I am trying to book a flight. My university usually asks that we book a flight via a travel agent, but the prices he gives me are about $50 higher than the prices I can get by online booking in the flight company's website. This happened several times with different flight companies. Is there any advantage to booking via a travel agent, that is worth the extra $50?

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    You said 'my university asks'. Is this a group trip for the university? What does the university has to do with all this?
    – papakias
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 11:31
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    It is a trip to a scientific conference. I get a refund from the university. Commented May 17, 2016 at 11:40
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    I suspect that your university imposes this requirement so that they can be assured that the ticket actually was purchased and at what price. Companies sometimes have this policy because they get a kick-back from the travel agent, but I wouldn't expect that to be likely for a university.
    – Berwyn
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 11:57
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    This is essential answered at The Workplace.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 13:16
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    I think the main reason is to enforce travel policies. You've found a ticket that's $50 less, but someone else might book a 2-day layover in Bali for $1000 more. Without the travel agent, the university would need to have someone examining your booking to ensure that it complies with policy. It's cheaper for them to conclude an agreement with a travel specialist and require you to book through said specialist.
    – phoog
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 20:54

8 Answers 8


There are several reasons why such internal policies exist:

  • Your institution may get a discount on certain services of the travel agent if it buys enough from the agent
  • By having a contract with a reasonably-priced travel agent, they make sure that no employee books the flight with a very pricey agent or with a travel agent that happens to be a relative of the traveller
  • The travel agency offers easy methods to verify expense information and thus may lower the workload of your local administrative personnel. This especially holds if the payment is routed directly from the institution to the travel agent, which also makes sure that the flyer does not get credit card bonus points for the booking.
  • Your institution may have an agreement with the travel agent that they manually check if members of your institution are not unnecessarily booking expensive booking classes (in order to get more airline bonus miles)
  • Some insurances that your institution bought may only work if the ticket is bought directly from the institution and not by the flyer, and they elected the agent to handle such bookings.

Which of these reasons is the one why this policy exists can only be answered by the responsible employees of your institution.

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    Another addition to the detailed list above, my employer uses a single supplier to have a single point of contact in emergency situations. If there is a crash or other travel incident it reduces their effort to track down if any employees on business trips are affected by having immediate access to all itinerary and ticket information
    – rolinger
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 14:21
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    "...which also makes sure that the flyer does not get credit card bonus points for the booking." This appears to be painted as a positive thing, though for who I cannot guess. Why would this be an advantage?
    – Ketura
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 14:31
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    Also they may need to prove to funders that the amounts they spend on travel are reasonable. They do that by having a documented procedure, approved by the funder, that involves having a preferred travel agent that was chosen by some documented criteria, and then asking all employees to book through that agent. When they get questions about particular cases, they can show that the procedure was followed. Easily worth the odd $50 now and then. Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:09
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    @Ketura Usually it means that the institution does get points, or something equivalent. Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:13
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    Credit card bonus points could entice the traveler to book a more expensive ticket than otherwise, costing the university a lot of money so the traveler can get a small bonus.
    – stannius
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 15:46

All the answers so far seem to miss an important point: Your university might be legally required to do that. Specifically, above a certain amount of money, in many countries, public sectors organisations have to go through a specific procedure (call for tenders) to procure goods and services.

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    It's unlikely that a single trip where a $50 difference was a significant thing would be above the threshold where a call for bids is required. However, it's possible that the university periodically bids a contract for a travel agent that is used for university travel for some duration.
    – reirab
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 4:28
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    @reirab Our (public administration but not a university) threshold is 500 € from which on we need to collect comparative offers. But for most most run-of-the-mill travel we have two internal and an external travel agency (that had been tendered) which need to be used.
    – neo
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 5:09
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    @reirab Obviously...
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 5:37
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    @reirab where I live, it's not about how much single item costs. Rather, all items of such type over a period of time (year or term of office) are treated as one to test if it was legal to order them without call for tenders. So it's not about $50. It's about way much higher amount of money.
    – Mołot
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 8:52
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    "Call for tender" brings to mind submitting a request to several different travel agents and then collecting their bids.
    – Kaz
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 20:10

Something not mentioned so far is the fact that the ticket booked through the travel agent may be refundable, where the ticket from the online vendor is most likely not refundable. A number of years ago when I traveled on behalf of a government agency this was the case. We often booked flights that were one or two hundred dollars more than the cheapest price you could find, but the travel agent guaranteed the price for flights on short notice, guaranteed the ability to change the flight itinerary, and guaranteed a refund if the agency had to cancel. To the government all this was worth the extra price.

