Even under the most idyllic of circumstances, planning a trip can be a bit of an undertaking. To start, there’s the matter of figuring out exactly where to go, booking your airfare, finding accommodations and then, of course, not least of all, figuring out how to pay for it all. It’s stressful enough to make you wonder if all that rest and relaxation on the other end is even worth it.
To make things moderately easier, you’ve likely — on at least one occasion — turned to an online travel agency (OTA). For the uninitiated, OTAs are different from aggregators (though you’ll also find a few of the latter listed here, too). While aggregators are effectively search engines that populate data from other sites — OTAs included — OTAs serve as a sort of middleman between hotels, airlines and consumers and they often yield some pretty good deals. Aggregators can be a good resource, too, but they also have a tendency to pull some sketchier results and potential travel-related scams.
That said, we went ahead and compared some of the more popular OTAs and aggregators — most of which you’ll probably recognize — side by side. Below, the seven best out there, what they’re used for and, also, what they’re maybe not the best for.
Expedia is a full-service, OTA owned and operated by Expedia Group. Expedia aims to help travelers book trips by offering a wide range of vacation packages, flights, hotels, vacation rentals, cruises, activities, attractions and services at the best value.
Pros: For starters, Expedia actually has its own built-in, tiered point system — which is arguably the biggest downside to using OTAs as opposed to a hotel or airline site directly. (Other OTAs typically do not have this feature.) It’s free to join and you earn points on all eligible bookings, as well as double points through the app. Further, Silver members earn two points for every $1 spent on eligible bookings, whereas Gold members earn three points for every $1. Expedia also allows you to pay for a vacation in monthly installments.
Cons: Not all bookings are refundable and outside of the first 24 hours after booking, you’re likely to encounter some cancellation fees. You’re not guaranteed the best deals every time — a lot of times prices are just average. And, like with all other OTAs, the likelihood of getting an upgrade of any kind is exponentially less.
Booking.com is a Dutch OTA, and part of Booking Holdings Inc. — a leader in online travel and related services. It is, per its website, a marketplace which enables properties around the world to reach a global audience and grow their businesses and where you can book experiences, a variety of transportation options and over 6.2 million homes, apartments and other unique places to stay.
Pros: Booking.com is good for weighing flight options, as it generates lots of results and separates them into three categories — best, cheapest and fastest. It’s very easy to browse, and simple to find business-travel accommodations (there’s literally a box you can check). OpenTable is a part of the same parent company, so you can make dinner reservations through OpenTable, by way of Booking.com. Furthermore, there is a price match guarantee; and not all properties on Booking.com require a deposit ahead of your stay. The Genius loyalty program is free to join and offers discounted stays, among other benefits.
Cons: Because Booking.com and Priceline (below) are also owned by the same parent company, results are almost always identical. You are also less likely to receive an upgrade of any kind, and you can’t earn points through hotels. In addition, it doesn’t always cater to the private renter as much as it purports to do.
Kayak is a metasearch engine for travel deals, or an aggregator, also owned and operated by Booking Holdings Inc. According to its website, Kayak searches hundreds of other travel sites simultaneously to find the information you need “to make the right decisions on flights, hotels and rental cars.”
Pros: Like Booking.com, Kayak, too, generates lots of flight options and separates them by best, cheapest and fastest. You can set up alerts to track prices over time. They also have an in-house guide to travel restrictions by country, and the Kayak trip planner is a great resource for staying organized.
Cons: Kayak relies heavily on third party booking sites, and lowest prices are not guaranteed. It’s only a search engine, so there is no reward system. And you can’t book directly through Kayak.
As previously mentioned, Priceline is also part of Booking Holdings Inc. It’s an OTA used for finding discount rates on all travel-related purchases — airline tickets and hotel stays chief among them — that originally gained traction in the early aughts for letting travelers name their own price by making a bid.
Pros: There are steep discounts to be had through Priceline’s Express Deal feature. There is also a free four-tiered membership program, the perks of which include discounts, best price guarantees and Express Deal coupons. There are some additional really good deals available only in the app, as well.
Cons: Because there are so many avenues from which you can save (VIP deals, Tonight-Only Deals, Express Deals, mobile deals, Road Deals, etc.), it can be a little tricky to navigate. In addition, you can’t earn points through hotels, and it yields almost identical results to Booking.com.
Hotels.com is an OTA, and an affiliate of Expedia, with one of the widest selections of accommodations on the web, of both the independent and major chain variety, worldwide. Per its website, Hotels.com is a “one-stop shopping source for hotel pricing, amenities and availability.”
Pros: Hotels.com has a really good rewards program (you earn one free night for every ten nights stayed). And rewards members receive access to “Secret Prices.”
Cons: You can’t earn points through hotels. Even worse, you have to pay taxes and fees on your “free” one night stay. Plus, a lot of times prices are just average.
Based in Dallas, Travelocity is reportedly the most popular OTA owned by Expedia Inc. Travelocity provides travelers access to a range of travel-related services, vacation packages, destination-specific information, as well as the ability to make airline, hotel and car rental reservations.
Pros: Trevelocity members get special rates. And you can save more by booking a hotel and flight together. There is also a 24-hour lowest price guarantee.
Cons: Unfortunately, you can’t earn points through hotels. And member rates are only available through certain hotels. There are also some ambiguous cancellation policies.
Another subsidiary of Expedia Group, Orbitz is a Chicago-based OTA that allows consumers to easily search and book flights, plus hotel and vacation package combinations.
Pros: Orbitz has a 24 hour lowest price guarantee. There are also some additional really good deals available only in the app. It also has one of the better OTA rewards programs (you can earn Orbucks, which are equivalent to $1 off your next purchase). In addition, you can save more by booking a hotel and flight together. And Orbitz membership provides access to exclusive rates.
Cons: Unfortunately, you can’t earn points through hotels. And a lot of times prices are just average. Plus, there’s no price comparison tool, and you can only earn Orbucks on prepaid hotels.
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