A recent vacation purchase has me thinking of what appears to be the continued downfall of the travel agent. We all have the choice through a growing number of online travel portholes to do all the research and travel booking ourselves with a click of the mouse or a quick phone call. Most of you are doing just this, and the numbers are growing so exponentially that it is putting many travel agents out of business. The question is “Booking with a Travel Agent vs Booking Online Which is Better?”
Booking with a Travel Agent vs Booking Online
I recently booked an all-inclusive vacation online after a friend convinced me she had no issues using the site before. She showed me the super low prices, we researched the hotels and decided to go ahead and book it. The site offered a price drop protection on the package, so we figured what the heck we have nothing to lose. We called the site’s number, and an online booking agent took our details, and we were super excited. People book online all the time no worries, right?
Well, it wasn’t so simple after all. This experience got me researching all the pros and cons of booking a vacation through a Travel Agent vs booking a trip with an online travel site. So I put together some of my findings below.
Convenience – A Pro for Online Booking or Booking with a Travel Agent?
Is it as convenient as we think?
So it is undeniable that it is far easier to go online and search for travel options and buy them more quickly than calling an agent, waiting until they are free to talk, discussing your needs, waiting for them to get answers as they search and so on. However, there is a downside to this convenience: the search time.
When booking flights, the search may not be an issue, but when booking packaged vacations and cruises or more complicated trips, this is where the online booking loses its stronghold. Personally, I love the searching, checking reviews and digging out my next vacation from all the information. However, not everyone has the time for this. You are not only looking for the best price but a place with a good reputation, the amenities you desire and the locations you want to visit during your trip. You might need answers to questions like “is it the best time to travel here?” “Are there any travel advisories I should be aware of.” If you are not into spending the time doing this research, then a Travel Agent may be the best choice here. They have experience and information that you may not be digging up from an online site.
Do You Get The Same Treatment? Pro for the Travel Agent Con for Booking Online
“You are more likely to get bumped flights or booked in a lower-end room when booking through an online travel site.”
I’m starting to believe this statement more and more. How can this be true? Well, the fact is that when booking your flight online the online travel agency will not remove your seats off the availability list as quickly as a travel agent does. The travel agent does it immediately at the time of booking so if the flight is overbooked the last tickets issued are the first ones bumped off the flight. Since customer service with online travel sites is less than stellar, the airline may feel it is easier to bump an online booking over an agent booking which will be quicker to respond on behalf of their client.
With regards to hotel room bookings, a room booked online is put in a “less desirable class” than one booked by an agent. So if you book an Oceanview room online you will get an Oceanview room but probably in the oldest wing of the hotel and a loud part of the resort. It would be an interesting survey of trip-advisor reviews if you book online vs an agent is your room worse than the agent-customer? A travel agent booking includes individual notes and requests, so if you want a second-floor room, in a quiet part of the hotel or resort you will be more likely to get it than if you book through an online site.
Customer Service – Pro for the Travel Agent Con for Booking Online
From my personal experience and the many many complaints, I’ve read online this is where the online booking sites fail miserably. The moment something goes wrong, a clerical or accounting error is made, the price changes, the flight changes or you are not satisfied with something getting a customer service representative, that can do something and help you, from the online booking site may prove difficult.
Many of these websites put their resources in bookings rather than dealing with issues. Once you booked the trip, you will have a hard time getting a customer service agent to help. A few examples you might encounter:
- You Don’t Like the Room – You get to the resort and hate the room you got, so you head to the front desk, and they don’t seem to want to help you. Why? Well, you bought the cheapest hotel room, remember? Why would they want to help you? So by some miracle you get through to a customer service representative at the online booking site, they too have little luck with room selection, because they are selling the cheapest deals, not the best vacations. On the other hand, a travel agent whose direct number and email you have will be far more easy to reach and much better equipped to handle the situation for you. In fact, the front desk knowing the travel agency’s representatives may encourage them to be more helpful in the first place.
- Your Flight Schedule Changes – Online travel agencies are famous for this one. They don’t inform you of any changes to your flight. According to their fine print – You are responsible for checking your flight times 24 hours before you leave. Again an online agency is putting its resources on new bookings; they don’t always look back and forward any further relevant information for an old booking. A travel agent, on the other hand, will be more likely to send you the flight change notice and be there to handle any concerns you may want to discuss.
The Lowest Prices are Guaranteed Online? Or Are They?
The Price Bait and Switch
Have you ever gone online and found the most amazing deal on a flight? When you start going into the actual booking the price just goes higher and higher? Online travel sites are well known for the “bait and switch” tactic. They have all done clever marketing campaigns to get the word out that you will get the lowest prices for the same packages that agents sell. If you travel often then you may be discovering that this is just not the case. In fact, every agent I have talked with about a price I found online has matched and further reduced the online price, so why doesn’t the Agent have the upper hand here?
There are some unbelievable travel deals to be found on an online site. Is what you see what you get? You purchase the trip and then the online site says “oh we are sorry” the tour operator changed the flight or cancelled it altogether. It isn’t our fault, but the charter flight company changed the flight. Is it just me or are these “changes” happening more with online bookings than with agency bookings?
The Bottom Line – Travel Buyers Beware
In response to my recent online booking issues, I’m questioning if I ever want to book a flight or trip online again. Having a relationship with a good travel agent means experience, expertise, information, customer service and someone that has my back. I’m starting to wonder why consumer reports have not been compiled on issues of using Online Travel Sites.