

Posted by
19118 posts

"I sometimes book direct"

The important thing is not booking direct, but finding bookings that are not listed on a booking website. I think the booking websites have contracts with the properties that prevent the properties from offering the same room for less if booked direct. However, there are some "tricks" that the properties employ to save you money be booking directly. Sometimes, the property only offers their most expensive rooms on the booking website, but has less expensive rooms (maybe without balcony, maybe smaller) on it's site. Othertimes, the property might offer a package deal, not offered by the booking website, possible including meals or entrance to attractions, that if you consider the extra at full price makes the room less expensive than on the booking website.

But for the most part, I have found that if you can find a property in the same town (eg on the town's website) that does not use the booking website, it will be less expensive than those listed on the booking website.