  • Being able to change the itinerary is important. My employer uses a discount airline, and if your event finishes a day earlier you have to hang around for a day or buy a new ticket. Depends of course where the hanging around happens. Sometimes it's good. ;-)
    – RedSonja
    Commented Mar 2, 2017 at 9:28

On top of the other answer by DCTLIB...

You haven't specified where you are and where is 'your' company, but there might be tax or financial book-keeping reasons.

E.g. if the company is in EU they might require a proper VAT invoice to properly book it (and maybe get a VAT refund). And some vendors, especially in US, are unlikely to provide that. Using a travel agent might give the university confidence in receiving proper paperwork. $50 is likely a saving not worth enough to chase for that reason.


Another reason - they think the time you would be spending looking for cheap flights is worth more than the price difference.

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    Of all the answers, this is the one I disagree with the most. To whoever makes these decisions, your time is worthless.
    – emory
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 20:42
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    Anyone who has dealt with a university finance department knows this is absolutely not the case!
    – user35890
    Commented May 17, 2016 at 21:44
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    Can be true in a business setting, definitely not true in academic settings. Commented May 17, 2016 at 23:32

Large travel agents have 24/7 assistance numbers. If you end up stranded at 2am on Sunday, they can get you rebooked, find a hotel room, etc. Most organizations are simply unable or unwilling to provide that support. OTA's (online travel agents) such as Expedia and Travelocity are notoriously bad at pointing a finger at the airline or hotel, while the provider correctly points back at the OTA who "owns" your booking. Lastly, when money is due back to the organization, it can be difficult and time-consuming to recover through the airline or an OTA. Large TA's that handle corporate accounts have the clout to handle credits and debits.

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    This is the big one right here! My wife is an agent. When a major weather event happens, she spends the day finding alternatives for all her clients that may be inconvenienced by it. If you've booked via a web site you're on your own.
    – tjd
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 19:22
  • I've been through exactly this. Short connecting flight at the end of my trip delayed several hours due to weather, and then eventually cancelled at 2am. The corporate travel agent was able to book me a rental car at no cost or hassle to me, and I drove the remainder home. Commented May 20, 2016 at 3:15

At many universities this is recommended but it is rarely a requirement, for the reasons listed in the other answers. However, there are downsides to booking via a travel agency, e.g. if you need to rebook the flight back while you are at the conference. You then need to contact your travel agency to do that for you, and they may ask that you make a payment for the rebooking first, putting the rebooking on hold until the payment is received. So, it's actually quite risky to book a flight via a travel agency, which is why I never do this.

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    While I think this is true with "ordinary" travel agents, access in an emergency is one of the services a university or corporation will negotiate for. Commented May 17, 2016 at 20:26
  • Presumably a sufficiently large company or university has hired a large enough corporate travel agency that has the staff to take care of changes and emergencies, including after-hours, rather than just hiring a random guy with no staff or support. Commented May 18, 2016 at 21:43

IF in UK, something called ATOL protects all purchased tickets.

IF in a backward place like the usa;

  • One suspects that, in the case of 'a problem', they know which building to burn down and who gets a visit from 'BigVinnie' and the 'boys'.
  • Additionally, someone's brother-in-law is probably involved somewhere...
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    Funny! But not sufficiently informative. You might get some upvotes if you explained what ATOL is and what it protects, and how this is a helpful answer to the OP. For us folks in the boondocks.
    – Spike0xff
    Commented May 18, 2016 at 14:25
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    ATOL: caa.co.uk/ATOL-protection
    – Surfbutler
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 13:07

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