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Here's why I book my tickets directly with the airline and not Priceline or anyone else...

We had a medical/family emergency up here last week and that, as always, required last minute ticket purchases and last minute plan changes. One family member had purchased Spring Break tickets through Priceline for a few days later and merely needed to come back to Seattle 3 days earlier due to the medical emergency. Priceline was unyielding when I spoke with them. They claimed they dp could nothing, even with proof of an emergency of the most indisputable kind. Priceline said I had to deal with United but did offer to sell me a new one way ticket for the next flight for $1300 and could not prevent cancellation of the already-exisiting return flight back east. When I asked to talk to a manager, they refused my first 4 requests, finally agreed, put me on hold for 25 minutes and never came back, at which point I gave up and left for the hospital.

I next called United, who said they were sorry but they could not help me as the ticket had been purchased through a "travel agent" and I needed to deal with them. United offered to sell me a ticket on the next flight for $1100.

In the end, we used 30,000 Alaska miles to bring this person home on the next flight.

These were not tickets I purchased - I never even use Priceline or any other site for purchasing. By comparison, my partner and I had to cancel our trip to Hawaii due to this emergency. I bought our tickets from Hawaiian, using mileage and paid cash for a seat upgrade. I called Hawaiian, explained the situation and the agent helped me rebook the flights. Since we put the trip off for a bit, I was able to choose days at the same mileage award level and so used no additional miles. Hawaiian honored/transferred our paid seat upgrades to the new flight.

They did charge us $100 each for a change fee but the agent emailed me a form to fill out and said that he was pretty sure Hawaiian would credit it back. I filled out the form the best I could but could not offer a medical note or anything as there was NO WAY I was going to nose around at the hospital seeking proof. Instead I gave them a link to the blog site that was detailing the crisis.

Two days later, Hawaiian refunded our $200 change fee, along with a kind note.

I'm amazed at how many of my family members and friends still use Priceline and the like, given how vehemently I warn against them. I'm putting this recent story out there in hopes of convincing a few more people.

Posted by
1809 posts

What people don't realize is that the TA "controls" the reservation not the airline. Now on Delta after the first flight Delta took over the reservation.

The only time I use a TA is on business travel. But that's an entirely different animal and they are actually good at getting things we can't sometimes!

Posted by
6367 posts

Carol, when you say TA are you referring to a travel agent? If so, I'm not sure you should be warning people not to use a travel agent. Travel agents are very helpful with situations like this. Booking sites, such as Priceline, Kayak, Expedia, etc etc etc are not the same as travel agents. Those I will warn people to avoid and book with the airlines (or a good travel agent).

Posted by
4728 posts

I think she means Trip Advisor. Didn't they buy Priceline?

Posted by
6367 posts

Jane, you're probably right. I didn't think of that and didn't know that Trip Adviser bought Priceline. I never use either, so I haven't paid that much attention.

Posted by
1985 posts

Hmmm...maybe I do mean Tripadvisor but the emailed confirmation and stuff all said Priceline and when I called they answered with Priceline.

Posted by
1985 posts

We've got two kids in college in DC between us and so we've done a few of these last minute purchases with Alaska. I love Alaska airlines for this - I can buy one day out with miles and it's often 20K miles. The MOST they ever ask is 30K miles - and that's if I'm picky about airports - like I really need Reagan instead of Baltimore. Alaska comes in quite handy for this kind of stuff and we keep miles just for these issues.

Posted by
1426 posts

This is good information and should be heeded by all.

But... never say "never."

If you can get a lower fare via Priceline or somewhere else, you should understand the risk and decide if you're prepared to accept it. Same with buying anything non-refundable or with a penalty for change or cancellation.

Also, many credit cards provide travel insurance (up to a certain limit) automatically, and this could mitigate the risk.

Posted by
10260 posts

You can't tell the players without a scorecard. Here are the brands that belong to parent companies:

Expedia owns: Hotels.com, Hotwire, Orbitz, Trivago, Travelocity and more

Tripadvisor owns: Airfarewatchdog, Citymaps, Cruisecritic, Gateguru,, Independent Traveler, Seatguru and SmarterTravel among others.

Priceline owns: Booking.com, Kayak, Agoda and OpenTable

Posted by
12819 posts

Every time I have looked at the supercheap fares there has been some reason not to do it. Usually impossible 30 minute layovers in places like Chucky D or 4 flights over 40 hours for a two stop trip that should be done in 15 hours. Just never seemed to be worth the risk. I had a smiliar problem with Orbitz about 12 years ago. Last time I used them. .

Posted by
327 posts

Just to further clarify what Frank II said above, TripAdvisor, Inc., through its subsidiaries, manages and operates websites under 23 other travel media brands.

It can be confusing with so many online travel brands out there, but there are differences between experienced travel agents, travel consultants, and travel specialists who have relationships and book travel directly with suppliers (including airlines) on behalf of consumers (and can assist those consumers in emergencies).

If you book directly with an airline, a hotel, or a car rental company, then you do the "leg-work" if you need to make changes in an emergency, rather than the agent, consultant, or specialist doing that on your behalf.

