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Why you should think twice before booking with an obscure online travel agency

March 04, 2021
4 min read
Why you should think twice before booking with an obscure online travel agency
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Booking cheap flights or mistake fares can be an exciting but sometimes fraught process, which often includes searching for tickets on obscure travel agency (OTA) sites.

The travel world buzzed late Wednesday evening after discovering dirt-cheap business class flights to Europe on TAP Air Portugal. But TPG’s loyalty and engagement editor Richard Kerr found something troubling during checkout. Several lesser-known OTAs were pricing the fares lower than other competitors, but with terms and conditions that essentially absolved them of responsibility should something go awry.

For instance, the OTA SnapTravel, which bills itself as able to find travelers the cheapest fares using its “unique flight search algorithm,” pretty much says travelers are on their own after booking:

We do not provide cash or credit card refunds under any circumstances.

If the airline cancels or reschedules your flight, or fails to honor your ticket for any reason, we will extend a credit toward a future trip of equal or greater value to the same geographical region in our sole discretion. The foregoing is our sole responsibility in connection with the airline’s cancellation or rescheduling of any trip, or the airline’s failure to honor a ticket.

EDreams’ policy is similarly confusing:

Air fares contain different elements and not all of them are refundable, so even if you are eligible to be refunded according to your travel supplier(s)’ policies, the refunded amount may not be exactly the total price paid for your booking.

GoToGate’s policy is a bit more straightforward -- it says it’ll refund you if you’re eligible -- but that its “service fees” are non-refundable. These fees are pretty costly and can run you $71 per traveler and $30 per booking for a refund if the airline cancels on you.

Please note that our service fees are non-refundable. This is because the service fees are charged for our mediation services which shall be considered fulfilled when the booking has been confirmed to You.

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If you’re wondering whether OTAs such as SnapTravel are legally permitted to deny refunds to travelers -- the answer is no.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) says airlines must provide written notice on or with the ticket “concerning any ‘incorporated’ contract terms that restrict refunds or impose monetary penalties” after purchase — even if that ticket was booked through an OTA.

For domestic flights, as well as international ones departing or arriving the U.S., you’re covered by the rules of the DOT. If your flight is canceled, you are entitled to a full refund back to your original form of payment for the unused portion of your itinerary. In addition to the DOT’s guidelines, airline tickets are governed by each carrier’s contract of carriage.

Last year, the DOT issued a stark message to airlines that serve the U.S., reminding them that they must provide cash refunds to travelers whose flights are canceled by the airline.

The agency said that “carriers have a longstanding obligation to provide a prompt refund to a ticketed passenger when the carrier cancels the passenger’s flight or makes a significant change in the flight schedule and the passenger chooses not to accept the alternative offered by the carrier.”

Related: These cancellation horror stories show why you should think twice before booking through an OTA

Bottom line

All OTAs aren’t created equally, but more reputable sites like Expedia at least make their policies clearer. Still, booking through an OTA complicates things further since they need to check with the airline if they can process a refund on your behalf.

Booking through an OTA may work out just fine when things go according to plan, but it’s a whole different story when travel arrangements change -- or when they don’t follow the rules. In that case, it’s much easier to just deal with the airline or hotel directly.

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
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  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
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Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,300+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and the Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023