Which online travel agent (OTA) is the cheapest? Is there any difference in fares between agents such as Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline or do they all pull the same results from Global Distribution Systems. Below we will test out 5 of the main OTAs in a random series of flights worldwide.
We have always maintained that you should try to get multiple quotations from different airlines and online travel agents in the search to find the cheapest airfare. Is this still the case?
In the US, many people naturally turn to the ‘big 3’ online travel agents – Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz – to make flight searches. In fact these 3 all belong to the very same company (Expedia Inc) after recent consolidation in the industry.
The main 2 players are currently:
Expedia – owns Travelocity, Orbitz, CheapTickets, Hotwire and eBookers.
Priceline – owns Kayak, Booking.com, Cheapflights, Agoda and Momondo.
On top of this you have:
CheapoAir – a large independent flight booking agent.
Tripadvisor – has built up a large portfolio of small sites concentrated mainly around the hotels and restaurant review business. It also has a flight booking engine and owns Seatguru, the flight seat review site and AirfareWatchdog.
Google – has become a player having invested in ITA Software and offers a Google Flights search engine.
Expedia vs Priceline vs Cheapoair vs Orbitz vs Travelocity Test
Let’s test out the online agents to see who comes back with the lowest economy (coach) class return fare for a 1 week trip booked 2 months out. This is done below for 16 randomly assigned city pairs ranging from US domestic to international flights worldwide.
We are just looking for the very cheapest airfare and will not worry about the best airline, baggage fees or optimal connections. If we were booking these flights we would obviously have to take these into consideration.
This test was made in June 2017 and we quote prices obtained at the same moment from Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, Priceline and Cheapoair. This is an independent test, we have no bias or connection with any agent. Airfares were rounded up or down to the nearest dollar.
Boston (BOS) – San Francisco (SFO)
Expedia: $382 (JetBlue)
Orbitz: $382 (JetBlue)
Travelocity: $382 (JetBlue)
Priceline: $393 (Alaska operated by Virgin America)
Cheapoair: $402 (JetBlue+American via Charlotte)
Austin (AUS) – New York (NYC)
Expedia: $249 (United)
Orbitz: $249 (United)
Travelocity: $255 (American)
Priceline: $249 (United)
Cheapoair: $279 (United)
Orlando (MCO) – Salt Lake City (SLC)
Expedia: $258 (Special fare, unknown airline)
Orbitz: $258 (Special fare, unknown airline)
Travelocity: $258 (Special fare, unknown airline)
Priceline: $258 (Special fare, unknown airline)
Cheapoair: $278 (Jet Blue)
Denver (DEN) – Mexico City (MEX)
Expedia: $306 (Delta operated by Skywest, Aeromexico via Los Angeles)
Orbitz: $313 (Delta – Skywest, Aeromexico via Los Angeles)
Travelocity: $306 (Delta – Skywest, Aeromexico via Los Angeles)
Priceline: $306 (Delta – Skywest, Aeromexico via Los Angeles)
Cheapoair: $415 (Frontier, Interjet, Spirit via Houston, Las Vegas)
New York (NYC) – Vancouver (YVR)
Expedia: $342 (United)
Orbitz: $342 (United)
Travelocity: $342 (United)
Priceline: $374 (Delta)
Cheapoair: $443 (Philippine Airlines)
Washington (WAS) – Las Vegas (LAS)
Expedia: $216 (Frontier)
Orbitz: $216 (Frontier)
Travelocity: $216 (Frontier)
Priceline: $216 (Frontier)
Cheapoair: $230 (Frontier)
Notes: Interestingly, Expedia has come back as cheapest for all the US domestic flights whilst Cheapoair was the most expensive.
Los Angeles (LAX) – Sydney (SYD)
Expedia: $915 (Fiji Airways via Nadi)
Orbitz: $916 (Fiji Airways via Nadi)
Travelocity: $915 (Fiji Airways via Nadi)
Priceline: $915 (Fiji Airways via Nadi)
Cheapoair: $915 (Fiji Airways via Nadi)
Chicago (ORD) – Frankfurt (FRA)
Expedia: $1,045 (Aer Lingus via Dublin)
Orbitz: $1,045 (Aer Lingus via Dublin)
Travelocity: $1,045 (Aer Lingus via Dublin)
Priceline: $1,045 (Aer Lingus via Dublin)
Cheapoair: $909 (Supersaver fare – unknown airline)
Notes: Cheapoair also suggested WOW Air ($857) on alternative dates.
