Should you book with a travel agent?

I’d researched airfares for the trip I was planning and knew the best flights in terms of hours, stopovers and costs. But … I wondered if a travel agent could do better. Off I went to the local office, which shall remain unnamed.

I explained my needs to the agent, sat for more than an hour as he wrestled with a computer program then finally told me the best option was a round-the-world ticket that went the wrong way round!

Not impressed. And I don’t blame him, but his manager, for not training him well enough before letting him loose with customers.

My second attempt was no better, though she was quicker with her poor offering.

It was third time lucky for me – this agent listened, found and booked the flights I wanted, quickly, told me about a couple of possible pitfalls with a budget airline, booked the seats that she could and advised on visas. I wanted to kiss her but settled for congratulations.

I was uneasy about doing my own flight bookings in this instance because there were a number of travellers involved and considerable expense. I was happy to pay a little extra for the security of knowing a professional was on deck.

I’m one of those people who will use a travel agent for some things and do my own bookings for others. I enjoy the research; it’s the start of the adventure for me. But that’s me. With travel apps, such as I Know The Pilot, Webjet, Skyscanner, TripAdvisor and others, it can be very easy. But then sometimes it’s reassuring to let the ‘expert’ do it for you.

Independent studies conclude that it’s a question of swings and roundabouts as to whether you use a travel agent.

You might save yourself a $100 here or there by doing your own bookings, but who do you turn to if something goes wrong?

Consider arriving at your hotel to find they’re overbooked and you’ve been shunted into a room fronting the city’s busiest highway where it’s impossible to sleep. Are you, as an individual, likely to have as much clout with that hotel as your travel agent might, especially one who pushes plenty of holiday-makers through that hotel? No.

The Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA) says most of the advantages in using one of its members relate to time saved and intimate knowledge.

A travel agent, says the AFTA, can ensure accuracy with all booking details, can advise on visa applications, assist with all travel documentation and provide travel tips.

In a CHOICE magazine survey, three tours were booked with travel agents – one for one person, one for two people and one for a family. It then conducted its own research on the trips that were put together.

For two of the three tours – the single and the family – CHOICE found the do-it-yourself option worked out cheaper, but in its final verdict it sat on the fence.

“It’s hard to say whether a travel agent or DIY bookings will regularly be cheaper than the other,” CHOICE decided. “It may just come down to your appetite for research and need for control.”

Whether you use a travel agent or do it yourself, it’s important to be thorough with your research. You’ll always get a better result.

What experiences have you had with travel agents? Do you prefer to do your own bookings?

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Written by Janelle Ward

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