Should You Trust Third-Party Travel Booking Sites?

People Queuing at Airport Security
Getty Images
Travelers who use third-party booking sites to make airline reservations may think they're getting a deal. But if they ever need to cancel or modify the reservation, rebook when a flight is canceled, or deal with any glitches that are even a little bit unusual, they're liable to find a fix time-consuming and costly. Consider these stories:

  • Jennifer Dombrowski booked a vacation to Egypt through Shortly before the trip, they were notified that her husband, active duty in the Air Force, was being deployed to Afghanistan. "I contacted Expedia multiple times and talked to everyone from the customer service call center up to emailing executive level management about changing the dates on our tickets," she said. "Expedia kept pushing me to the airline, Alitalia, saying they couldn't help. Alitalia also wouldn't change the dates, and we lost over $1,000 for the tickets." Dombrowksi booked with Expedia again a year later, only to arrive at the airport and discover her reservation had been canceled.
  • Philip J. Ross, co-founder of Iberian Traveler and Maribel's Guides, says he had clients who booked through a third-party site, only to learn upon arriving at the airport that their reservations had vanished. "They ended up having to paid full fare at the airport and fly business class. It took months for them to get their money back from Expedia (EXPE), and than only happened because one of them was the daughter of a prominent congressman from Hawaii."
  • Jacquie Whitt of Adios Adventure Travel was stranded when traveling on American Airlines (AAL) with tickets booked through Cheapo Air. While taking a group of high school students to Peru, the group was held up when one student with a hyphenated name had a misprint between his ticket and his passport. The American agents wouldn't let him fly. "We spent over two hours struggling and never did connect with anyone at Cheapo Air who could help us," she said, remembering the frustration clearly. "It was a simple mistake that would have been fixed right away if we had booked directly with the airline." Ultimately, the American agent allowed the student to fly, but as a result of the experience, Whitt says, "I do not buy tickets on third-party sites anymore."
Even aggregators like and Momondo aren't safe bets, as they can redirect clients to small, international travel agents that operate without regulatory oversight. Marion Goldberg, the former U.S. representative for Momondo and current principal of GoldbergOnTravel, said aggregators and online travel agencies should be merely a starting point.

"Most airlines offer their best deals directly through their websites and don't publish them anywhere else. So start a search on a site like Momondo, and then go down the rabbit hole through the different small agencies. But when it comes to booking, it should always be done through the airline itself," she said. "If you must use a third-party site to book, only use an online travel agency if it's based in Canada or the U.S. Otherwise, it might not be regulated, and if you run into problems, you don't have any recourse."

"We no longer recommend our clients book any reservations through third-party websites," Ross said, "simply because of the fact that what they are selling may not actually be there."

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Timing Your Spending

How to pay less by changing when you purchase.

View Course »

How to Buy a Car

How to get the best deal and buy a car with confidence.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum