Unless you have been hidden away on a mountain monastery retreat for the past month, the demise of Thomas Cook should not be news to you. The long reigning king of the travel industry recently went bust, which left up to 800,000 of their customers either stranded abroad or with holiday cancellations.
Understandably, this has resulted in many people questioning the future trust and reliability of travel agents, with a lot of families considering giving up on travel agents altogether. Many individuals already make use of all the information and options on the internet to organise their holidays themselves.
So, what are the pros and cons of using a travel agent to make your holiday plans? We’ve conducted some research to see whether it’s better to do it yourself or continue to rely on the experts.
Pros of using a travel agent:
1. Reduces the time and effort needed when searching for the best deals
It’s difficult to find time for work, family commitments, social activities and a fitness regime. One thing that shouldn’t be taking up bags of your time is booking a well-deserved holiday. Who has the time to scroll the internet to find the cheapest flight deal with the most leg room? Then, when you’ve finally landed on a flight, you still have to then search for suitable hotels that tick all the boxes - hotel transfers, tours… it’s never ending.
An advantage to using a travel agent is that they will do all the hard work for you, ultimately producing a travel itinerary fit to your needs and budgets, with little effort on your part.
2. You gain access to their expertise and industry connections
Most credible travel agents have been around for long enough that they would have built longstanding relationships within the travel industry, with hotels, tour operators and vehicle hiring companies. This can be a great benefit for a customer when booking a holiday as some connections may offer the travel agent unique discounts, which wouldn’t necessarily be available online. In addition, travel agents should be able to provide inside knowledge into the industry, for some great tips and recommendations for your holiday destination.
3. ATOL protection: the saviour of the Thomas Cook saga
As mentioned previously, approximately 800,000 people were affected by the Thomas Cook liquidation. One aspect that saved a number of customers was the fact that Thomas Cook is covered by ATOL protection. ATOL is a financial protection scheme that protects most air package holidays sold by travel businesses that are based in the UK. Therefore generally, if using a travel agent, your package holiday should be covered by ATOL - but make sure to double check in advance.
Caxton Top Tip: when booking holidays, use your credit card to book, as if for any reason something went wrong, you’re covered by the credit card payment protection, or ‘section 75’ of the Consumer Credit Act.
4. Last-minute holiday problems
Sometimes things go wrong when jetting off abroad – it’s unavoidable. Whether it be a muddle up of dates, a missed flight or even the wrong board options, we’ve all been stuck in a travel-related dilemma. The good thing about working with travel agents is that you have a helping hand along the way that can assist you with any queries or problems that may arise.
Cons of using a travel agent:
1. The price of travel agents
If your holiday needs to be price sensitive, travel agents do not always present the cheapest option. Whilst agents bring great additional expertise and advice, they come at a cost (think commission and service fees.) It is also worth noting that Airlines, for example, do not pay commissions to travel agents anymore, so you will likely get charged a fee by a travel agent who books your flight.
2. DIY flights
This brings me onto my second point – considering that travel agents no longer get discounts from airlines, it makes sense to book a flight yourself. Luckily, there are so many efficient and great flight comparison platforms out there, such as Skyscanner or Google Flights. Skyscanner has over 100 million active users each month, demonstrating the sheer popularity of independent flight booking nowadays. Evidently, taking some time out to book your flight yourself may save you some agency fees!
Caxton Top Tip: When searching for flights, make sure to either delete your cookies or browse in an incognito window! Sites often remember that you’ve visited and bump up their prices - so this handy tip will allow you to get the best price.
3. Travel agents’ partnerships
I mentioned previously that many travel agents possess longstanding industry relationships with partnering companies. In some cases, this could provide unparalleled deals. In other instances, the tours and accommodation that they are selling you may not actually be the most suitable for your holiday needs or desires, and instead come from a biased perspective. Make sure to do your own independent research on the market.
4. Your personal needs and desires
Something to bear in mind when using a travel agent is that ultimately, they are not you. What you may consider to be a dream holiday might not be aligned with what their ideal holiday is. When listening to their advice and tips, make sure to remember what your personal requirements are as well.
5. Travel money
Many travel agents offer a foreign currency exchange service or their own prepaid travel card, which may seem like an easy and convenient thing to use before embarking on a holiday. However, travel agents’ foreign exchange is generally not the best value for money and can sometimes have some hidden fees and costs.
It may be worth looking at other options; Caxton multi-currency card is designed to make spending abroad simpler than ever before. You can keep all your money secure in one place and load multiple currencies onto one travel card. They also enable you to top-up in advance, from the comfort of your own home or via the app on the go; (travel experts advise keeping an eye on foreign exchange rates and topping up when the pound is strong, to get the most bang for your buck.)
The do’s and don’ts of using travel agents
It would be unfair to make Thomas Cook’s demise a representative of all travel agencies, however, through our research, there seems to be more merit in booking a holiday yourself. If you book independently, you gain complete control over the trip, save some money on flights and also can get the best foreign exchange rate!
Sign up to a Caxton multi-currency card today…