Tips for buying airfare using a third-party booking site

Many travel experts agree that in the second half of 2016, we’ll experience the lowest airfare rates we’ve seen in years, thanks to crude oil prices around $49 a barrel paired with the competitive summer travel season. If you’ll be among the many families deciding to buy airfare, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of websites competing for your booking business. Buying airfare using a third-party booking site can reward you with the lowest fares possible, but you do need to go into the process with eyes wide open.

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Related post:  find the lowest airfare for your trip, every time!

Buying airfare using a third-party booking site:

You’re already familiar with third-party booking sites, even if you’re not familiar with the term. You’ve heard of JustFly, among others like Expedia or Kayak. To understand how you can get a great deal through third-party sites, it’s important to understand how they work.

In the airfare pricing industry, there are 4-5 big aggregators of the price and available data called global distribution systems. According to Hopper.com (which is not a third-party site selling airfare, but rather an airfare prediction app), when you go to a third-party site and search for flights, that site will make a request from those four systems. They’ll send it back, with the trips you could buy, and what they cost. Much like hotel booking sites, third-party booking sites can block out seats in bulk, bringing the price down for you.

Essentially, you’re bringing in a middle-man when using third-party sites, which could–but does not always–complicate your travel day. For these reasons, I do recommend booking travel directly through your airline when possible. However, I understand that sometimes, getting the lowest fare is essential to your travel plans. We, personally, have used third-party booking sites for this reason. Here’s what you need to know.

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Tips for using JustFly and other third-party booking sites:

We used JustFly during our recent trip to Europe. Why? We were operating under a strict travel budget, and when searching for airfare, JustFly offered the route we needed for about $100 less per person. Since we’re a family of five, saving $500 on airfare was significant to our budget.

Using JustFly allowed us to take our trip within budget, so in this case, it was absolutely the way to go. However, we knew that by using a third-party booking site, there were a few things we needed to keep in mind.

  • Customer service is key: Like with any service, it’s crucial to book with a company that offers good communication and customer service. Why? If anything goes wrong with your reservation, you’ll need to work through your booking site. I like to get on the phone with a booking site right away, before finalizing my reservation, as a test run of sorts before there’s a real problem. Then I usually call again before my flight to confirm my reservation and make sure everything is in order. When I did this during my JustFly booking for Europe, I was very happy with the level of service. It’s also reassuring to know I’m not alone…JustFly gets solid reviews from consumers. I got through to JustFly right away, and spoke to pleasant, competent representatives. Start here to learn about JustFly’s contact information and FAQs.
  • The airline will not make you a priority: Anytime you use a third-party booking site, it will show up on your airline reservation. Depending on the airline and their level of customer service, this can sometimes mean you’re treated like a second-class citizen (of the airline, not of the booking site). At the airport, the airline will prioritize those passengers who are loyal to their brand and book through their channels. How this can manifest itself: you’ll be last priority for rebooking in the case of a cancellation caused by the airline, and unlikely to receive seating upgrades. How to combat this: be sure to list your frequent flier number on your reservation, which you can do when booking on JustFly.
  • Be ready for some back and forth: When you book through a third-party site, you’re bringing another ‘cook into the kitchen’, so to speak. When you have an issue, your third-party site may tell you to call the airline to resolve it, and the airline may tell you to call the booking site. Patience is key. When we booked through JustFly, we had one flight on our itinerary change flight numbers a few days before departure. This was the airline’s doing, but we were alerted to the change via JustFly. I called them to make sure our itinerary was intact, and was told to call the airline. When I gave the airline my booking number, they tried to send me back to JustFly. It took some insistence and patience to get the issue sorted, simply because there were two agencies involved. How to combat this: be prepared for this possibility, and allow yourself time to resolve it by watching your airline reservation carefully in the days before departure.
  • Prepare for possible seating issues: In most cases, booking early ensures families can score seats together on a flight, but when booking through a third-party site, sometimes those seat choices don’t carry over. We only had a problem with this once when we booked JustFly, and it may have been because it was on an international leg of a flight. We picked our seats when we booked our flight with JustFly (months in advance), but when we checked in for the flight, the airline hadn’t carried the seat reservations over. We were guaranteed seats, just not the ones we’d picked. The airline told us we were out of luck (see point #1), and we were forced to ask fellow passengers to switch seats. It all worked out, but wasn’t fun. How to combat this: check on your seat reservations through the airline 72 hours before departure, before you check-in for your flight. After you check in, they cannot make seating changes.

The bottom line:

While more complicated and with potential for more issues than booking directly through an airline, booking via a third-party site like JustFly is a tool to have in your travel planning tool belt. For those times when budget is priority #1, JustFly can be a great way to get the fare you absolutely need. If you go into it knowing what to watch for, you’ll have an experience that meets your expectations and, at the end of the day, gets you a great fare. After all, using JustFly, we ended up here, able to enjoy Christmas in Florence!

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While this post was written in conjunction with JustFly, I was given full freedom to my opinion, in order to give my readers my best, honest advice.

About the author

Amy Whitley AUTHOR: Amy Whitley is the founding editor of Pit Stops for Kids and content editor of Trekaroo. She writes on staff monthly as a family travel expert at Go Green Travel Green and Practical Travel Gear, and contributes to Outdoors NW as an outdoor adventure traveler. Find Amy at Google.

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