I have used these companies in the past, if the price is right. Have never had any problems until this year. A flight canx from Swiss Air has created some problems. These companies are a middleman between you and the airlines. I have spent some frustrating time and effort to get another flight. I "think" the issue is now resolved. I will probably go directly to airlines from now on, even if it costs more.
In my experience, the airline is usually a good deal. They do not charge a booking fee (United) and when I compare prices, they are at or below Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity.
I typically use Expedia, etc. to find a flight, and then go directly to the airline's website to book. The cost is usually about the same.
I found a nonstop flight from Denver to Heathrow on a British Airways flight for $712 + Fees on Expedia. I went to British Airways website to check prices and got the same exact flight for $681 and no fees. I will never book with the "middleman" again unless I know for sure im getting the better deal! Not a big difference but why pay more for a consolidator ticket when I wont even get the same coverage as I would through the airline itself? i.e. if you buy through a consolidator, and lets say the flight was cancelled because of weather, the airline doesnt have to cover a new booking if it doesnt want to since it was a consolidator ticket, thats why they sell that insurance though Expedia, etc.
Must just be my rotten luck that every time I check directly with the airline, the fee is higher...
I've used consolidators twice now, and fingers crossed, luck has been with me both times. There was a hairy situation with a Northwest flight, but I bypassed the middleman and dealt with NW directly. Since it was their error (a schedule change that had me on a connecting flight that departed before the first flight landed), NW fixed the error. Then they made an error fixing the error, which nearly left us stranded at the ticket counter in Florence. Finally I got everything resolved (and refunded) two months later. And this was all dealing directly with the airline.
When travel is involved, frustration can come from any source.
I always use sites like these to quickly compare fares from different airlines. Then I purchase tickets directly from the airline web site. The price is always really close to the same.
I follow Kalee's strategy as well. The one time I bought air tickets from Orbitz was the one time I changed my tickets; I knew I'd pay a penalty to the carrier, but I did not know (mea culpa) I would also pay a penalty to Orbitz.
Like Liz, I have always found the flights higher in price than Travelocity which I use the most. If there are changes, they send me emails with the changes.
I have always used the airlines' websites to book my tickets since the prices always came out cheaper. However, I recently encountered a situation where I had to combine different airlines to get to my destination and the airlines websites would/could not display/ticket certain routings.
This was for a ticket to India where all the airlines websites were showing connections through Europe only while Orbitz gave me a United flight to Dubai and an onward connection of Emirates/Jet airways. This was not only a better routing, the arrival times were good and the price was cheaper than anything that I could find on UA.
Hence, there will be situations where Orbitz, Expedia etc. will be a better option than the airlines websites.
I'm like DW,
I use a web search for prices, when I find a great price I'll most often book it directly with the airline.