Until two years ago I was a DIY holiday addict, taking great pride in organising my personalised holidays abroad. After several years of boycotting the traditional holiday route, close friends convinced me to go on a hassle-free package holiday to Portugal. Eager to join them, I followed their plans to book with a well-known agent, all the time expecting to be disappointed by typical package holiday standards. I was more than shocked when we arrived at our MTV cribs style apartment overlooking the marina in Lagos. As I settled into the week of sun and relaxation, I realised I had forgotten what it feels like to let someone else do all the hard work (i.e a travel agent vetting out resorts, tailoring a holiday to our interests, and organising our transfers) so that all we had to worry about was what we wanted to eat and drink next. Three package holidays later and I am a firm believer in both DIY and package holidays. While organising your own itinerary from hotel to flight involves a sense of achievement and often a bargain, the value of the travel agent should not be underestimated either. The professional assistance and savvy they provide often outweigh the modest charges. This I have experienced first-hand.
PERKS OF USING A TRAVEL AGENT
While you won’t always get a better deal with a travel agent there are some good reasons to book with them.
Specialised knowledge: Good travel agents know the main destinations, and what they don't know first-hand they can find through databases designed for agency use.
Time Saving: If you value your time, an agent is indispensible. A five-minute call to a travel agent allows you to avoid many hours of tedious search through online sites.
Good Deals: Good agents know what's available online as well as special promotions that may not be available to the public. Also free child places, two for one deals etc.
Airline Ticket Tricks: Online booking is easy for buying a conventional one-way, round-trip, or multi-stop air ticket. But on more complicated international tickets, agents know some cost-cutting tricks that you could never find online.
Problem solvers: When something goes wrong, before or during your trip a travel agent is your best source of help. If it goes bust you get refund. This is in contrast to online bookings, which often result in tales of woe.
Safety: When travelling to areas that you aren’t familiar with, or if it’s your first time visiting a particular country, booking with travel agents can be good as they organise transfers, induction talks etc
CONS OF USING A TRAVEL AGENT
Certainly, travel agents aren't for everyone. Lots of you probably enjoy the thrill of the hunt for travel deals.
Laziness: Some lazy agents try to sell you what's easiest to sell rather than what's really best for you - a package tour rather than independent travel, for instance, or a railpass instead of individual rail tickets.
Preferential Treatment: Some agents try to steer you to their preferred suppliers -airlines, hotel chains, and cruise lines that give them extra bonuses or override commissions—rather than the supplier that's best for you.
Restrict travel plans: Often travel agents can’t be flexible with your package holiday as you have to travel certain days and stay for certain amount of nights in some places.
Wasting times with transfers: On some package holidays you could be four hours on a bus to your resort when it is only a fifty minute journey. This is because the drop off and collection of other guests. It can take a day out of your holiday in some cases. Also times of airport transfers can be at an unearthly hour.
TIPS WHEN BOOKING WITH A TRAVEL AGENT
• Find the best agent by referral from friends, business associates, or family members who have a good agency relationship.
• If for some reason the travel agent closes down there is a robust consumer protection scheme. Nobody loses out on their holidays – either another travel company steps in and the booking is honoured or the customer gets a full refund. The Package Holidays and Travel Trade Act 1995 requires tour operators and travel agents to protect you in the event of their becoming insolvent (bankrupt). The Commission for Aviation Regulation licenses travel agents and tour operators in Ireland. All tour operators and travel agents are required by law to enter into a bond before they are licensed. This bond protects the interests of the customer and means that if the travel agent or tour operator becomes bankrupt, the Commission then administers the bond. This usually involves the Commission assessing individual claims from customers of the failed tour operator or travel agent, making refunds to customers who have purchased holidays and where necessary, arranging for customers who have been unable to begin or complete their holiday to be brought home. For information on consumer rights visit www.eccdublin.ie or to make sure travel agent is bonded visit ww.aviationreg.ie
• The safest way to get protection when booking travel arrangements is to use your credit card. As long as the transaction bears the name of the company you are booking with, say the airline, your credit card issuer should refund any losses.
• Don’t be fooled into thinking you have financial protection when you book a hotel or rent a car to go with your low cost flights. This might feel like a 'package' holiday, but it is not and you are not covered under the bonding laws. If one of these companies goes out of business, you risk losing your money.
BEWARE OF BOOKING ONLINE
No refund: Many internet deals are non-refundable, so tourists who accidentally click on the wrong dates or otherwise mess up their booking can find themselves out of pocket.
Currency charges: The biggest trap when booking online is websites that use multiple currencies, and can overcharge.
Wrong place: Beware of booking hotels with similar names, a problem that has caused many tourists to end up in the wrong place. Places too e.g., Sydney in Canada instead of Sydney, Australia or Melbourne, Florida instead of Melbourne, Australia.
Booking Fees: Some online sites have booking fees, though many have dropped these in recent months.