It’s exciting when it’s time to book your next trip – regardless of your trip size, here are some points to consider before jumping online to book that flight
I might be biased as I am a travel consultant at one of Australia’s leading agencies, however there are some important factors to consider in this slightly controversial subject!
*Competition: The biggest competition is not the travel agency that is located next door to your favourite agent, but rather the internet. You are constantly being bombarded with advertising of flight specials and discounted stays at hotels. Watch any tv ad break and you will see a hotel comparison website on your screen. The problem is – everyone advertises the “cheapest prices”. Any web search pulls up thousands of hotel options all at your fingertips, why shouldn’t you click ‘book’?
*Price: Using a agent is not necessarily going to cost you more than booking online. Yes, some agents do have booking fees, however you can ask upfront what these are before you invest time into the agent. The price of the products (airfares / hotels / tours) should be the same price as advertised online; if not cheaper.
There’s a couple of diversions to take here. The first being the booking or service fee. Why do agents charge this, and why should you pay this? Well there are a couple of reasons. Firstly, you are talking about a real person here. They might be your neighbour or a friend of the family. This is not a automated computer system or someone sitting in a offshore call centre. This is their job and they are trying to make a living. There’s a interesting stigma surrounding travel consultants. It’s not what it used to be – yeah there are rewards and incentives for achieving sales targets or just being in the right place at the right time. However at the end of the day this is a sales job. For anyone who has ever worked in sales knows that there are targets and deadlines to be met. This is no different – the pressure is on. Depending on the agency you will either be paid on commission from sales, a set salary or a combination of both. The commission the agent receives comes from the suppliers and wholesalers and is at no extra cost to you.
Now I’m not a coffee drinker, but you go to a cafe and pay maybe $4 for a coffee. In that cost includes the coffee beans, milk etc.. but part of that is also for the service of making the coffee. This is similar to your travel agent, however a good agent should disclose how much of the cost is a service fee. You are paying them a fee to look through 300 hotels in Paris and pick the right one to suit you; for that service.
Just a word of warning: Be smart – a decent, honest travel agent should disclose their booking fee upfront. Some agencies may not have them at all. This shouldn’t be a deal breaker, but if you know what the deal is from the beginning then there should be no issues later on. Say you are looking at a flight: One agency might say it is $1550; whereas a good agency will say the fare is $1000, the taxes are $500 and the booking / service fee is $50. Who are you more likely to book through?
Secondly, do a little bit of research before you go to see a travel agent. I mean a little bit.. if I was looking at a flight to London and can see the average price is around $2000, I will know that if the agent presents a flight for $1800 then it is a great deal! And vice versa, if they present a flight for $2500 then something is amiss! In this case just let them know what you have seen. There are SO many factors that go into pricing – this is it’s own blog post right there!!
If there is a price difference and you are comparing the same thing (apples for apples, not apples to oranges) then they might be able to price match the flight or hotel for you, depending on the agency.
*Time: Are you planning a family holiday around Europe for 6 weeks? (I’d be so jealous if you were!!), then that is ALOT of hotels to be looking at. Pick any major city and you would have hundreds of choices. Yeah, you may know what standard you want and which area of the city, but who really has time to sit down and read reviews on each one; check the prices and availability?! Imagine doing that for a 6 week holiday…I’m exhausted just thinking about it! You can just give your travel agent a rough itinerary and all your “must haves” and they can pop it together for you.
*Recommendations: No matter how much you have travelled, there is no doubt a time when you miss something or slip up on a hotel. Tripadvisor is great – I use it all the time, but notice how it’s often the grumpiest people who complain and post things online? The average person doesn’t; they have their expectations met, they are pleased with that and they move on, not thinking any more of it.
Travel agents are constantly travelling. It can make all the difference to know a great restaurant for your special occasion or to know a hidden gem of the city. They know this because they have been there. If they haven’t been there, chances are one of their colleagues has. In general, agents are usually more than happy to make recommendations about unrelated things to hotels and flights. It’s these that can make all the difference on your trip – and for me it is completely priceless.
*Ease: You can visit your travel agent, email or call them. You can do it in your time – in your lunch break, when you get home from work… many agencies are changing their opening hours from the usual 9am – 5pm
*Who you gonna call? Ghostbusters – they can’t help when something goes wrong, well with travel anyway! From missing a flight to a natural disaster to (dare I say it), a terrorist attack – who’s going to help you when you’re stuck? Have you ever tried calling a airline – if you do manage to get through within a hour, then you usually have language barriers and bad phone connections since most airlines use offshore call centres. You are dealing with time differences too. The agency I work for has a 24 hour emergency phone number. There staff who answer these calls can do anything over the phone. The best selling point for this is that they are based in Australia! What!?! This service is included when booking with us. Other agencies may have something similar. Besides the emergency phone number, you can call or email you agent while you are away for any changes or help. You just tell them what you need and they work behind the scenes to get it sorted, leaving you more time to enjoy the city sights.
In natural disaster situations, agents are able to locate you and make sure you are safe and make alternative arrangements for you. They have many different networking connections to make things work out for you.
Agents often receive news and updates before the press does – they get notices of airline strikes, airport closures etc.. so they are well informed and can advise you before you see it on the news!
*Passports and Visas: I’m sure we all know that person (or have heard of the “friend of a friend”) who went to the airport without enough validity on their passport. It’s a travel agent’s duty of care to make sure your passport is all a-ok and advise you of any visas (and help you apply – Russia visa anyone??). It’s a small thing, but it can make all the difference.
There are many more points I could address here, but I feel these are the main points for now… I urge you, if you currently book your own holidays online – consider giving a travel agent a chance to book your next trip. If you’ve had a bad past experience, then consider giving a different agency a try. Ask around your friends and family. Chances are one of them would have used a travel agent in the last few years. It can be daunting walking into a store for the first time. You need to like the person you are talking to and give them a chance to prove themselves, after all you are trusting them with your trip of a lifetime and possibly thousands of dollars. There’s no “wrong” person to talk to, but at least if someone is referred to you there is a chance you can skip this step and get on with the show! Just remember, these are people we are talking about, so there is a chance you may have a personality clash – but really, so what? As long as they can get you that great deal and be there to save you in a emergency situation then who really cares?
What are you waiting for? Give a travel agent a go!