OTA vs. Metasearch: A Quick Vocabulary Lesson!


Let’s delve into a brief lesson on the basic concept of OTAs vs. metasearch engines.

Previously, these terms were fairly straightforward to define, but technology has progressed and there are now many ways in which these services overlap. We’ll do our best to make a decent distinction between them here, but we’ll warn you…it’s not always that simple!

Online Travel Agency: a website that traditionally offers both search and booking capabilities.  OTA services usually include flights, hotels, and rental cars, with some also offering vacation rentals, cruises, and events/activities. OTAs often offer bundles to secure greater discounts when booking multiple services together.

An OTA is a sort of “middle-man” between the user and the airline/hotel/etc. While they no longer make commissions on flights, OTAs may take a cut of 15%-20% of your booking fee from the hotel.

Additionally, OTAs also often have toll-free phone numbers for personal assistance with booking/re-booking reservations.

Big players you’ve likely heard of in the OTA industry include Expedia, Hotels.com, Travelocity, Orbitz, Priceline, and Booking.com, among others.

Metasearch Engine: one overarching search engine that aggregates data from various sources (including other third-party search engines, OTAs, hotel websites, etc.) to provide a more comprehensive results page. This tool basically does what you’d do yourself by checking multiple different websites to compare airfares; it just checks more sites much faster… and no offense, but it’s probably smarter!

In the past, metasearch engines only offered the capability to search, directing the user to a third party OTA or individual airline to book and charging a small fee for their services. That’s no longer always the case, as we’re seeing some metasearch engines emerge with the capability to book directly through their websites.

Similar to OTAs, metasearch engine services usually include flights, hotels, and car rentals; some even provide packages to rival OTA’s discounted prices when booking services together.

Big players you’ve likely heard of in the metasearch industry include Google Flights, Kayak, Momondo, and Hipmunk, among others.

Here’s where it gets confusing. Most OTAs now offer price comparison features that essentially stack their results up against other search results, providing a more metasearch-like result.  However, this option usually allows users a max of 3-4 comparison sites, whereas metasearch engines compare many more.

In addition, some metasearch engines like Hipmunk now offer assistance with travel planning, booking, canceling, etc., whereas before this was strictly OTA territory.

Things get even more convoluted when an OTA (ex: Expedia) buys a metasearch site like Kayak. Or when a metasearch site like Hipmunk uses an OTA (Travelocity, owned by parent company Expedia) to power their hotel bookings. Or when a metasearch site like Skyscanner offers various OTAs (Kiwi.com, lastminute.com, etc.) through which to book your flight.

Lastly, we all know OTAs rank their results. How do they do that? Is it fair? Our friends at Duetto Research provide an eye opening report into the ins and outs of OTA search results.

The list goes on, but by now your head may be swimming!

Final Thoughts

The point is, whether you choose to use multiple OTAs or a certain metasearch engine is really personal preference, and truly depends on how much digging you want to do yourself.

We list both types in our travel resource post on flight searches and go into our thoughts on the best of the best in a separate post.

Additionally, we’ve got an entire article dedicated to the best websites for booking hotels at the cheapest prices. 

After all, it is an extensive look into travel resources, and we wouldn’t be Upgraded Points if we didn’t go in-depth!

Erin Miller

About Erin Miller

Erin currently maintains her status as Alex's adventure-seeking partner-in-crime and contributes to Upgraded Points through content creation & relationship management.
She caught the travel bug just after high school when her grandmother took her on a two-week, whirlwind trip around Europe. That was that - she's been gallivanting around the globe ever since (22 countries & counting)!


Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Here are the top 5 reasons to have this card in your wallet, where you can earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent.

Plus – you can convert your cash back to points if you also have the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card!

  • New Offer! Double Cash Back: Earn 3% cash back on all purchases in your first year up to $20,000 spent. After that earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases.
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months from account opening on purchases and balance transfers, then a variable APR of 16.99-25.74%. A Balance transfer fee is 3% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • No minimum to redeem for cash back
  • Cash Back rewards do not expire as long as your account is open
  • Free credit score, updated weekly with Credit Journey℠
  • No annual fee

Disclaimer: Any comments listed below are not from the bank advertiser, nor have they been reviewed or approved by them. No responsibility will be taken by the bank advertiser for these comments.

Any thoughts or questions? Comment below!

Email needed if you'd like comment updates. It will NOT be published.

Advertiser Disclosure

Many of the credit card offers that appear on this site are from credit card companies from which we receive financial compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). However, the credit card information that we publish has been written by experts who know these products inside out, and what we recommend is what we would (or already) use ourselves. This site does not include all credit card companies or all available credit card offers that are on the market. For more information on our advertisers, see here.