Online travel agencies (OTAs) are companies that sell flights online. They act as a middleman between airlines and consumers, though their prices can often be cheaper than booking direct.
How do online travel agencies work?
Online travel agencies work by plugging into a “global distribution system,” which is a fancy name for the market where airlines tell distributors what they’re charging for their flights.
When you book directly on an airline’s website, your ticket typically gets issued almost immediately. That’s because the airline is both the seller and provider of the ticket, so it’s rare that their system allows them to sell something they don’t actually have in stock.
With OTAs, especially smaller ones, there’s a delay between when you purchase the ticket and when you’re issued the ticket. That’s because, unlike the airlines, OTAs don’t actually have the tickets they sell. Instead, the OTA is the middleman, connecting customers with airlines and taking a small commission from the airline in the process.
When you click to buy a roundtrip Delta flight from New York to London for $400, what happens is the OTA charges your credit card $400, then turns around and checks with Delta to make sure that the ticket is available at that price. This process can take anywhere from a few minutes to 48 hours; each OTA is different, and there are a ton of variables impacting transaction time.
But unlike most middlemen, OTAs don’t typically jack up the price. In fact, they usually offer the same price—and oftentimes a lower price—than you’ll find directly with an airline.
Are online travel agencies safe?
Our members frequently ask us this question, so it seemed prudent to give a more in-depth explanation of how travel booking sites operate and how you should think of them.
Most people are familiar with top OTAs like Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller OTAs as well, and more pop up all the time. Some smaller ones include OneTravel, Vayama, Tripsta, TravelMerry, ExploreTrip, Kiss&Fly, Webjet, GoToGate, Travelgenio, Bookairfare, Fareboom, Skybooker, Travel2be, OneTwoTrip!, and Boomers.
Because really only the most obsessive of travelers have heard of all of these OTAs, many people are often hesitant to purchase a flight from them. Understandable!
Rather than tell you whether or not you should book through them, we wrote The Complete Guide to Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) to let you learn more and decide whether or not you’re comfortable.
How Does Going fit into this?
Going is not a flight search engine or a travel agency, so you don't book deals through our service and we do not book deals for our members. When we find great deals departing from your preferred US Departure Airports, we’ll send them straight to your inbox, with detailed instructions on how to book. You then book directly with the airline or via an online travel agency (OTA).