There is an ongoing dilemma for some people as whether it is better to use a travel agent or to book directly with an airline or supplier on the internet. There will be arguments for and against either, depending on the individuals perspectives but if you really want to compare them objectively, consider the following:
- Cheapest fares: For many people this is a key factor.
Travel Agent: The TMC (Travel Management Company) has access to both internet fares and to GDS (Airline Systems) fares for multiple airlines and can accurately determine and immediately determine who has the least expensive fare. Often the GDS fare will be less expensive than the internet fare.
Internet: What you see is what you get.
- Booking fees: How they effect the cost?
Travel Agent: Travel agents do not earn commission from airlines and therefore need to charge a fair service fee for their time and expertise. You should weigh these costs against the benefits.
Internet: Many airlines do not charge a direct booking fee. If you use a booking engine however, you will pay a booking fee.
- Payment: How and when do you pay?
Travel Agent: Corporate clients have a facility with the TMC and in many cases they have a lodged credit card used solely for air travel and the agent bears responsibility for all transactions and payment. The agent has a 24 hour time limit in which to confirm the reservation and issue the ticket or cancel, sometimes longer.
Internet: Payment is effected simultaneously with the booking transaction by credit card.
- Credit Card Security: How safe is using your card?
Travel Agent: The agent will assume full responsibility for keeping your card safe and will indemnify you against fraudulent use. Simple as that.
Internet: The challenges of credit card usage on the internet are well documented and we don’t need to comment on that. What is of interest though is the blatant abuse of credit cards by certain airline employees working in the frequent flyer redemption departments. It is frightening and you really have to be on the ball.
- Validity and Restrictions: How flexible is the ticket?
Travel Agent: The agent will invariably offer you several fare options, starting from the least expensive, so that you can determine which is most practical for your trip. It is sometimes wise to utilize a fare that allows you the flexibility to change dates and times for a nominal fee rather than having a ticket that allows no changes and has no value if cancelled after it is issued.
Internet: The cheapest fare will be governed by the severest restrictions and often means no changes can be made and no refund is applicable if you cancel.
- Time and Research: Is time an issue in relation to cost?
Travel Agent: The agent will take your request and process it as swiftly as possible using the state of art search and booking tools at his/her disposal. Any research done is included in the initial negotiated fee.
Internet: Any time spent is at your cost whether you want to believe it or not. Human resources and communications are another huge cost on any company’s budget. Try booking a flight, car and hotel and then changing the date.
- Troubleshooting: How much assistance do you get?
Travel Agent: The agent is committed by basic commercial principles relating to service, to ensuring the efficient fulfillment of your travel arrangements. If you get stuck or cannot travel for any reason, your travel agent will assist you with the most convenient and least expensive alternatives and will keep your office or home informed. People, you can talk to.
Internet: The obligation is on you to resolve the problems. You need to phone the airline help desk or your secretary for assistance with a cancelled flight. Try phoning the airline after hours with an urgent problem.
- Journey Advice: What you need to know?
Travel Agent: The agent will advise you of routes, customs, taxes, insurance, services and entry formalities. They often have reciprocal arrangements with professional travel companies in all major domestic and international cities which are at your disposal.
Internet: The information is there somewhere. All you have to do is find it and recognise which of it applies to you. It will not volunteer information or ensure that you documents are in order.
- Managing your Spend: Can you measure and control your travel spend?
Travel Agent: A good travel agent will have powerful reporting tools in place to measure exactly how much you or your company spends monthly or annually, who spends it and who you spend it on.This facilitates control and the ability to negotiate for preferential rates or to identify unnecessary spend.
Internet: If you have very tight and efficient controls, you should be able to consolidate you’re your travelers’ bookings, ensure that you have got the best fares and identify how valuable you are to each airline. 90 percent of companies can’t do this though.The difference on cost savings through management, control and negotiated fares far exceeds the service fees paid to the agent. Perhaps you don’t need to manage your spend.
- Are you convinced yet? In closing.
Travel Agent: If you are really serious about managing your travel costs and require expert service, you will take an objective view and consider the alternatives. Then you will decide.
Internet: If you believe that you should be independent of agents who you see as middlemen and that the fees are not worth the advice and service of the TMC and that the internet is saving you time and money then no, we are unlikely to be able to convince you.However! Thousands of Travel Management Companies exist throughout the world including in technically switched on countries like the USA and Europe and China with loyal and appreciative customers. And the numbers continue to grow. Why?And all this is assuming that the airline, or tour operator or hotel doesn’t go out of business before or during your journey, as has happened to Nationwide and is happening to numerous overseas travel suppliers every day.