Travel agent or book it yourself?

Last updated 11:00 01/06/2012

Do you go through a travel agent when you go abroad? On my last trip, I had plenty of time before I left to plan the lot. It was fun, it added to the anticipation and when things went wrong I had only myself to blame. But with the number of continents we're visiting this time, it made sense to enlist an agent to get the best round-the-world deal. And kudos - he offered us flights at a super-sweet cost. So I went further: I asked him to sort us out some hire cars in various places. Big mistake.

It may have been marginally cheaper to do it this way (especially in the US where we need to relocate the car from New Orleans to New York) but, oh, the great hassle. And dare I say it, travel agent incompetence. I would rather pay a few hundred dollars extra and do it myself.

The first mistake was mine. I asked to pick up the car the day after we got to New Orleans, thinking it'd be a central city location. But we had to fork out another $36 to get back to the airport: ouch. You couldn't call me a great forward planner; I only thought to check which car chain we were with once we arrived. Our ride had been booked through a wholesaler, who then went to an individual company, the name of which our agent has neglected to tell us. Confusing much?

The View at Louis Armstrong Airport

We traipse around them all - no one's heard of us. It's 6am in our agent's life and he's blissfully unaware of the abuse he's copping on the other side of the world. He's left us no personal out-of-hours contact and the 24-hour toll-free line puts us on infinite hold. After searching for the number of the wholesaler on a phone rapidly running out of battery (adding to the joy of the occasion), we hit some luck.

"I need a credit card for security," says the woman when we finally reach the right place. I hand it over. "Not a debit card, we need a worldwide credit card." I explain that my debit card doubles as a Mastercard and I've never had any problems using it like that before. "Without a bona fide credit card you can't take the car." "But I've already paid for it on this exact card," I say. "You'll have to get your travel agent to sort this out for you," she brushes me off and moves on.

You can imagine the ropeability. The travel agency wouldn't open until 10am Melbourne time (where we booked). It was then 8am. We called the wholesaler again. They sympathised but there was nothing they could do - their contract was with STA Travel, they told us: "We have to talk to them before we can transfer you to a car company that will accept a debit card."

After five hours waiting at an airport, spending who-knows-how-much on roaming phone calls to Australia and losing a day in a super-cool city I was dying to explore, we still hadn't heard from the travel agent. Had we booked the car ourselves upon arrival it would've been pain-free. Eventually the wholesaler called - they couldn't get hold of the agent either but they felt sorry for us so they'd transferred our deal to a different company.

What are your thoughts - travel agent or no? Have you booked something through an agent you wish you'd done yourself, or have your experiences only been positive?

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39 comments
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mike   #1   11:08 am Jun 01 2012

Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Some things are cheap for a reason, including travel agents.

Steve   #2   11:13 am Jun 01 2012

Another little gem if you're booking it yourself, last year I travelled to the UK with transit through LA, only when booking in at Wellington for my connecting flight to Auckland was I told I couldn't check in without a USA Visa even though we were only transitting through LA. It caused a few minute panics at the airport while I found a computer and filed online. Normally it can take 24 hours, fortunately it was done in minutes - something an agent would have told me

MRG   #3   11:14 am Jun 01 2012

Unless you are doing specialised travel and using a specialised travel agent, or doing the dreaded package tour, then book it yourself is my motto.

Easier - get what you want, usually pay less.

But as I said above - specialised travel or a specialised travel agent - then gold. They might actually have been, in recent history, to the place you are going to. The order taker at your walk in travel agent almost certainly has not..................

Mrs C   #4   11:16 am Jun 01 2012

I've been in similar situation before but it didnt actually end up being the Travel Agents fault. I used to be one myself, and alot of the time this sort of thing happens when something goes wrong on the wholesaler end. As a travel agent you actually book these things on the wholesalers system - which sometimes is the crappy system and doesnt push bookings through properly.

I think for round the world airfares and hotels (esp in dodgier cities) its best to go with Travel Agent, you have a bit more security and trust in what they are selling you is what you will be getting. Even with the likes of rental cars, its usually better. But it pays to reconfirm bookings YOURSELF before you leave.

DT   #5   11:22 am Jun 01 2012

Same thing happened to me recently, group of us went to Sydney couple of months back and the travel agent hadn't paid for a minibusses so we had to pay for them ourselves on our own credit cards then we didn't have any money to spend while we were away! Never used a travel agent before for my own travel an after this I never will. Their no cheaper and more hassal. It's easy to do it online now anyway.

