Expedia, Orbitz Or Kayak? Get Cheap Tickets With Our Guide

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Spring has finally sprung and you’re ready to book that getaway you’ve been dreaming about since the dark days of winter. But with so many options for planning and booking your trip, sifting through the horde of travel sites that promise discounted rates can be daunting.

Orbitz, Travelocity, Kayak–are all discount travel sites the same?  While it may appear so, there are slight differences, including some hidden fees on certain sites that we’ve sussed out for you.

Below is an unbiased rundown of some popular travel sites along with a few lesser known contenders, and tips on ensuring that your dollar travels as far as your imagination. Hover over each category to find out more!

SiteWhat It IsBooking FeesHidden FeesCustomer ServiceThe Final Word

The biggest player in the online travel biz, Expedia Inc. owns more than 20 popular booking and travel information sites, including Hotwire, TripAdvisor, and Hotels.com. The main Expedia site allows users to search, compare, and book a comprehensive selection of hotels, flights, cruises, cars, activities, and vacation packages.

Biggest player. Owns Hotwire, TripAdvisor & Hotels.com

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None, not even for phone reservations; this does not include fees imposed by governments and airports (e.g 9/11 security fee, facility charges, and segment fees).

 

$0

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No cancellation fees, but some flights within vacation packages may incur a charge, and individual airlines may charge for cancelling or rebooking. Also, you need to pay the price difference if rebooking a trip for which the original price is no longer available. All fees on Expedia are disclosed upfront (albeit in fine print), but the “taxes and fees” portion of vacation packages is not itemized, so you won’t know exactly what this number entails.

No cancellation fee

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The good news: Unlike many online-only travel sites, there is a phone number for Expedia by which you can reach a human. The bad news: The humans on the line tend to be less than helpful and often will force you to spend a ton of time on the phone transfering between staffers and supervisors — recounting your situation over and over.

There’s actually a phone number

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An excellent, exhaustive resource for booking discounted travel, in the U.S. and Europe particularly. Just beware the add-ons that are offered at the end of your booking (car rentals, activities, insurance, etc.). Sometimes they are prefilled “Yes” and you wind paying for a jungle tour you never wanted.

Excellent, but beware add-ons at checkout

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A smaller conglomerate than Expedia, encompassing CheapTickets, Away, Adventure Finder, and other booking and travel information sites.

Similar to Expedia, but a smaller conglomerate.

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Most airline reservations are free, but some incur an online service fee of up to $11.99 and flight reservations made by phone carry a $25 service fee; a cruise booking is $24.99.

Most flights: $0, phone reservations: $25

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Orbitz.com charges $25 for cancellation on top of fees from the airline itself. CheapTickets.com (which is owned by Orbitz) also charges $50 for cancellation, plus the airline fee.

$25 cancellation fee

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Similar to Expedia. Canned responses and lack of true conflict resolution lead to some frustrated consumers.

Similar to Expedia

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Comparable to Expedia, w/ no surprises in the pricing. A bonus: if another Orbitz customer books the same flight at a lower price prior to your departure, Orbitz will refund up to $250 per airline ticket.

Fewer surprises in pricing

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Sabre Holdings’ main travel search and booking engine. Sister sites include IGoUGo, TravelGuru, and LastMinute.com.

Similar in functionality to Expedia & Orbitz.

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A phone reservation fee of $30 per person for flights, but none if booked online.

Online: $0, phone: $30

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No fees to cancel airline tickets (except from the airline itself), but $30 to rebook the flight.

Can get money back; $30 to rebook

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Annoying offshore call centers. The Price & Service Guarantee has vague language about ensuring that your trip goes well, but consumer indexes paint a pretty different picture (similar to the above).

Vague language about ensuring your trip goes well

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Doesn’t forge any new ground from the above, but its new Experience Finder is a clever way to suss out a good destination, and more users we’ve connected with have had positive experiences than with Orbitz.

Experience Finder is clever way to find destinations

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Newest player in the flight search game; it combines a refreshingly simple interface with a unique “Agony” feature in which your results are ranked in order of the agony you’ll incur during the flight–taking into account price, duration, and number of stops.

Simple interface

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None, since it’s not a booking site. When a user finds a suitable flight, he/she is directed to purchase it on Orbitz.

