A Comprehensive Guide to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) for Booking Flights

The internet has made so much easier for people to book flight tickets online. Now, you not only can purchase flight reservations directly from your airline carrier, there are also online travel agencies (aka OTAs) whose websites allow you to do just that. But, these OTAs are not limited to booking flights only. They play a key role in the travel industry today. You can learn more about these OTAs and know how they let you book flights and other travel services without the need to step out of your house.

In this blog, we are going to provide you an in-depth guide for booking flight tickets through an online travel agency.

What is an Online Travel Agency?

An online travel agency, often abbreviated as OTA, is a business entity that caters to individuals (consumers) by providing “self-service” online services for travel. These services generally include the ability to search and book things, like a bus, train, flight, cruise ship, hotel, restaurant reservation, holiday tour (domestic and international) and more via their websites.

Such travel agents usually provide websites in-built with all features related to travel, which are easier to access by people, and even those residing in different geographical regions. All you need is a desktop/laptop computer, tablet, or a smartphone and access to the internet.

In short, an online travel agency (OTA) uses an online platform i.e., a website that allows consumers to find and book, for instance, flights online.

Popular Online Travel Agencies

You will find a lot of online travel agencies (OTAs) offering services that allow you to search and book flights online within minutes.

Here are a few examples of best travel website OTAs (also having metasearch engine feature) that you might have heard of, or even used their services once in a while.

  • Agoda
  • Bookairfare
  • Booking.com
  • CheapOair
  • eBookers
  • Expedia
  • ExploreTrip
  • Fareboom
  • GoToGate
  • Hotwire
  • Kiss&Fly
  • Kiwi.com
  • Lastminute.com
  • OneTwoTrip!
  • OneTravel
  • Orbitz
  • Priceline
  • Skybooker
  • Skyscanner
  • Travel2be
  • Travelgenio
  • TravelMerry
  • TripAdvisor
  • Tripsta
  • Webjet
  • Vayama

Today, OTAs have become increasingly important in the travel industry. They provide a convenient way for people to quickly search and book flights, accommodation, and ground transportation etc. from the comfort of their home.

How Do Online Travel Agencies Function?

Generally, online travel agencies use two business models or approaches in order to function properly and render their services efficiently. Thus, the methods they use are:

(i) Agency Model

(ii) Merchant Model

Agency Model

In this model, OTAs function as distribution partners via a global distribution system and earn commission on their sales. Their distribution partners include airline carriers, hotels, restaurants, car rentals, and many more.

The global distribution system, for instance, allows airline carriers and OTAs to keep in sync with the prices of flights. That’s how you find up-to-date prices for flights when you search online on an OTA’s website. The same prices also appear on the airline carrier’s website.

Merchant Model

In this model, hotels, for example, sell rooms at wholesale or discounted rates to OTAs. The OTAs then, sell these rooms to customers at a markup price.

How Online Travel Agencies Let You Book Flight Tickets?

OTAs use a metasearch engine, an algorithm that allows comparing prices, for instance, of flight tickets by querying different sources, like airline carriers, travel companies, and other OTAs as well.

Sometimes, you may also find lower fares instead of the actual price offered by the airline carrier on their website. OTAs do offer discounts on airfares at certain times.

When you book a flight ticket through an OTA’s website, the process may vary from one OTA to another. In this example, we will use Expedia’s website, which is an OTA, to book an international flight online. The process given is as follows.

Steps:

1. Visit the Expedia.com website on your computer, tablet, or smartphone device.

2. On the main page, select Flights from the top menu, then choose the type of flight, such as Round-trip, One-way or Multi-city.

3. For the sake of this example, let’s select the Round-trip flight option. Now, in the fields provided below, enter your departure city, arrival city, departure date, return date, number of passengers and travel class. After filling the details, click the Done button.

Here, we are making an advanced booking from New York City (JFK) to Paris (ORY). Also, we have selected a random departure date as 21st June 2021 and return date as 30th June 2021.

4. Your selections will be displayed on the screen. Click the Search button to look for available flights.

Note: This is the part where the travel website (OTA) takes some time in order to query and fetch information from various sources and then displays the available results on your screen.

5. By default, Expedia will display results starting with the lowest fare per traveller. In addition, on the left side panel, the website provides you a filter option. You can use the filter option to find flights with flexible change policies, stops, and airline carriers.

6. Select your departure flight. Your departure flight information will pop up on the right. If all seems okay, click the Select button. Or go back to select another departure flight.

7. Next, you will be required to select a returning flight. Similarly, your returning flight information will pop up on the right. If all seems okay, click the Select button. Or go back to select another returning flight.

8. You will be redirected to the website’s Check out page to make the payment.

Note: A summary of your departure and return flights will also be displayed, in case you change your mind and want to select another flight.

Expedia does not charge you fee for cancelling your flight within 24 hours of booking.

What are the Benefits and Drawbacks of Booking Flight Tickets through Online Travel Agencies?

Like everything else, OTAs too, may have certain advantages and also, disadvantages over flight booking process and the overall customer experience.

Benefits:

Cheaper Fares

OTAs try to offer cheaper fares whenever possible. For example, you may find a flight from Denver, US to Chicago that costs $230 on an OTA’s website, while the same flight is sold for $320 when booking directly on the airline carrier’s website.

So, people sometimes, will generally find better deals available for booking flights through OTAs than doing it with the airline carrier.

Drawbacks:

Booking Fee

Some OTAs may charge a booking fee which reflect on the airfare. This booking fee is actually charged to the airline carrier which the customer has selected for his/her journey. However, often, that booking fee is passed directly to the customers and adds to the booking price. But, this is not so when booking flights directly on the airliner’s website. They don’t charge booking fees.

Lacking Customer Support

Smaller OTAs may not offer customer support services, which is a major setback. Not having a customer support service can have a negative impact on the OTA. If a consumer needs assistance or information, he/she will be left helpless because the OTA does not have any way to provide solutions to their consumers.

Negative Reviews can Risk Business

Too many negative reviews posted by consumers on several websites can become risky for the OTA’s business. People often share their personal experiences with service providers, either in a positive or negative way.

If an OTA receives a lot of negative reviews or fewer ratings, these can pose a great threat to their business and may lose prospect consumers, too.

Conclusion

Online travel agencies can help you get the best prices for flights and many people rely on their websites for making online flight bookings.