Lyndon   #6   11:30 am Jun 01 2012

I used a travel agent to book my first overseas flights a few years ago. Booked transfers from Heathrow to my London Hostel as the tube seemed a bit much to deal with at the time for this small town NZ kid. Got to Heathrow and after much confusion found my travel agent had booked my transfer for the next day not the day i arrived. Luckily the company she used was there picking someone else up and i recognised the name of them and they were good enough to take me too! Also the same agent booked me a flight from Heathrow to Dubai on Qatar airways that arrived 2 hours after my connecting Emerites flight to Brisbane departed. Really useful agent. NOT! Needless to say i do it all now i am a seasoned traveller my self.

exTravelAgent   #7   11:50 am Jun 01 2012

Seriously, have you ever met a person that has never made a mistake? I bet you have made a few over time. Basing this "personal vent" on one experience where actually the first person that screwed up was you - great prep for a topic! Travel agents train hard every day, bear enourmous responsibilities (most people have NO idea about), work around the clock and as a result - people use them for research only to book online later. Which means - no pay as wholesalers and airlines don't pay commission anymore. Good luck next time when you blaming your self for your own mistakes trying to call the internet in the middle of the night when you get stuck at an airport! I personally left the industry because of the fact that working for hours and hours unfortunatelly doesn't mean you get paid a dollar. I'm proud of all the colleagues who are still loyal to their clients and hang in there as it is a very hard job that is not valued enough. Support your local travel agent ;-).

viffer   #8   12:07 pm Jun 01 2012

My SpousalUnit is a fantastic organiser and planner, so most of our trips have been organised by her, and have been brilliant. Our first trip to Yurp was through a travel agent, and was OK, but all she had to do was find out what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go, and when, and book. As most of our trip was a bus tour, it was money for jam for her.

We also once used a travel agent to book some activities in and around Melbourne, which was nearly disastrous. We turned up one night for dinner on the tram, waited in line with several agents raving about the "famils" (freebies checking out things for clients) they'd done, and then were denied access to the tram. They had no record of our booking. My wife was fuming, and we ended up walking across the city back to our hotel, and having no dinner that night.

When we got home, we contacted the travel agent, who didn't seem overly bothered (after all, it was our money, not hers, and she'd got her commission). No refund, no apology, nothing. That was the last time we used an agent.

Another comment relating to agencies - accommodation agencies: Don't! We booked a stay in Adelaide through one, and then had to change the booking due to illness. They told us the hotel wouldn't allow us to do that (untrue) and if we didn't turn up on the dates booked, we'd lose our money (also untrue). After many phonecalls and emails, we couldn't resolve it, and it looked like we were sunk. Then a charming lady at the hotel phoned us and asked what was going on. She sorted it out, told us she was looking forward to seeing us (she gave us a big hug when we arrived!), told us they would have matched the 'cheap' booking agency's rate, and to "Never ever use a booking agency!

K   #9   12:28 pm Jun 01 2012

I've had the good fortune of working with two great travel agents on both occasions when I've travelled overseas.

The first agent (Chelsea at Flight Centre Palmerston North) turned out to be an old family friend who was similar in age and had been to most of the places we'd been. She knew my best girlfriend and I were both travel virgins so made sure to book all our transfers, picked out great hotels and even gave us hand drawn maps of where to find our shuttles etc. As a very nervous first time traveller it was wonderful to find somebody that actually cared about our experience.

The second travel agent we used was from the local travel agent in Feilding (Leah at United Travel), for a short two week trip to the States and she was just so helpful it wasn't funny. Once again she helped recommend hotels, organised shuttles and transfers and even put us on to the idea of doing a short cuise in between cities. Great service and everything went as smooth as possible.

I think a good travel agent is worth their weight in gold, find a good one, build a relationship and stick with them!

Rachel   #10   12:36 pm Jun 01 2012

I work for a large company and use a travel company for all travel I have to book for work purposes. I used them to book a personal trip for myself to America and ended up using them to book my parents trip as well. I couldn't have been happier, we have a preferred car rental company through work and when I booked my car I received the company rates which also included an upgraded at no extra cost. My next trip however will be booked using air miles and its something I have to book myself so that will be an interesting time online with United Airlines but its a free trip. Overall, when I pay for my own trips I will always use an agent, they seem to be able to make it look effortless and I am always happy with the outcome.


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