Toronto (YYZ) – Santiago (SCL)
Expedia: $1,219 (Aeromexico via Mexico City)
Orbitz: $1,256 (Delta via Boston, Atlanta)
Travelocity: $1,197 (American via Miami)
Priceline: $955 (Avianca via San Salvador, Lima)
Cheapoair: $811 (Aeromexico/LATAM via Mexico City, Lima)
Notes: Cheapoair is over $400 cheaper than Expedia. Priceline’s Avianca flight is timed at over 30 hours(!) both ways, it would probably be one to avoid; alternatively see our guide how to survive a long-haul flight
London (LON) – Dubai (DXB)
Expedia: $542 (Lufthansa via Frankfurt)
Orbitz: $542 (Lufthansa via Frankfurt)
Travelocity: $547 (Pegasus via Istanbul)
Priceline: $511 (Ukraine International via Kiev)
Cheapoair: $536 (Lufthansa/Swiss via Frankfurt, Zurich)
Notes: Priceline’s outbound flights would take 24 hours, there was also an 11 hour flight quoted for $530.
Amsterdam (AMS) – Cape Town (CPT)
Expedia: $872 (Turkish via Istanbul)
Orbitz: $872 (Turkish via Istanbul)
Travelocity: $899 (Turkish via Istanbul)
Priceline: $911 (Turkish via Istanbul)
Cheapoair: $875 (Turkish via Istanbul)
Notes: Cheapoair once again suggested a different date for Turkish at $852.
Brussels (BRU) – Madrid (MAD)
Expedia: $131 (Iberia)
Orbitz: $131 (Iberia)
Travelocity: $131 (Iberia)
Priceline: $139 (Iberia)
Cheapoair: $137 (Iberia)
Miami (MIA) – Dublin (DUB)
Expedia: $932 (Delta via Atlanta)
Orbitz: $971 (British, op by American via Charlotte)
Travelocity: $971 (British, op by American via Charlotte)
Priceline: $911 (special fare, unknown airline)
Cheapoair: $886 (special fare, unknown airline)
Bangkok (BKK) – Hong Kong (HKG)
Expedia: $191 (Emirates)
Orbitz: $191 (Emirates)
Travelocity: $191 (Emirates)
Priceline: $191 (Emirates)
Cheapoair: $212 (Emirates)
Singapore (SIN) – Melbourne (MEL)
Expedia: $462 (Emirates)
Orbitz: $461 (Emirates)
Travelocity: $462 (Emirates)
Priceline: $462 (Emirates)
Cheapoair: $485 (Emirates)
Notes: Cheapoair suggested Scoot $371 on an alternative date
Hong Kong (HKG) – Luanda (LAD)
Expedia: $1,712 (South African, TAAG via Johannesburg)
Orbitz: $1,712 (South African, TAAG via Johannesburg)
Travelocity: $1,712 (South African, TAAG via Johannesburg)
Priceline: $1,712 (South African, TAAG via Johannesburg)
Cheapoair: $1,710 (South African, TAAG via Johannesburg)
Notes: Cheapoair suggested Ethiopian $1,108 on an alternative date
Online Travel Agent Test Conclusions
The take-away from the above 16 flight searches (a limited data set really) is that there still remains some variation in airfare quotations from the main online travel agents. Our original assertion to get numerous quotes from different sources still stands – this means also checking directly with the airlines as well.
One thing the agents can be very good at is offering an airfare made up of multiple airlines. We are also seeing more unpublished ‘super saver’ fares where the flight details are withheld until after booking.
For fun let’s take a look at some head-to-head results from the above test.
Expedia 4:1 Travelocity
Expedia 4:1 Orbitz
Expedia 4:3 Priceline
Expedia 10:5 Cheapoair
Cheapoair 6:9 Priceline
Now let’s look at the sum of all airfares together:
Interestingly, Expedia and then Priceline have the best head-to-head records; however Cheapoair has the lowest total airfare. Cheapoair also had the lowest total when we ran a similar test in 2015.
Although from our test Cheapoair was consistently a little more expensive on US domestic routes, it was more competitive on international routes. In fact over $400 cheaper than Expedia on the Toronto-Santiago route and $136 cheaper on Chicago-Frankfurt.
Finally, note some fare differences between the Expedia Inc agents – Expedia itself being a bit cheaper than Travelocity and Orbitz on our test.