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Unraveling the differences between airlines, travel agencies, and metasearch engines

16 March 2024

If you usually buy flight tickets online, perhaps you have come across the situation where the same ticket could be purchased on several different websites.

It’s possible that all these websites may seem similar to you, but even though the differences are not always immediately apparent, the fact that you conduct your search on an airline’s website, through a travel agency, or using a search engine can influence aspects such as availability, after-sales service, or price.

Therefore, it’s worthwhile that next time, before booking your ticket, you take a moment to pause and consider where you are and what you can expect.

Buying from an airline website such, British Airways, American Airlines, Ryanair or EasyJet

Airlines, besides offering passenger transportation services, also directly manage the reservation process, making flight tickets available for purchase.

Since agencies are not intermediaries, airlines often sell tickets at cheaper rates. In a study we conducted on a random sample of 20,000 searches, we found that 76% of the time, the airline offered the best price. However, this is not a fixed rule, and the percentage varies considerably when analyzing prices separately for low-cost airlines and traditional airlines.

Generally, airlines will offer better prices on straightforward tickets without complex connections, whereas agencies, through GDS, are able to provide better options.

Buying from a travel agency such as Kiwi,, Budgetair and many others

Travel agencies act as intermediaries, meaning they acquire tickets from airlines and then sell them to the end traveler.

As intermediaries, their prices tend to be higher than if the ticket is purchased directly from the airline website, but this is not always the case. Airlines offer volume discounts to travel agencies that also affect the prices offered to the traveler.

So, if buying from a travel agency is almost always more expensive, why would the end user want to pay the difference?

The main feature of agencies is that they provide added value to the purchase, although the value provided may be more or less interesting depending on the specific agency.

For example, a good agency will offer interesting promotions or vacation packages in combination with various airlines they work with, along with services such as hotel and car rental reservations. One of the cases where it is more interesting to book through an agency is for long-haul trips with layovers, as by considering routes from various airlines, travelers will have more options to choose from, including different prices.

Using a meta-search engine

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