If you’re like me, you probably spend a great deal of time looking for cheap flights using Google Flights. Google Flights is an amazing tool when looking for cheap and convenient flights. However, if you’ve ever tried to book flights, especially those departing outside of the United States, you have probably come across Kiwi.com. Kiwi.com is often the least expensive option when booking a flight found on Google Flights. After years of seeing Kiwi.com listed in the results below my desired flight, I finally booked a flight through the travel agency.
My experience was seamless. However, the experience was not without its quirks and hurdles. It is clear that Kiwi.com makes its money not through flight bookings but through additional paid services offered by the online travel agency. Moreso, it turns out that these services are completely useless. Here’s what I found out when booking with Kiwi.com.
What Is Kiwi.com?
Most travelers have probably heard of or even used sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and CheapOair. These three sites are popular online travel agencies or OTAs. An OTA is a private third-party company that sells seats on flights, rooms at hotels, or allows customers to book rental cars. Customers are booking the same flight, hotel, or rental car as those that booked directly through an airline, hotel, or rental agency. OTA customers simply book through a third party as opposed to booking direct. In many instances, travelers save money when booking through an OTA.
It is worth noting that travelers that booked through OTAs like Experida, saved an average of just $2 per booking. There are often instances in which travelers snag an amazing deal through an OTA. However, this is a rare occurrence.
With the bulk of travel reservations being handled online, there is an almost endless list of online travel agencies. One of these newer OTAs is Kiwi.com.
Kiwi.com was founded in 2012 as skypicker.com. Like any OTA, Kiwi.com serves as a search tool and flight aggregator. This enables users to see all of the flights available for their given search as well as most of the available fares for a flight. However, Kiwi.com is somewhat unique in that Kiwi.com provides virtual interline itineraries. This means that Kiwi.com will allow customers to book an itinerary that includes flights operated by multiple different airlines. According to Kiwi.com, the company wants to go so far as to become a “virtual global supercarrier.”
Interline agreements are nothing new. Interline agreements are agreements between two or more lines. These agreements allow an airline to sell seats on another airline’s flight as a part of a single itinerary. For example, American Airlines and JetBlue have an interline agreement allowing the two airlines to sell seats on each other’s flights on select routes.
Kiwi.com is unique in that the OTA allows travelers to book interline itineraries with airlines that do not already have an interline agreement. This might sound like an ingenious business model. However, as you will see later in this post, Kiwi.com’s virtual interline agreement itineraries are not all that passenger-friendly and could cost travelers hundreds in unexpected travel costs.
Aside from the ability to book complex itineraries with flights operated by numerous different airlines, Kiwi.com offers little more than existing websites like Expedia or Orbitz. So, why book with Kiwi.com over one of these other sites?
How Is Kiwi.com Cheaper?
The reason Kiwi.com is able to offer flights at a lower price than most other sites is thanks to its somewhat questionable ticketing practices. As previously mentioned, Kiwi.com will let customers book complex itineraries with flights operated by numerous airlines that do not already have existing interline ticketing agreements. Additionally, Kiwi.com attempts to force customers to rely on their customer service team for all itinerary changes, cancellations, and refunds.
More popular OTAs like Expedia and Orbitz allow travelers that book using their platforms the flexibility to manage their itinerary with the assistance of the airline on which they booked. Typically, the only thing an airline cannot do for travelers that booked through an OTA, is issue refunds. Instead, the travel agency that a passenger used, must issue refunds or handle canceled itineraries. Aside from canceled itineraries and refunds, passengers are almost always able to go through an airline to manage their third-party itinerary.
Kiwi.com is a rare expectation. Kiwi.com’s booking process makes it appear as if travelers can only manage their itinerary through their customer service team. As a matter of fact, Kiwi.com goes as so far as to upsell its customers on the ability to contact their customer service team. It is important to remember that, aside from refunds, airlines have the ability to manage a passenger’s itinerary even if they book through a third party.
The only instance in which it would make sense to utilize Kiwi.com’s customer service team is in the event that a passenger books one of the platform’s “virtual interline agreement” itineraries. According to Kiwi.com, these itineraries can be managed like most other interline itineraries in the event that a customer has purchased the ability to access the platform’s customer service team.
Still, Kiwi.com upsells its customers on all itineraries. Even the most basic itineraries require customers to decline multiple customer service add-ons and services.
Images: Kiwi.com’s Add-Ons and Upselling At Checkout
Additionally, Kiwi.com also sells additional services and amenities. This is similar to an airline upselling passengers on seats and in-flight services. What is important to understand about a third-party upselling customers on services and amenities offered by an airline is that there is no way to guarantee that an airline will honor any of these services or amenities.
If you have ever booked a flight using American Express’ booking platform, you likely encountered the following message when selecting seats. “Seat Requests are passed to the airline, but cannot be guaranteed. Check with the airline soon after booking to confirm.” American Express makes it abundantly clear to its customers that seat requests are sent over to an airline but there is a chance they will not be honored. This is because American Express is simply requesting those seats for the passenger.
