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In 2012 I used a third-party site to book international flights on Air Canada and had many problems resulting from missed connections (their fault). Ultimately I got no compensation and at one point one of their reps said to me something like "well what do you expect; you didn't buy the ticket from us directly so we can't do much to help you".

I've just returned from an international trip booked directly from United. When one connection was at risk (their fault), they sent email saying that if we did in fact miss that plane we now had reserved spots on the next flight. We never contacted them (we were busy sprinting through an airport); they initiated that.

Is the difference in these outcomes the direct ticket purchase, or is it the different airlines? (Maybe United's customer service is just way better than Air Canada's?) We also bought travel insurance this time (didn't know to do that the first time), but since we never invoked it I'm not sure that matters.

I'm trying to figure out if the lesson here is "buy direct from the airline" or "fly United (where possible)". I don't have the fortitude (or travel frequency) to determine this experimentally, e.g. by buying a ticket directly from Air Canada to see what happens.

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I guess you're referring to:… – Karlson Jan 31 '14 at 19:38
@Karlson yup. Wasn't sure if I should link to that in the question. – Monica Cellio Jan 31 '14 at 19:41
It's always better to have a more complete picture. – Karlson Jan 31 '14 at 19:43
Re your edit, I was really trying to focus specifically on the customer-service aspect. I'm not looking for answers about, say, financial benefits like bonus miles for buying direct. – Monica Cellio Jan 31 '14 at 19:45
Not sure how one would make this determination if it is at all possible but there is a similar discussion on TripAdvisor – Karlson Jan 31 '14 at 20:31

While it varies from airline to airline, certainly booking through the airline, or a reputable travel agent helps. As a travel coach, if the prices are the same I always send my clients through the airline, because if something goes wrong with the reservation, or in the booking process the airline is much more likely to help rather than route you through what ever online travel agency you bought your ticket from. Some airlines will help no matter what, but in my experience it is better to either book with the airline, or at least as directly as you can. Some sources:

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Any facts to back this up? – Karlson Feb 4 '14 at 14:28
Hi Karlson - you're right to ask for facts, but it's one of those questions that really comes down to experience. I surely agree that it's plain better to use the direct booking process. – Joe Blow Sep 8 '15 at 13:24

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