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To Book Travel Directly or Not: New Study Finds Cheaper Flight and Hotel Prices With Booking.com, Expedia, and Other OTAs

Travel Airports + Flying
by Jori Ayers Feb 7, 2024

Travel has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades. Physical maps and heavy guidebooks are largely gone, while extensive lists of Google Maps tags and saved social media posts are in. In many ways, travel has also become much more accessible. A big part of that has come with the lowered costs that technology allows. But navigating the many online travel agencies (OTAs) to find the best deal is still an art unto itself — especially when trying to determine whether it’s a better price to book with an OTA like Booking.com, and Expedia, or to book directly.

The website Self did a study to find out. To determine this, Self studied 25 popular flight paths starting from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles and 90 hotels in well-known destinations from Paris to Bangkok. Self then compared the prices of the flights and hotels when booking through the hotel or airline against when booking from Booking.com, Expedia, and Agoda.

The analysis reviewed prices of hotels and flights by reserving the week of August 21st, 2023, through August 28th, 2023, for flight and hotel bookings to represent a common vacation time of the year. When calculating the findings, no discounts, promo codes, or promotions were used in the study.

In the analysis, flights cost an average of about 11 percent less when booking through Booking.com ($917.83 average across 30 popular routes compared to $1,025.52 when booking directly), Expedia ($923.81 on average), and Agoda ($925.56 on average). The biggest difference was seen in popular international flights, with various OTAs winning out as the cheapest depending on the route, regardless of which OTA is used. New York to Hong Kong, for example, was more than $530 cheaper on OTAs than buying a ticket directly with the airline. Others had more modest savings, like about $160 saved from Los Angeles to Paris or $114 from Chicago to Paris. That said, there are times when it’s better to book flights directly for peace of mind.

Booking.com had the lowest average prices of hotels when comparing the cheapest four-star hotel in 10 major cities: $115.81 on Booking.com, versus $158.69 directly through the hotel. It’s important to note, however, that hotel loyalty points or rewards can make the price more even or even less to book through the hotel. Different cities also showed different results, with Amsterdam, Tokyo, and Cancun having some of the best deals on OTAs versus booking directly (in some cases hundreds of dollars cheaper).

Key findings

  • On average, the study found Booking.com to offer the best rates: 11 percent cheaper flights and 31 percent cheaper hotels compared to direct booking.
  • Rates vary by route or accommodation: Booking.com had the lowest average rates for both flights and hotels, though in select markets Expedia or Agoda was cheaper.
  • There are exceptions to finding the best flight rates: Air France was the only airline offering better rates than any OTAs.

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