Travel Agents: To Use or Avoid?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016



















I was inspired to write this blog post after a recent disappointing experience I encountered with a travel agency for my upcoming trip to Thailand. When it comes to my travel plans, as a general rule, I like to do it all myself. I love to research my destination, checking out all the activities and unique experiences I will be able to have, as well as looking at the costs involved. I like to be in control and know that I have everything organised and sorted, without relying on someone else to do the work. The only thing I do like to use a travel agent for is my flights and insurance.

However, sometimes the idea of using a travel agent sounds like a pretty sweet deal, I mean they do allllll the work for you right? Travel agents can be super convenient, but it is important to use a reputable company and someone who "knows their stuff" otherwise your travel experience could end up as a nightmare!

Recently I decided that I would book my month abroad in Thailand with the travel agency STA Travel. Unfortunately for me this has been the worst experience I have had dealing with an agent. Normally I would go to Flight Centre, but given that STA have joined the ethical travel movement I decided to give them a shot instead. Man do I wish I hadn't!

First up, I just need to say that this blog is in no way funded or sponsored by any travel agency, it is purely my own experiences that I am putting into words. Secondly, it is not my intention to say that STA Travel is bad all round (every office has different employees and some stores may well be fantastic!), for me however, at the 2 stores I dealt with, my experience was just far below average. The purpose of my blog today is to discuss the pros and cons of using a travel agent and to point out the importance of selecting the right agent for you!

My recent experience...

So now to explain the reasoning behind my above statements. Recently I booked my flights and travel insurance through STA Travel, all of which was easy peasy. I did this in-store and felt the agent was interested and keen to help. She said to send her an email later if I decided I would like help picking accommodation or if I'd like her to send me some tour and activity ideas. After a little bit of thought I decided that I'd give it a go and let the agent help me because the destination I had chosen was one I knew nothing about! I sent her an email asking for the help she'd offered and in response all I was given was the STA brochure and a couple of tour options that exceeded my stay time in each location... Er thanks? After a few more failed requests for advice I decided I'd do this part by myself (and had great fun doing it!).

Then I decided it might be a good idea to book some airport transfers through the agents because usually I fail epically at trying to navigate my way to and from airports! After several emails, unreturned phone messages and numerous phone calls I was finally told they would book the transfers and send through a confirmation. Nothing... To me it felt like they really just didn't care. I had the same experience in store, where the guy I saw just seemed disinterested, gave no suggestions and again, handed me the brochure when I asked for ideas on what to do...
Once I did book my transfers I noticed quite a significant error. The transfer pick-up time happened to be the time by flight was due to depart... not very convenient for me! More emails and another in-store visit, where I was told that she would email the guy who booked the transfers and ask him to deal with it... COME ON! As a side note, as at the date of this post this still hasn't been sorted, and I leave in 3 days...

So there we have it, rant over! But to be honest, my experience was so below average I would never go back to them. What I want from a travel agent is someone who is passionate about travel, and who really gets into the idea of helping you with whatever you need! Whether you only want information on possible destinations, or need them to do the whole thing for you, that's what a travel agent is for.

So, here are my fors and againsts for using travel agents and some tips on picking a good one!

Using a Travel Agent

Until my most recent experience, I have generally found most travel agents to be really positive and excited about your holiday. If you have no idea where you want to go, or how to get there, or are just after general information on types of holidays that could suit you, a travel agent is a great start. They can give you information and ideas, provide you with brochures and tour options, and often have package deals that can save you a lot of money. On the flip side, once you have this information, planning and booking your trip can be for less stressful and much more fun when you do it yourself. So below are 5 pros and 5 cons for using a travel agent (in my own opinion of course!).

Pros of using a travel agent:

  1. Convenience - your booking is in one place, you have one person to call with questions and generally life is smooth sailing when someone else does all the hard work for you.
  2. Security - booking through a travel agent means they will give you all the details including hidden fees and charges that sometimes you might otherwise miss. These are generally then included in the total price so you don't have to worry about bills later. You also know you are booking through a genuine means and are not going to turn up to a hotel that actually closed down 5 years ago.
  3. Support - most travel agents will offer 24/7 phone support in case of emergencies or issues. This can be super helpful when things such as mother nature cause havoc with your plans.
  4. Additional Information - travel agents generally go above and beyond to provide you with as much helpful information or "need to knows" as possible. As an example, in Vanuatu you have to pay a tax when you land at the airport. If my agent hadn't told me this I probably would have been unprepared and a bit shocked as this isn't usual in most countries.
  5. Package Deals - travel agent's can package your whole adventure up into a neat and easy bundle so there is zero work for you and a great discount for taking advantage of these all inclusive deals.
Cons of using a travel agent:

