Should I make my own bookings or use a travel agent?
This is a question that I have been asked many times. The answer is – well it depends.
These days, it is easy to make your own travel arrangements via online booking systems (hotels, air travel, rail travel and tours).
These sites have easy to understand interfaces between their complex networks and the end user. The booking systems will take you directly into the reservation and inventory systems of travel product suppliers (e.g. airlines).
Anyone with a basic understanding of the internet should be able to navigate around the booking sites and then pay with a credit card.
Most product suppliers (airlines, hotels) have booking pages on their own websites but if you want to compare prices, services and standards, go to well-established internet travel sites:
Login to the specific site for your own country (e.g. add .au for Australia)
- Check cancellation and amendment rules for each supplier (e.g.hotel) and the booking site.
- Changes or cancellations can result in extra charges.
- Read booking conditions pages for details. Read the booking conditions a few times as these can be a bit complicated. If in doubt, email them or live chat with the customer service operator.
- Double check your dates and connections before you hit the pay button.
From time to time, you will see prices fluctuating (up or down) due to seasonal specials or as a marketing tool. I have found prices can change at different times of the day.
Check the price listings for “sales” and “special deals”. Sometimes, breakfast or half-board specials are offered to attract customers. (Half board is usually breakfast and dinner.)
If you book yourself, you will need to organise your own passport, entry visa and currency. I recommend that you visit official information sites or contact consular services for more information.
Licenced travel agent
Travel agents help with visa, health and other government regulations and changes to travel plans once you have departed.
- Getting your head around multiple entry visa applications, entry and exit regulations, foreign currency and cultural rules can be very difficult.
- Mistakes can result in deportation, illness, arrest or loss of money (even if the mistakes are not your fault).
- After departure, changes to travel plans (airline delays, illness) can knock your whole schedule out of sync and result in these issues:
- your entry visa may no longer be valid
- your tickets may have to be reissued or cancelled (due to the ticket rules)
- you might miss your tour departure or be stranded somewhere without transport.
Ticket re-issues can be costly or impossible to organise (especially if the airline involved doesn’t have a local office or agent where you are.
Some travel agents have international networks that can assist travellers or 24/7 customer service lines to help with:
- ticket reissues
- rebooking or re-routing
- insurance claims
- visa help.
It is worth checking this out when you book. Getting the cheapest quote should not be the only criteria. I know of many cases where clients ended up paying much more for ticket changes that had to be organised overseas.
Not all travel agents will be able to help you once you have departed, so ask the agent before you book if they have a help line.
So, when deciding whether to make your own travel arrangements, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this a complicated itinerary with multiple countries and products?
- Am I travelling to remote non-Western destinations?
- Is this my first trip?
- Do I have multiple entry visae to organise?
- Am I on a tight timeline with tour departures and flight connections?
- Am I unsure about interpreting booking conditions?
If you answered yes to most of these, it looks like you might be better off booking with a licenced travel agent.
Otherwise, go ahead and make your own arrangements by choosing a reputable and well established online booking site. But in both cases, make sure you take out travel insurance. Most good travel insurance policies offer a 24/7 help line in case of problems after departure.