Online travel agencies like Expedia (EXPE +0.72%), Orbitz and Travelocity profess to help consumers find the best deals, but some experts warn they sometimes fall short. For starters, some carriers don't participate. And even the cheapest airfare on a third-party website may not beat one offered on an airline's site.
Travel sites say they offer exclusive deals. But Joe Megibow, a vice president at Expedia, says, "I can't say 100% of people 100% of the time will always find the cheapest rate."
2. "We'll snag you a great view-of the parking lot."
Your chances of ending up in a less desirable room increase when you book through a third-party site, says Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management. That includes rooms near the loading dock, the service elevator or a renovation zone, he says.
Online agencies counter that their contracts stipulate all customers be treated equally.
3. "Freebies are for our preferred customers."
Many hotel extras, like Wi-Fi and bottled water, may not be included with rooms booked through outside sites. Some hotels also withhold loyalty points, says Tim Winship, publisher of loyalty-program advice site FrequentFlier.com.
Sites have responded by offering their own loyalty programs. Expedia's Hotels.com offers a free night's stay at over 85,000 hotels for customers who reserve 10 nights. And some work directly with hotels to provide perks.
4. "We're making the big bucks-at your expense."
Airlines pay fees of $12 to $20 per ticket to so-called global distribution system companies for seats sold through travel sites. But they don't pay out of their own coffers; the fees are passed on to consumers in higher ticket prices. With hotel stays, the added expense to consumers comes in the form of inconvenient billing: In many cases, a credit or debit card is charged upon booking, tying up the traveler's credit line.
5. "Our fees are a drain on local tax coffers."
When consumers make a hotel reservation using an online agency, local governments get less tax income than when consumers book directly with a hotel. As a result, cities and counties in 25 states have filed lawsuits alleging that the agencies violate hotel-occupancy tax rules and demanding that the taxes governments receive be based on the amount the consumer pays-not just the amount that the hotel receives from the third-party sites. So far, the sites have prevailed in most rulings.