  1. Lack of Control - sometimes agents get ahead of themselves and forget that this is your holiday and not theirs. I've had numerous occasions where the agent suggests different locations, ideas or activities from the ones I really want to do, for no reason other than they enjoyed them. I appreciate the ideas but not the approach to being told what I should and shouldn't do.
  2. Cost - using an agent sometimes means you don't get the best price available. Although they say they will find you the best deal, I have found that flights and accommodation can be cheaper booked independently.
  3. Knowledge - dependent on the agent you use, they may well not have much knowledge on your chosen destination, and are simply going by the systems "go-to" tour operators and accommodation providers. 
  4. Sales - agent's get better commission from certain providers than from others, so for example, if your agent is pushing you to take Contiki over another tour operator ask yourself why. Is it really because you will get a better experience? You need to use your own street smarts to see whether you are being pushed to a company they prefer rather than one that would suit you better.
  5. Hard Work - again, agent dependent, but after my latest experience I truly regret using an agent as it has become more difficult than had I just booked all the trip myself. Agents should make it easier, and if you don't choose a good one they might just ruin a perfectly great getaway. Sometimes these things are just as easy to book yourself, without the hassle of a dodgy agent. 

Choosing your agent

If you still want to opt for a travel agent, whether it's just to book flights and transfers or the entire trip, you should shop around for the best deal and checkout other people's recommendations. Never just visit 1 agent either, always visit multiple stores if time allows so you can find the best agent and the best deal for you.

As a starting point, always research flight prices before you go into a store. You can get a gauge of the rough pricing for different carriers, so when you approach the agent for a quote you will immediately know whether they are the one for you. In the past I have researched flights then seen an agent who quoted hundreds of dollars more than what I had found. When I questioned this and showed them the airlines page they just said it "didn't show up in their system". Not good enough to me! Moving on!

When you ask questions about a destination, gauge the agents enthusiasm and willingness to give advice, but also note whether they are pushing certain ideas on you when you haven't told them the style of holiday you are after. Probe them with hints like "I love taking hikes" to see if they can recommend a good trek to take, or whether they simply talk about nice restaurants in the area. I like to know my agent is working for me, and planning the best trip for me. I don't want a one size fits all trip or I would just book a package trip, I want something tailored to my needs and wants.

Take a look online at review sites as well. Often people will happily review a travel agency or particular agent if they've had a great experience, but they will also do the same if they have had a negative one. Any particular agent with more than a few negative reviews should be avoided. Make sure you check which company store is being reviewed too, as like I said above they are not all the same and some may have stellar staff while others are bottom of the barrel.

In short, do your own initial research, ask lots of questions and be on the lookout for recommendations and warning signs.

I would love to hear your own thoughts on using an agent, particularly if you have had a great experience or one that's been rather disappointing.  I also welcome STA Travel to contact me regarding my recent experience if they would like feedback or further clarification.

Until next time!
Erica x

You Might Also Like

2 comments

  1. Wow, from what I read i'm surprise their even still in business. They could have AT LEAST pretended to seem interested in helping you. I would have given them a negative review on their site haha That's why I just like to plan and make my own itinerary but I do have to agree with you that using a travel agent does take load off sometimes on planning a trip. I've only used a travel agent once and they were pretty good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am very much the sort of person that likes to do my own bookings as well, and generally just go to a travel agent to book international flights or cruises.

    To date I have dealt with 2 Flight center stores, 3 escape travel stores and 1 cruise about store. Even though they are all owned by flight centre, the booking experience at the escape travel stores has generally started ok, but usually goes down hill, as the agent gets more ingrained to their lack of caring. The two flight centre stores I have never end up booking with because they just made it too difficult or did stupid things. The cruise about store has been good to date, and the agent there replies really quickly.

    I just think the problem is that there is enough people who do not really know what to do and happy to hand it off to someone else that the agents don't really need to fight to keep people, there is always someone else walking through the door ready to spend money on travel, and people who just want flights are not making them any money.

    ReplyDelete

Like us on Facebook

Instagram Pics