Redirects to Orbitz to buy.

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No cancellation fees from the website itself–you’re just responsible for airline charges.

No cancellation fee

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An email address (contact@Hipmunk.com) is all you get.

Email address to contact for help

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A good supplementary search engine for flights; the Agony feature is a great way to gauge the overall flight experience before booking.

The Agony feature is great

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Thie Europe-based cheap ticket search engine is one of the most flexible, allowing users to search over 600 airlines for flights in a single month or over the course of a year–in 23 languages.

Europe-based international ticket engine

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None, since it’s not a booking site. When a user finds a suitable flight, he/she is directed to purchase it directly from the airline.

Redirects to the airline to buy

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No cancellation fees from the website itself–you’re just responsible for airline charges.

No cancellation fee

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A form with pertinent information to be filled out and sent to the site managers.

A form to fill out for help

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Exhaustive, easy to use, and unbiased — everything you want from a flight search site.

Our #1 choice for international travel.

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An encyclopedic search engine for hotels, airlines, cars, cruises, and vacation packages that scans not just direct suppliers, but also third party travel sites.

Scans many travel sites at once.

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None, since it’s not a booking site (which means no results are given preference). When a user finds a suitable trip, he/she is directed to purchase it directly from the site on which it is advertised.

Redirects to original source to buy.

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No cancellation fees from the website itself–you’re just responsible for airline charges.

No cancellation fee.

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Full disclosure with addresses and phone numbers on two coasts.

Contact info on both coasts

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Our favorite! They have a comprehensive and unbiased database, and there’s no agenda as to which search results populate first. Plus, it has great creative filters like “no prop planes” (if you don’t want a puddle-jumper).

Our favorite! Comprehensive & intuitive

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Tips For Savvy Travelers

 

1. Compare Your Options.

Before you book a flight, hotel room, or vacation package, check the price on each of the individual vendor’s sites. Oftentimes, cutting out the middle man and booking separately is cheaper than buying a package on sites like Expedia or Orbitz. Furthermore, buying directly from the airline gives you more flexibility to manage your flights, and calling the hotel can result in unadvertised savings (especially during low season and if you are celebrating a special occasion). Remember, third party sites require full payment up front, so do your homework before plunking down the plastic.

Bonus tip: Our favorite site for hotel deals in Europe is Venere.com, which has an incredibly easy user experience, a vast Rolodex of hotels (including smaller boutique properties that you’d never find on many U.S.-based sites), and lots of great deals and discounts. We didn’t include it in the chart above because its forte is hotels rather than flights, but we’ve booked many European stays through Venere and have never been disappointed.

2. Be Direct.

Sometimes you won’t find your favorite or most convenient airlines on these sites. Southwest Airlines doesn’t list its flights with any third party vendors, while American Airlines is missing from both Orbitz and Expedia. When in doubt, search your itinerary directly with airlines to ensure that you don’t miss a cheap rate.

3. Consult A Travel Agent For Cruises.

Don’t book a cruise on any of these consolidation sites. A travel agent specializing in cruises is always the better option because they have relationships with cruise lines, which means discounted rates; and they can score you deals on the cruise ship and with shore excursions.

But most importantly, there are a lot of moving parts on a cruise trip (flight, transfer to ship, the cruise itself, etc.) and if one part goes awry, an experienced travel agent can use his or her connections to fix it. Meanwhile, if you’d booked your cruise via an aggregation site, you’d be stuck doing phone battle without a life preserver (see Customer Service in the chart above).

4. Read The Label.

Beware of hotels or airlines labeled “top picks” in your search results. These aren’t necessarily of a higher quality or better value. Instead, they are often a business partner of the booking site, and therefore get populated at the top of your search.

5. Travel Smart

Now that you’ve booked your flight, learn how to stick to your travel budget.

Get ready for international travel with our tips on getting your finances in order.

Become a packing maven with our tips for every suitcase.

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Beata Santora is an Associate Editor at Condé Nast Traveler. She was bitten by the travel bug at age 3 while on a cruise of the Black Sea, and now she loves airports and hotels the way most people love chocolate.

  • Nila

    I used to find great deals which included Aeroflot, now its not on any search engine. Any engine you know includes Aeroflot, cathay pacific?