Todays question is from Izy who blogs at www.thewrongwayhome.com.
In this day and age, is it really better to book through a travel agent?
This one is tricky for a number of reasons. Largely because it’s completely dependent on the type of person you are, where you’re going, and your level of stress when planning a holiday. There is also a huge difference between someone who is traveling long-term and trying to stretch their budget as much as they can, and someone who works all year and has two weeks to get as most out of their vacation time as they can.
I’m gong to come clean here. Before I started working as a travel agent I’d never actually used one. Ever. But that’s because I grew up using the internet, I’m confident when it comes to travel, and I was also quite ignorant about exactly how a travel agent could help me.
People use travel agents for all sorts of reasons. Some sit in front of me on their ipads, telling me exactly which flight they want and which website it’s on so I can beat it by one dollar. These people don’t really care about saving one dollar- they just want the peace of mind and the knowledge that if something goes wrong with their flight from Sydney to Melbourne the travel agent will sort it out.
Others been saving for a holiday for years, it’s their honeymoon, or their first time overseas. When someone has saved for a long time for a trip or they’re nervous about traveling overseas, often the knowledge that someone is taking care of all the details is critical for them to feel safe and excited for their trip. A lot of people book online these days, and while I don’t see travel agents ever becoming completely obsolete, there’s definitely less need for them as the older generations become more internet savvy.
Here’s an example of when it’s good to have booked through a travel agent:
A few weeks ago I was working on a group booking for some high school girls who are going to Venice for an exchange program. They each came in with their mums, all wanting to be on the same flights and needing travel insurance.
The flights they booked were with Emirates and would stop in Dubai for an hour and a half on the way from Sydney to Venice. These flights were about ten months in advance, which while usually a great time to book flights means that there may occasionally be time changes depending on how full flights are. With the new Emirates/Qantas partnership, Emirates suddenly pulled a whole bunch of flights, including the one the girls had booked.
Emirates had changed the girls to a later flight from Dubai which meant they would all spend around fourteen hours in Dubai airport overnight. I rang Emirates and was advised that they would be given an STPC.
An STPC is when the airline pays for your accommodation, transfers and sometimes meals when you have a stopover that’s out of your control. A good example is the route from Australia to London with Korean Air, which has an overnight stop in Seoul on the way there. Because there are no earlier flights the customer will be given a free stop and a chance to get some rest.
So I changed the girls to this flight and rang back to check that this was ok. Turns out it wasn’t. I was told that the other guy was an idiot, and because the girls were not yet 18 they wouldn’t be able to check into the hotel and would have to wait in Dubai Airport for 14 hours. The only other option was for them to fly through Bangkok and Dubai before Venice, which obviously wasn’t ideal.
Now airlines usually won’t let us change the first flight departing Sydney. We managed to get this done though, although it took over two weeks of running it past different people in Dubai, reissuing the tickets and checking in with all the parents. Without a travel agent, these parents wouldn’t have known their rights. They would have spoken to someone from Emirates who would have told them that the girls were going to have to sit in Dubai airport by themselves, or fly through Bangkok and then Dubai.
Because my travel agency has a good relationship with Emirates, we were able to pull some strings and get it fixed. Things like this happen every day- in fact I spend most my time on hold to airlines and wholesalers, sorting out problems before people leave and once they’re overseas. It means that your holiday will run smoothly, and if anything happens you’ve got someone on the other end of the phone that knows you and can tell you what needs to be done. Without a travel agent you’re on your own.
When you’re a backpacker you know that things are going to go wrong, in fact you expect it. Backpackers rarely use travel agents, because they have the time to trawl the internet figuring out the cheapest way to get to their destination, and they’re often way more flexible with their dates.
So in this day and age is it really better to book through a travel agent? For those who are going on a honeymoon, or have a wedding or funeral overseas that they can’t afford to miss then yes. If it’s their first time overseas or they don’t have the time or the skills to book everything online, then booking through a travel agent is the way to go.
But if you’re a backpacker, you’re going to be in one place for a long time (hello Air Bnb), you’ve got some time on your hands to sort it all out, and you’re flexible with your dates. No.