Save money by booking flights and hotels directly, says Which?

Which? has weighed up the pros and cons of booking directly  (Getty Images)
Which? has weighed up the pros and cons of booking directly (Getty Images)

Travellers looking for the best holiday deals could be better off going direct to airlines and hotels rather than third-party booking websites, according to consumer group Which?.

New research based on thousands of experiences of booking accommodation and flights found that some websites offer poor customer service and rarely – if ever – find the cheapest prices.

Which? surveyed its members about their experiences of using both comparison sites, which trawl the internet for the best prices, and booking sites, which allow travellers to search for flights and accommodation and book on the same platform.

Opodo found the cheapest flights more than any other site that researchers looked at, however it was branded the lowest-ranking flight booking site with a customer a customer score of just 28 per cent.

Which? said that “survey responses underlined why it is worth looking beyond price alone” when deciding where to book a trip, with Opodo getting a one-star rating for customer service. Difficulties getting hold of customer service agents was a frequent complaint, with one respondent stating that the site offers “zero customer service”.

A spokesperson for Opodo told The Independent that “consumers should be reassured that the overwhelming majority of people that book with us have a positive experience”.

Expedia was the highest scoring platform in the survey, with a customer score of 70 per cent. Respondents awarded it three stars for value for money, ease of finding flexible fares, transparency of fees, and site functionality.

However, Which?’s research also found it was the site least likely to find consumers the cheapest flights. When Which? checked 10 different flight journeys across nine websites (including four booking sites and five comparison sites), and recorded the price shown for bookings one week, six weeks and six months before the departure date, Expedia failed to return the cheapest option on any occasion.

This may be due to the fact that Expedia does not offer flights from some budget airlines, such as Ryanair and Wizz Air.

Previous research by Which? found that while some online travel agents (OTAs) may often offer the cheapest headline fare, once extras like baggage or seat selection are added, the final price will often work out significantly more expensive than booking directly with the airline.

Unavoidable hidden charges for online consumers – or “drip pricing” – is set to be banned under new laws to force businesses to be upfront with their customers.

Optional fees, such as airline seat and luggage upgrades for flights, will not be included in the measures.

Google Flights was the best performing flight comparison site, with respondents awarding it four stars for site functionality – the highest of any comparison site rated in the survey. It found the cheapest flights on six out of 30 occasions, comparable to Kayak and Cheap Flights, which each found the cheapest flights on five occasions.

When Which? carried out a price analysis for hotel bookings, comparing the cost of 30 overnight stays in 10 hotels across nine different websites, it found booking direct rather than using a booking site offered the cheapest price half the time.

Kayak and Trivago were most frequently successful, finding the lowest, or joint lowest price on 12 occasions, while Skyscanner was close behind with 11 times.

Agoda returned the most expensive price on 14 out of 30 occasions, while Expedia and each had the dearest prices on 13 out of 30 occasions.

“If you’re looking to book a flight or hotel, our research shows comparison sites can be an excellent starting point, scouring the internet to take the hard work out of your decision-making. We’d advise checking a couple of different platforms so you have the best possible chance of finding the right option for you,” said Naomi Leach, deputy editor of Which? Travel.

“Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, book directly. Booking with the airline will usually prove cheaper than using an Online Travel Agent, and will mean you know exactly who is responsible should something go wrong. Calling a hotel directly will often secure you the best price or at the very least they’ll throw in a freebie like a bottle of wine or a room upgrade.”

In response to the findings, an Opodo spokesperson said: “This survey was based on responses from only 44 customers, which is 0.0002 per cent of the 20 million travellers that book through our platform each year. We care passionately about every single Opodo customer and we are always looking at how we can make our customer service even better, but consumers also need to be aware that surveys based on such tiny sample sizes are not robust or representative.

“We get feedback from the millions of people that book through Opodo each year and nine out of ten tell us they are satisfied or very satisfied with the service they receive. Our Trustpilot score of 4.3 ranks meaningfully better than any other OTA and/or airline. Since the pandemic, through significant investment in technology and our customer service team, we have supported 6.4 million people who have faced travel disruption and got our average call answering time down to only 60 seconds, all while expanding the range of options available to consumers to help them keep costs down, make travel more convenient, and discover new destinations and experiences.

“Like all businesses we get it wrong sometimes, but consumers should be reassured that the overwhelming majority of people that book with us have a positive experience.”