Not every travel agent is going to rip you off. Some are genuinely going to save you money, and if something goes wrong with your bookings, having an agent on your side can be a lifesaver. Having said that, just like the rest of us travel agents need to make a profit, and some will size you up and try to overcharge by as much as they think they can get away with.
By knowing what to look out for you can avoid being ripped off, and sort the good from the bad when it comes to finding the right travel agent for you.
Do your research
There are two parts to this step. The first is researching your travel agent – do an internet search and see if the agency, or even the agent themselves, has any online reviews. Unhappy customers are rarely shy about coming forward with their experiences, so this is an easy way to weed out any dodgy agents early on.
The second part is to research your destination. Once you’ve picked your travel agent, go in armed with a general idea of flight, car rental and accommodation prices. Your agent may be able to find you a better price, but if you look at a cost breakdown and notice the flights are much higher than what you’ve seen online, it’s worth asking why.
Be aware of preferred products
Don’t be shy about asking your agent why they are recommending a particular tour. Agents may get a higher commission for pushing certain products, even if they aren’t the best value, so there’s no harm in asking to see the other options on offer.
Know your payment schemes
Many agents in Australia are paid a (paltry) base wage. They make their real money by hitting monthly targets. Similar to preferred products, any revenue made by selling ‘extras’ such as travel insurance or hotel transfers goes towards these targets. This can put pressure on agents to sell you more than you need, especially if they haven’t met their targets towards the end of the month.
A standard booking fee for a travel agent in Australia is between $50 and $100. Anything significantly higher than this amount is worth questioning.
Listen to what your travel agent has to say, thank them for their time, and then let them know you’re going to be shopping around to reassure yourself that they’re offering you the best deal. This isn’t just a ploy – chances are they will drop their price, but you may genuinely find a better deal by shopping around, especially if you let agent number two know that you’ve just come from agent number one.
Don’t give yourself away
An agent looking to overcharge you will keep an ear out for clues that you may not be a seasoned traveller. If it’s your first time travelling overseas it’s best to keep that information to yourself. An agent will be warier of overcharging if you appear to have done your research (even if it’s just a quick Google search). Lastly, if your trip overseas is urgent, or due to an illness or loss in the family, it may serve you well to take a friend with you to the travel agency – you can be as distracted as you need to be, and still know someone is keeping an eye on the details (and costs) for you.