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Why you might want to be wary of booking travel through a third-party site

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An American Airlines jet at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

An American Airlines jet at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Travel experts say it's usually safer to book flights directly through the airlines than through a third-party vendor.

Travelers have come to rely on the convenience and savings of bundling packages at online travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Priceline.

This year, these third-party websites have been hit by the same wave of airline flight changes and cancellations that are broadly disrupting travel.

Flight deal analyst Gunnar Olson of Thrifty Traveler, a travel education website, said he has observed more challenges for online travel agency customers who are negotiating changes during the pandemic, so he advises travelers to book directly through airlines.

"The problem with booking with these third-party sites is, while they can offer some savings ... if anything goes wrong you're stuck dealing with a middle man," Olson said.

Sherry Parker of Minneapolis used to love booking travel on third-party sites like Expedia and Travelocity. This year, after flight changes and cancellations on trips booked on those sites, she'll use them only for research.

"I hope that more travelers are wary of booking through these third parties right now," Parker said. "They're better off to go through the airlines during these turbulent times."

Parker experienced a flight cancellation earlier this year for an American Airlines flight to Reno in August that she'd booked through Travelocity. American started the refund process and she received a refund quickly, she said.

But she haggled with Expedia for months to refund her $795 airfare after each leg of a roundtrip in April for her family of four from Athens to Santorini was changed by carrier Volotea by five hours, including a 10 p.m. arrival in Athens the night before a 6 a.m. flight home.

First, she tried to change the flights, but that didn't work. She said Volotea then agreed to the refund because the changes were more than two hours each way. But she then spent hours going back and forth between the airline and Expedia to process the refund.

After a reporter contacted Expedia for this story, Parker, 58, a civil engineer specializing in environmental cleanup, received an email Thursday from Expedia that she would receive a refund.

A spokeswoman for Expedia declined to comment on specifics.

"We can often resolve the issue but are limited by the policies set by our partners and (are) not authorized to make exceptions on their behalf," a spokeswoman wrote in an email. "If we make a mistake, we are committed to making it right."

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