On the other hand, if you as a consumer choose to use online travel booking technology for discounts, convenience, or whatever reason, it's a good idea to know their change and cancellation policies prior to booking.

Posted by
267 posts

I've never found Priceline or other third-parties to give me a better price than the individual airline's site. I always go directly to the airline site to book. I'd prefer to work with the airline directly if there is a problem.

I received excellent customer service in December when I had to make an emergency trip due to a parent health issue. I did not ask for anything special...only stated why I needed to fly ASAP and why I was not communicating very well! Because of the medical emergency, I was offered a special fare which included an open-ended return trip date. That gave me peace of mind...I could stay as long as I needed. As it happened, changing the return date resulted in a less expensive fare.

Posted by
7205 posts

If you book nonrefundable no-change fares from directly from the airlines then they're still non-refundable and not changeable even if you have a medical emergency. Buy it Priceline or Airlines - doesn't matter. I just flew Knoxville, TN to London roundtrip for $450 on spring break from Priceline. They offered me travel insurance which I declined...but by doing so I understand that if I back out for any reason then I lose my money.

If you want the options to back out and change your mind then either book flexible fares or purchase travel insurance. It's pretty simple.

Posted by
1985 posts

@Tim - It's not quite that simple. Many airlines have emergency travel policies. Here's Hawaiian's: http://hawaiianair.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2656/~/north-america-and-international-emergency-travel

And while, when I buy a nonrefundable ticket, I know I might take a loss if I change things, I appreciate that, sometimes, someone will break with a written policy just to be kind or helpful or sympathetic. I run a business and some of my fee agreements say that our fees are nonrefundable. But that does not mean that, upon hearing a particular story from a client, I will always refuse to refund money. I listen and try to make a humane and thoughtful decision. I am always appreciative of companies that operate similarly.

Through extraordinarily bad luck this year, I've cancelled two other trips this year...Southwest and Virgin. (Don't even ask - it's been quite a year). But those were just typical life events. Southwest gave me a credit because that's their policy. I ate the Virgin cost. And I didn't ask anyone at all for a refund or an accommodation.

Posted by
1809 posts

TA. Travel Agent.
Expedia, orbitz, Bubba Gump travel etc.

And yes I'm warning people not to use them. There are very few good ones left. Most of them got out of the business years ago.

If you have a good personal TA with 24/7 coverage go for it. Otherwise book direct. (Sorry a TA who only works 9-5 or like a few of my friends do this as a hobby after their day job is not going to be much help when it's 2 am in your home town and Delta just cancelled your flight home)

Posted by
1276 posts

(i offer this advice beacuse of several years of working for a hospital & also a hospice house) Valerie, et al, regarding documentation from the treating physician: hospitals are accustumed to this because of having to help people apply for Family Medical Leave (act). Most hospitals have an internal form that they fill out. This is usually done by a nurse or administrator who works w the physician . this is one of those things that is a little easier to get done in the 9-5 Monday thru friday staffing , but not impossible in the off hours....a couple of times i have been the employee at 3am trying to get a signature on one of those forms for a family

Posted by
6766 posts

I'm not sure the comparison to Hawaiian is a true apples-to-apples comparison because, in that case, you purchased the ticket (largely) with miles, as opposed to cash. I think airlines would have more leeway when it comes to miles - I don't know for sure but I bet it's all in the small print.

I think the point is..if you use a third party, just be sure you are aware that you may be giving up something really important to you. You have to read the rules of each contract (people don't bother to do this, they just believe that a third party will act exactly as they hope). Know the difference between your protections when buying directly form the source vs. a third party. Every third party site I used offers insurance precisely to mitigate risk. But I guess most folks (myself included) just don't take it. Everyone has the right to do their own risk/reward analysis. I would never say unilaterally that third party sites are bad - but, yes, "buyer beware". For I don't know how many years I purchased tickets through Orbitz and Hotwire.com and I honestly never had an issue. I am much more careful now, but sometimes third party sites are worthwhile for a particular person at a particular time, it's not always cut and dry. I'm staying at a nice Hilton right now in Fort Worth that I got through Hotwire.com - regular price was $152-$179 and I got it for $93. That is a huge price differential...and no, they don't treat people who buy through Hotwire.com any differently. I was able to make a special request and they honored it. Obviously airfares are a higher risk buy because they cost much more and it also costs much more to get out of an unfortunate (or unanticipated) situation.

Posted by
2505 posts

I think it's pretty simple: when you buy non refundable tickets you either self insure, which means you are willing to eat the total cost if you have to cancel, or you buy travel insurance. Very few people cancel on a whim- there is almost always a good reason. But there is travel insurance, and you can buy it quite easily on insuremytrip.com. Medical emergencies happen, and are unpredictable. To hope that you'll get a sympathetic ear from an airline or third party consolidator is pure folly. Yes, it can happen, but it's the exception. Moral of the story: if you can't afford or stomach the loss, buy insurance. Otherwise you'll be pleading like the guy who kills his parents and begs mercy from the judge because he's an orphan!

