In booking last-minute airfare this week I noticed some absolutely sketchy fees on Orbitz. Watch out for them.
First, let’s talk when you should book your airfare on Orbitz. Answer: as little as possible. Booking on Orbitz, an online travel agency, means that Orbitz has control of your airline ticket up until check-in. If you have to make changes to the reservation, you must go through Orbitz rather than the airline. That can often be painful. The Orbitz call center is offshore and many of the agents are poorly trained, albeit courteous. Simple date changes or even a 24-hour courtesy cancellation may take hours instead of minutes.
But sometimes it still makes sense.
A client needed a last-minute ticket to Florida and there were only a couple seats left on a JetBlue non-stop, the only direct flight. I wanted more time to find a better option, but I also did want to risk losing this space or seeing the price go up further.
Had I booked through JetBlue directly, because travel was within seven days, I would not be eligible for a 24-hour courtesy cancellation.
Consequently, for last-minute tickets on JetBlue or American (or on any carrier outside the USA), I will always book on Orbitz for the benefit of being able to cancel the ticket and because the Orbucks loyalty program seems to be the best loyalty program among the online travel agencies.
When booking the reservation, however, I noticed the price was a bit higher. It took me a moment to figure it out, but then I saw it–check out the “service fee” on the right side below–
That’s right, Orbitz wanted to charge me $21.99 for the pleasure of booking with them! No thanks.
Orbitz v. Expedia
Keep in mind that Expedia owns Orbitz. What shocked me was that the identical flights on Expedia did not carry the $21.99 booking fee.
Expedia also offers a 24-hour cooling off on all reservations. Thus, booking via Expedia was a no brainer.
I cannot explain why one nearly identical website from the same company charges a hefty service fee and the other does not, but when Orbitz calls their price the “best value” above, that is quite misleading.
Sometimes it makes sense to book via online travel agencies. But always check for hidden service fees and realize that even different fronts of the same company vary in what fees are assessed on bookings.