Deep in Kiwi.com’s terms and conditions, the OTA does note that services and seats are not guaranteed. Most passengers are likely to overlook this as it is not made clear at the time of booking. It is also quite odd for an OTA to push any services that are not checked bags and seats. Nevertheless, Kiwi.com does just that.
This is part of the reason Kiwi.com can offer fares that a cheaper than what is offered by an airline or other online travel agencies. Kiwi.com is collecting numerous fees from customers for services and add-ons that cannot even be guaranteed. In addition to airline-related services and add-ons, Kiwi.com is also collecting fees from passengers that wish to receive customer service from the company.
Furthermore, even after a customer pays to access Kiwi.com’s customer service, there are fees associated with changes to their itineraries. Fees are incurred when changes are made to a Kiwi.com itinerary even if the airline has a no-change fee policy.
In short, Kiwi.com’s aggressive upselling is likely one of the main reasons the OTA can offer flights at such a low price. OTAs like Kiwi.com also earn a commission from the airline each time a flight is booked. But a cheap flight is a cheap flight. If someone is willing to forgo the ability to make changes to their itinerary or forgo access to customer service in return for a cheaper flight, why not book through Kiwi.com?
Should You Book a Flight on Kiwi.com?
In most cases, I almost always bypass the savings offered by online travel agencies in return for the peace of mind I receive when I book directly through an airline. However, there are some instances in which the savings are worth the risk. In the case of any online travel agency, there is no clear yes or no answer. So, the question as to whether or not you should book a flight on Kiwi.com is not all that straightforward.
Whether or not you should book via Kiwi.com comes down to the individual booking the flight. How much are the savings worth to you? How much of a risk are you willing to take? Do the fees associated with booking with a third party outweigh the savings? These are the questions travelers need to ask themselves before booking a flight on Kiwi.com.
How Much Are The Savings Worth To You?
I recently made the decision to forgo booking directly with the airline and instead booked a flight on Kiwi.com. This was a result of how much I valued the money I would save by not booking directly with the airline. In this case, VivaAerobus, the airline operating the flight, was selling a ticket on the airline for around $70 USD. Kiwi.com was offering the same flight at around $46 USD. I decided the $30ish savings were worth it.
If I had been traveling a few days later, the same flight when booking through VivaAerobus is currently available for just $19 USD. Meanwhile, that flight is available for $16 USD on Kiwi.com. In this case, I would have booked directly with VivaAerobus as the $3 USD savings is just not worth the risk that comes with booking through an OTA.
How Much of a Risk Are You Willing to Take?
In the case of the flight I had booked through Kiwi.com, there was already a significant amount of risk associated with this itinerary. For one, the flight departs on the first day that the airport opens its doors to the public. There is a relatively high chance that this flight is canceled should the airport delay its opening date. Getting to the airport for this flight is also going to be somewhat of a challenge as I am taking multiple airlines and connecting through multiple airports.
In short, since the risk was already quite high, the risk associated with booking through Kiwi.com was insignificant. Something like a delay in a connecting flight will most likely make this itinerary impossible.
Do The Fees Associated with Book With a Third Party Outweigh The Savings?
Since this was my first time booking a flight on Kiwi.com, I took a risk and decided to decline all additional fees. This came at the possibility of incurring an itinerary modification fee for something as simple as selecting a seat. However, the risk paid off.
Once my flight was ticketed with VivaAerobus, I was able to select a seat using VivaAerobus’ website. I also had the option to select services including priority boarding and added baggage allowance using the VivaAerobus website. All of these add-ons offered through the VivaAerobus website were quite inexpensive and worth it.
In this case, since I did not incur any fees when booking on Kiwi.com, the fees associated with the savings offered by the OTA were most definitely worth it.
Ultimately, everything about this upcoming trip was the perfect opportunity to allow me to try out booking a flight on Kiwi.com. With my flight now ticketed and additional services paid for using VivaAerobus’ website, I am pleasantly surprised by the ease with which I was able to book my flight. However, the constant offers for additional services included customer service (something already offered by VivaAerobus) was a major red flag.
The Bottom Line
There is an inherent risk when booking with any third-party booking platform. However, after having booked a flight on Kiwi.com, it is apparent that not all online travel agencies are the same. Though the platform often features the least expensive fares and even allows customers to book extremely complex itineraries, there are notable cons to the OTA.
Kiwi.com actively works to get customers to book add-ons and services that are entirely unnecessary. However, if you are able to navigate around the platform’s nickel-and-diming, you may be able to snag a great deal on your next flight. It ultimately comes down to how much a traveler values the savings and how much risk a traveler is willing to take. If like in my case, all of the pieces fall into place, Kiwi.com may be a feasible option when booking your next trip.
Have you ever booked a flight using Kiwi.com? What are your thoughts on online travel agencies like Kiwi.com?