Posted by
1721 posts

[Donning self-appointed devil's advocate hat]

I've had a couple of incidents where hotel rooms booked through Expedia or Booking were not as advertised/agreed upon and talking to the front desk didn't fix the problem but calling the agency did get results, and pretty quickly too.

So, in cases like those related in this discussion thread where circumstances are the source of trouble the middle man may not be your ally, but in cases where the provider is the source of trouble then the middle man might indeed be your ally.

I thought I had heard from someone -- maybe here on the RS boards -- that hotels that enter into agreements with the big web agencies like Expedia are actually required to prioritize the clients that come through the agency over those that don't for certain privileges. That's part of the problem leading to customer loyalty not counting for as much as it used to, maybe.

Posted by
1809 posts

I am willing to use travel agencies (including online) for hotels. The "rules" are different and to be honest, the risk is lower. But for airfare... I would have to be getting a great deal and honestly, I have rarely seen the "great deal". It's generally the same price on the airline website.

Posted by
10260 posts

Avirosemail....no, clients of the online travel agencies like Expedia do not get privileges above everyone else. In fact, just the opposite.

I've had discussions about online agenices with hotel employees. Unanimously, they have confirmed:

--any changes needed to be made have to go through the online agency. There is little the hotel can do. EVen if you wanted to extend a stay, they couldn't without checking with the agency. What most do is a separate reservation direct so you don't have to deal with the agency.
--if you are hoping to get frequent stay points you won't get them, in most cases, when booking an online agency
--if a hotel should overbook, the first customers to get "walked"--sent to another hotel--are bookings from Expedia and the like.
--most hotels stated that if a customer called directly and told them the Expedia price, the hotel would probably match it.
--they have more problems with reservations from Expedia because they are usually made as "run of house" rooms meaning anything that is available. You might think you are getting a non-smoking king but may wind up with a smoking twin.

These are not every case, but more often than not. When you check in, you'll be treated as any other customer. And as long as there are no problems, you won't know the difference.

One last thing, I'm the highest level rewards guest in one hotel chain. I asked if I walked into a hotel and needed a room, and the hotel was sold out, would they bump someone from an online agency like Expedia. The answer was yes. I am a loyal customer. The Expedia guest isn't.

Posted by
2349 posts

I believe Frank II's post about ownership of websites should be a sticky. But who would maintain it and keep up with changes??

Last night I'd booked directly with a hotel in Chicago for 2 rooms in June. I had a hotel preference, but had looked around the interweb for others before I booked, so I was pretty familiar with hotels and pricing. Just now I went on 3 booking sites to see how they compared.

Hotwire- Does not show hotels until you book, and unrefundable. I ran away, fast.

Priceline- Showed my hotel, at the exact same price that I'd gotten direct.

Expedia- Has a "sale" on my hotel. One room was $11 cheaper, and the other was $19 less. They list a higher base price, so that the sale appears to be $45 less for each room. Must be using Kohl's sale philosophy. Anyway, it's refundable, so had I looked there first, I might have booked it. I'm not sure that I will go through the hassle of cancelling and rebooking.

Even though I would have saved $30 by booking through Expedia (this time) I doubt that I'll become a user of OTA's. I find it rather raises my stress levels. Having to quadruple check the terms, worry that somehow I've switched off the hotel I wanted onto another, wonder if there will be miscommunication, etc. I guess that's my form of self insurance.

Sorry, Valerie, to hijack your thread about flights.

Posted by
2916 posts

Must be using Kohl's sale philosophy.

Not just Kohl's; all the big department store chains. The "regular price" is a joke.
As to 3rd party booking, I never use it for flights, but go direct to the airline. On the other hand, I frequently use Booking.com for hotels in France and in Canada, and have never had a problem. Likewise, never a problem with AutoEurope/Kemwel for cars.

Posted by
2353 posts

I recently had a very surprising experience with Expedia. My brother purchased 2 rooms for 5 nights at the Atlantis hotel through them. Due to a major storm his flights were changed arriving one day late and leaving one day late. Expedia dropped the ball the first day they and did not contact Atlantis. I was told by Expedia to inform the hotel that they were arriving late and would not be a no show and that we were waiting for the Atlantis to approve the change in the reservation and waive the fee. When I called the clerk at the Atlantis said fine - she would just check them in before they arrived. Well because of that the QA dept at Atlantis said they could not move the dates and waive the fee because then technically their room was not available to sell for the night they would miss. Well Expedia stepped up and refunded $1000 to my brother to cover the cost of the two rooms for the additional night. He had trip insurance which would have covered as well but I was impressed with Expedia's handling of the situation.

Read the fine print and if you can't afford the restrictions - buy insurance.

FWIW: Trip insurance will also cover if the medical emergency is for a family member who is not traveling.

Posted by
308 posts

We recently had a family emergency and with the help of a doctor's note, got a full refund back from Allegiant for all 4 of our plane tickets. We did not buy any trip insurance but we did book directly with the airline. We couldn't believe it!