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I apologize for a rather long explanation but it is necessary to understand the issue.

To begin, we know that the most reliable way to buy the ticket is directly from airline. But this is not always possible, and sometimes we need to use travel agents.

Now there seem to be two kinds of online travel agents:

One which issues the ticket immediately upon purchase. Those include mostly the ones in Priceline group: Expedia, Orbitz, Booking.com and so on. When you purchase a ticket from them, it is issued and confirmed immediately.

However there is a second group of online travel agents - such as Travel2Be, Flyfar, GotoGate etc. With them once you click "purchase" you just sent a request to someone to buy a ticket for you. The actual ticket purchase happens later, and in a few hours you either receive the ticket, or a quite lame response ("We have some good news - your credit card has not been charged! But sorry, your ticket could not be issued" or something like that)

Both groups work fine when you book well in advance or a non-popular route (although I had bad experience with some of those agents). However this difference becomes critical when you're buying a ticket for a flight where the availability is diminishing fast. What happens in this case is different between those:

  • Orbitz etc show you a good price for a flight. In some cases as soon as you click to buy it, you get the "Oops, this flight now costs $2000 more, still wanna buy it?". However once you purchase a flight, it is purchased.

  • Travel2Be etc show you a good price for a flight and accepts the payment. Then you will get the above message 4-12 hours later in email.

Obviously the second scenario is much worse, because you just lost valuable time, which you could have used to find alternatives more quickly, before they also sell out.

Thus my question is:

Is there a reliable way to find out fast whether a specific online travel agent issues the confirmed ticket immediately (like Orbitz/Expedia), or works on an order taking basis (like Travel2be/gotogate)?

  • being a person who always bought tickets from an airline website. Can you call these agents and ask them for payment processing or ticket issuance times? – Newton Oct 18 '17 at 12:21
  • This is quite time consuming as the wait is usually long (tenths of minutes), and while you're waiting, the alternative tickets might be already gone. – George Y. Oct 18 '17 at 16:59
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    I've had Travelocity tell me that ticketing is in process and there was a delay of an hour or so. No change to the ticket price though. – mkennedy Oct 18 '17 at 17:45
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    Tough one. I imagine most of the have back-ends that communicate with other systems and any one in the chain may cause a delay. I've had Expedia give me a ticket within minutes but also take hours. FlightHub seem to always take long, so maybe their direct back-end holds things up. I have never heard of any of the providers you list in your second group. – Itai Nov 4 '17 at 22:48
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    Yeah it happened once when my bank rejected the transaction and I was only notified about it in a few hours. – JonathanReez Nov 4 '17 at 23:57
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Is there a reliable way

Proving a negative is very hard but I would say: no. After all, most (all?) agencies which provide you with automated booking also have the capability to have a human book you a new ticket.

So the question would be like "what percentage of tickets are booked by a software operated by an untrained third party and how much are booked by trained empoyees"? While I guess "0% of the former and 100% of the latter" could be a different category regulation wise (whether that's industry or legal regulation) it seems a very haphazard and unnecessary pigeonholing.

  • This is also my conclusion so far. – George Y. Nov 5 '17 at 0:23

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