It’s that time of year again. You just found out from your boss that your time off is approved and you will be able to make it home for the holidays or your favorite vacation spot.
Naturally, you want the best deal, but choices can be overwhelming with all the different online travel sites that have sprung up in recent years and with each promising the lowest prices. Should you book directly on an airline’s website or buy through a site that lets you compare costs across multiple airlines? These tips from the Federal Trade Commission can help you evaluate your options and avoid unpleasant surprises you didn’t bargain for.
On cost comparison sites, what seem like apples-to-apples comparisons may not be — if baggage or other fees aren’t included. Cost comparison sites can also charge you more than the airline’s fees for services like changing or canceling a flight. When you make a reservation for a flight that is at least a week away, airlines must allow you to cancel for free within the first 24 hours after booking — but you could still be charged if you didn’t book directly with an airline.
To the dismay of many who found out the hard way, having a reservation is not the same as having an actual ticket. Normally, you make your reservation and then the airline issues a ticket. The FTC has heard from consumers who used unfamiliar booking sites and learned at the airport that they did not have a ticket to actually fly. Consumers have also reported that small errors like misspelled passenger names caused huge headaches. Some individuals had to pay fees to fix mistakes — and some even missed flights.
The FTC cautions that if you’re thinking of using an unfamiliar booking site to reserve tickets, first look for reviews and ratings of the site to make sure it’s reputable. You should research the site’s name with words like “complaint,” “review,” or “scam.”
You should also consider fees as you comparison shop, and take change and cancelation policies into account. Don't assume that booking through a cost comparison site will result in the cheapest prices. Check cost comparison and airline sites to find the best overall value, and keep in mind that some airlines only book reservations directly. Confirm that you have a ticket directly with the airline well before the day of your flight and that everything is in order for a hassle-free departure.
If you have a complaint about booking a flight or unfair airfare practices, report it to the Department of Transportation and to the FTC.