Booking Online vs with a Travel Agent
Is it better to book with a travel agent or by yourself? A question that is becoming more prevalent today…
Over a third of us are travelling internationally at least once every year, yet there is a clear divide between those who preferred to book directly themselves, and those who preferred to use a travel agent, as indicated in our recent survey with over 100 respondents.
With so many research avenues, booking options, and special offers available (especially on the web), there is some ambiguity and confusion surrounding the best methods to book a dream holiday – whether book with a travel agent or go it alone!
Most surprisingly is the stigma associated with cost benefits between booking with an agent, vs directly with suppliers. While this may be true in some circumstances, it is certainly not the case overall. In order to help you get some better deals for your next trip, here are some of the pros and cons to booking with a travel agent vs direct!
It might just change the way you travel in the future…
Booking with a travel agent
Two in five client respondents in our annual survey indicated a strong preference for booking holidays with a travel agent. As experts in the industry, it comes as no surprise that those who preferred this method felt that they were able to coordinate a well thought out itinerary – sometimes across a variety of tour operators and travel providers – with the peace of mind that they had someone to contact if something was to go wrong.
First Hand Knowledge
Travel agents can be a wealth of knowledge and resources when it comes to planning a holiday. If you want to go somewhere, chances are they have been there or somebody they work with has, and they have insider information that can add priceless value to your trip. Many agents experience educational trips, called a ‘Famil’, which enable them to experience particular tours and travel companies first hand. Thinking of taking a cruise? There is a high chance that your agent would have been on board the ship themselves. While these may seem like just ‘perks’ of the industry, agents are in fact required to participate in a level of training on products and destinations, and are generally avid travellers themselves, so they really are the experts when it comes to your planning your ideal holiday.
Along with this first-hand experience is the agent’s local knowledge that could make a huge difference to the sites you visit. For the majority of our survey respondents, there was a huge focus on local sightseeing and cultural immersion when planning a holiday, and agent knowledge is able to offer just that. For example, agents are familiar with airports and will be able to advise you on the limitations of travelling between particular destinations – this may include the knowledge that particular airports are domestic vs international, regularity of flights, or even the ability to fly between two selected locations. Similarly, their local knowledge can include the important sightseeing information such as opening hours (e.g. museums in Florence, Italy are closed on Mondays), best times to visit sites (e.g. sunrise/sunset or after-hours tours), or less travelled paths that may provide a unique experience.
While some travellers may prefer to just use agents during their research process then continuing to book directly, there are actually some additional benefits to booking with an agent.
Many of our respondents who indicated that they did book via an agent noted the added feeling of ‘security’ that they felt through using this method… “as someone who knows your journey intimately, an agent has the ability to intervene if something was to go wrong”, wrote one respondent. An agent can be a useful if any issues or emergencies are to occur during your travel and you cannot, or are unable to, get in contact with an airline or company yourself. This can include simple day to day communication, such as missing a connecting flight and needing to reschedule airport transfers, to aiding in more complicated issues.
Value for Money
One common misperception about booking with an agent is that you will end up paying more. This is not true. In fact, an agent is able to get better discounted rates through the relationships they have developed with various tour operators, hotels, and airlines. Buying ‘in bulk’ means that agents are able to access better rates whilst still achieving their commission, that will not impact on the price that you receive. The added benefit to this is that, especially for hotels, you may be able to get additional upgrades and perks that you would miss out on when booking directly or online.
Our tips on how to get the most out of your Travel Agent:
- Be clear and direct about what you want!
By being upfront with your travel agent and giving them as much information as possible you will be more likely to get the best itinerary created for you. There are some agents (definitely not he majority), who are pressured to sell certain tours, cruises or hotels due to established partnerships that allow them to get more commission or better incentives, so make sure you are certain that what is being offered is what you actually want.
- Don’t settle for the easiest option
While it is not common, there are some agents that don’t want to put in the work if your arrangements may seem difficult. A good agent will work with you to get the best itinerary, and will be able to give you insight into routes and local must do’s that you may not have thought of. A good agent that works hard to meet your expectations is worth their weight in gold!
- Don’t feel pressured into making a quick decision
Spending money on a holiday is not a cheap decision, so make sure that you have thought about your purchase before you pay. While there may be some time pressures due to limited places, you should have around 7 days to hold a place before making a decision. If your agent is trying to force you into something you are unsure of, they may have an ulterior motive to signing you up.
The ease of booking from your own home, and the perception of ‘cutting out the middle man’ have spurred a huge growth in direct and online bookings over the past 10 years.
Google search is becoming more and more popular as a research method for trip planning, as has social media sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook. However, word of mouth from friends and family who have been to the same places can be more valued in planning an itinerary. Without a doubt, research and inspiration through the internet can get you excited and motivated to book a dream trip.
The flexibility of booking things yourself can also help you to feel like you have made a well-informed decision in your own time. Without the pressure from agents, you are able to research, contrast and compare a variety of options at your fingertips when booking online. You are also able to book in stages that make sense to you as you continue to gather more information on your destinations at your own pace.
It’s safer than ever
The security of booking online has also influenced this trend. For the most part, reputable websites offer a safe way to book all facets of a holiday, from flights to transfers as well as hotels and tours. Be sure to research thoroughly across a number of websites to make sure you are getting the best deal.
Our tips on how to get the most booking directly/online:
- Always read the fine print!
Booking a ‘great’ deal online may not always be such a great idea. Many rooms may be non-refundable and not include breakfast. Make sure you know what you are paying for!
- You get what you pay for
If you are comparing on price, remember that agents and tour operators will always get the better rooms as they have a personal relationship with hotels. Websites like booking.com may show a lower rate, however as the system determines your room based on your booking method and price paid, you will almost always end up with the worst room available.
- Don’t get fooled by labels that create a sense of urgency
Calls to action like ‘One room left’ and ‘4 people looking at this room now’ will leave you feeling like you need to snag the deal now! Be careful, websites can track how many times you have been to their site in order to make you feel like you are missing out, or even increase prices over time. Make sure to clear your cookies each time you search.
- Don’t sacrifice touring because it’s too hard to book yourself
When travelling, some of the best experiences you can have are with tours and good tour guides who can provide you a wealth of knowledge about cities and the sites you go to. Understanding the local culture, history, and the significance of sites can really add another layer of appreciation to your trip.
Tags: travel, Booking, advice, agents