How StudentUniverse works
If you’re buying flights online, you have two basic options: you can book directly with the airline (pretty straightforward) or you can book with an online travel agency (aka, us, or somewhere like Skyskanner or Kayak).
If you’re new to buying plane tickets though, it can be a pretty confusing process! We’re here to answer all your questions about online travel agencies so you can understand how the ticketing process works and make the best decisions about how to save money on your tickets.
So what is an online travel agency, exactly?
Online travel agencies (OTAs) are companies that work with airlines to sell you flights online. Unlike in other situations, where it’s usually cheaper to buy directly from whoever is selling the product, booking with an OTA is often cheaper than booking directly from the airline.
You’ve probably heard of some big-name OTA’s already, like Expedia, Priceline and Kayak. But there are tons of smaller ones, some of which cater to specific needs or audiences. Like us, for example—anyone can buy with us, use our promo codes and find some discounts on our site. But we have the most discounts for students and youth and we plan extra sales around times of the year that we know students will be needing to travel (i.e. spring break, back-to-school, holidays and so on).
How do OTA’s work?
Online travel agencies work by displaying tickets available through a global system where airlines can share flight information and costs with distributors. These systems are used by airlines globally, so unlike buying directly from an airline, when you book with an OTA, you have the option to compare dozens of airline options at the same time.
One potential downside to this is that there can sometimes be delays between when you click “purchase” and when your ticket is actually issued when you book with an OTA. When you book directly with the airline, the ticket is issued immediately because the airline is pulling a ticket from its own stock. But with an OTA, tickets are coming from the airline, not the OTA, so there may be a slight delay between when you purchase and when the ticket is issued.
Most of the time this doesn’t cause any problems, but it can mean that if you book a ticket that turns out to be no longer available, you’ll have to find and book a new ticket. (You, of course, won’t be charged for the original one.) StudentUniverse doesn’t cache flights on our website (i.e. we check to make sure a flight price is available every time you search), so you’re less likely to purchase a flight that has been sold out.
What are the benefits of booking flights with an online travel agency?
For starters, booking with an OTA is often cheaper than booking with the airline directly. Sometimes the savings may be only $10 or $15 (especially if it’s a low-fare or basic economy ticket), but sometimes the savings can be hundreds of dollars. Plus, even if the savings is only a bit, every dollar helps, right?
Many OTA’s also offer more features than you might be able to find when booking directly with an airline as well. For example, many OTA’s offer features like searching with flexible dates or flexible locations, setting up fare alerts, more sales and promo codes, cheaper last-minute flights, additional services or packages and more. These additional features can save you money and help you a ton when you’re planning where to go or when to travel.
How can OTA’s afford to offer discounts?
Online travel agencies have partnerships with the airlines, so they act as a middleman that negotiates between the airlines and the travelers. OTA’s work with the airlines to sell tickets from the airline’s stock of tickets and earn a small commission from the airline in the process.
One way that many OTA’s are able to offer discounts is by offering part of their commission back to the traveler in the form of a discount on the airfare. Some OTA’s are able to offer discounts on flights when you book as part of a package deal. Other OTA’s (like us!) may negotiate with the airlines to sell them flights at a discounted fare.
We’re able to negotiate special discounts with airlines because of our unique student verification process. When you sign up to become a member on our site, we’ll officially verify your student status. This means that airlines can trust we’re giving discounts to actual students and allows them to give us better deals! And it means that you won’t have to verify as a student with each individual airline when you want to purchase student flights—just verify once with us and see all the discounts!
What’s so special about StudentUniverse?
Kind of a lot, if you ask us. We’ll give you the short list.
We cater to students and youth
We’re one of the only OTA’s in the world that caters to students and youth, so there’s that.
We’ve been in the business for 19 years
We know our way around the travel industry and we’ve had plenty of time to get to know students as well. In short, we know what you need when you travel—and we know how to get it for you!
We have exclusive discounts and promo codes
How? We work directly with the airlines to negotiate exclusive deals for students and youth that you can’t find anywhere else. (Want to find out more about our process? We’ve spilled all the beans about how StudentUniverse works and how to get student discounts on flights.)
We don’t cache flights on our website
which means you’re less likely to click on a flight that has since been sold out, since we refresh inventory every time you search. Plus, you’ll see the most up-to-date prices we have every time you search!
A unique search logic
Our unique search logic means that of the thousands of flights in our database, you’ll see the best options first. Your search will show you a mix of the absolute cheapest options, the fastest options and some that are a mix of both. Flights with four layovers? Tickets that are hundreds of dollars more expensive than other options? We’ll filter them to the bottom so you see better options first.
How do I know this isn’t a scam?
Your likelihood of getting scammed by an OTA is rare, especially if you stick to OTA’s that are reputable. But how do I know you’re reputable?!?!?, you ask. Ok, fair. For one thing, you can check out an OTA’s website and see if it looks pretty profesh. If it does, you’re good to go. You can also check out reviews of the OTA online. Our review platform, Reseller Reviews, verifies that reviewers have made a purchase before posting their review, so you can be sure that the reviews are from real travelers! (We’ve got over 16,000 reviews and 8/10 stars, if you wanna see if we’re legit.)
Should I be concerned about negative reviews of online travel agencies?
In short, not really, unless the reviews are pretty much 100% negative. Think about it—if you have a good experience with something you buy online and everything goes according to plan, how often do you think to go back and leave a good review? Probably almost never. As a result, many online reviews are often disproportionately skewed toward the negative. Don’t be afraid of some negative reviews, as long as there are some positive ones too!
Also, keep in mind that many negative reviews of online travel agencies happen when travelers don’t understand the restrictions of their tickets or the online travel agencies’ restrictions. When you’re booking your ticket—whether with the airline or an OTA—make sure you understand what your ticket does and does not include to prevent any unhappy surprises if you want to change or cancel your ticket.
Should I book directly with the airline or with an OTA?
You should book directly with the airline if…
- You think you will need to make changes to your reservation. Most airlines will still charge you a fee for changes or cancellations, but it will usually be less, since OTA’s often have a change/cancellation fee on top of the airline’s fee.
- There’s a special airline sale and they are offering fares at the cheapest rates.
- You want to book a flight using reward miles. Many OTA’s don’t have a way to let you book using points/award travel.
You should book with an OTA (aka StudentUniverse) if…
- You want to get a discount on your flight—especially if you’re a student or under 26!
- You want to buy a last-minute flight. Flights tend to go up in price the closer you get to the departure date, so it pays to buy them early. However, some OTA’s discount last-minute flights, making it cheaper to purchase them with an OTA than directly with the airline.
- You want a one-stop shop where you can book other things for your trip as well, such as hotels, tours or trip insurance (heads up: we offer all three).
- You want to search a variety of airlines and compare prices and/or mix-and-match airlines for your trip to get the cheapest price.
- You want to save extra on your airfare by catching a special sale or using promo codes for your flight.