The first, and last time I booked a holiday through a travel agent was in 2008.
It was a small shop, overlooking my local bus station.
If your eyes were good enough, you’d just be able to make out the felt tip penned proclamations of ‘ALL INCLUSIVE’ deals in a ‘SUNNY KAVOS’ as your – normally late – Arriva Wales bus pulled out of the depot.
I can’t remember how much it cost but that summer, my friends Emma, Anna and I would embark on our first ‘girls holiday’ to Zante. Or ‘Zakynthos’ as the agent had proudly called it, pressing receipts for our £50 deposits back into our hands.
I have many stories from that week away (galactic sunburn/KOing on the beach at 6am/the reason why I still to this day cannot shot sambuca) but what I didn’t realise at the time was that I would never again use a travel agent.
Never again would I agree to a holiday based on three handwritten bullet points, sellotaped to the inside of a shop window. Bullet points which, if written in retrospect, would read:
- EAT CHIPS FOR A WEEK
- LEARN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ABOUT GREEK CULTURE
- COCKTAIL + A FREE SHOT FOR ONLY TWO EUROS
To be fair, that probably would have made me sign up all the much quicker at the time 😂
So, when I received a call from a producer at BBC Radio 5 Live this morning – following the news that Thomas Cook has reported losses of £1.5 billion – asking whether I could talk about some of the reasons why people still choose to use a travel agent, the concept seemed so alien to me at first.
Yet, whilst I love the thrill of finding a cheap holiday for half the going rate, I appreciate that it’s not for everyone.
So what are the perks of using a travel agent?
- Payment protection– most major travel companies are ATOL protected meaning if they go bust, you wont lose your money or become stranded abroad
- Deposits and monthly instalments – holding deposits and monthly instalments can really help when you can’t quite part with hundreds of pounds in one go
- Price matching – travel companies, such as Thomas Cook, do offer a price match guarantee so if you book and then see the same deal elsewhere for cheaper, they’ll refund the difference
- Face to face help – booking a holiday can be totally overwhelming and travel agents are used to giving advice on where to go, what to do and practical things like how to get to your hotel from the airport
- Printing – as someone who has to go to an INTERNET CAFE to do all her holiday printing this is a perk – albeit one that doesn’t hold much sway!!!
Of course, the big question is, can they offer competitive rates to what you could find yourself online?
Sometimes you can save hundreds, but other times it may just be a few quid. So it’s up to you to work out whether that saving is worth your time and the inconvenience of booking separately.
Also important to note is this major difference: travel agents online and travel agents in the shop. As Jude pointes out:
Just like Jude did, if you’re going to physically go into a travel agents, make a note of all the prices and places they offer you, but go away and do your own research before you make your final booking with them.
Thanks to apps and great mobile sites, you may even find you can do this in a quick 10 minute coffee break after you head out of the shop.
Many will price match what you’ve found, but they may not do that price check for you without prompt.
My last tip is that whilst you may loathe the thought of spending hours searching for cheap flights, you can bet that there will be someone in your family or friendship group that loves the challenge. I know I’m not alone in this!
Why not ask for their help the next time you’re looking and if they end up finding you a better deal, you’ll be able to spend that money elsewhere (more holidays??!) as well as afford a treat for your money saving saviour.
You can listen back to me talking about the use of travel agents with Emma Barnett and Jamz Supernova on BBC Radio 5 Live from 46 mins and 20 seconds here.
Come and follow me over on Instagram where I do a weekly holiday hotline to find your your perfect – and cheap! – next trip away. No thank you gift buying necessary!