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Richard's Travel World Blog

Travel Advice on booking hotels and flights - on-line versus using a Travel Agent or a Tour Operator
December 2015

Over the years more and more "on-line" companies invent new ways to go around travel agents and tour operators - all to take advantage of unused or over-supplies of hotel and flights, and to make those companies big money. Many of these methods work very well and you get what you want or at least something that works for what you are willing to pay. If that works for you then continue on using them, but many are fraught with traps, tricks, hidden conditions, locked in bookings and many other issues that can end up being horror stories if one does not read the fine print and the details. Here are some tips and information about what to expect when booking your trips and what potential issues might exist or be avoided, depending on how you book or who you book with. There are reasons why Travel Agencies still exist and in fact why more and more people are returning to the fold, so to speak, and using travel agents for booking most if not all of their travel requirements. Read the article at the end of the following link to learn more about this trend in the travel industry.

Further to that, there are other factors that have been the cause or reasons for the dramatic rise in travel agencies becoming the "go-to" place for reliable and customer supported places to book travel - read on if you are interested in why this is happening.

1. Hotel Booking Web-Sites.
When booking hotels on such sites, be sure you know the currency you are paying for that hotel room. Some US based companies provide seemingly great deals on Canadian or European hotels, but unbeknownst to the consumer, they are priced US dollar prices. Unless you look carefully for this distinction, they have no reason to tell you anything other than the currency that relates to their company, which is often in the USA. What originally looks like a great deal, all of a sudden has US pricing with the inherent difference in the exchange rate, which often negates the savings you thought you were getting. When you book through a travel agent, tour operator or even directly with the hotel, you get pricing in the currency of the country you are booking the hotel in and you know what you are paying.

2. Buyer Beware.
Cancellation penalties exist with many of these discount sites for flights, hotels and other services. Read the fine print because these companies do not want to lose bookings or associated income so they charge you a change fee or cancellation penalty. This is their way of them not losing income completely if you change your mind. When booking with a Travel Agent or Tour Operator - you will pay a small service fee up front that buys you their services until your trip is completed. You most often have the right to cancel hotel rooms within 24-48 hours with no penalty, or make flight changes with minimal costs to do this because your agent is working for you. You can be sure that your booking is backed up by either the agent, or the travel agency or the hotel/airline or whatever service they book for you. Many hotel booking sites, do NOT offer any of this as part of their pricing - so buyer beware.

3. Flights are another interesting situation for consumers.
In case or cases where one books flights on a large-scale booking engine that are NOT operated by the actual airline, there might be hidden or unexpected road-blocks or challenges you will face if something out of the ordinary happens and you need to change something. Should you need a change in flights, dates, destinations or other aspects of your bookings, only by extreme good fortune will you ever get the same booking agent at that site, if there is even an agent at the other end working on your bookings. This may be of no consequence if it is a simple change, however, any complications, minor or heaven forbid any major adjustments - your booking can result in horrific situations where you pay large penalties and fees to the point where your savings are gone. An Agent can offer you benefits and consistency that are not always, if ever, possible through a booking "engine" which surfs the web looking for the best deal.

4. What is a tour operator?
Those packages you see in travel agencies in fancy brochures or on web-sites where you have a "package of services" bundled together are created by tour operators? Those are offerings take advantage of bulk buying and repetition of the product and services over an extended period of time. There are low priced times and higher priced dates, depending on the destination, weather, demand, etc. Most often some great deals can be found by the search engine and they work just fine, however, not always do you have the full range of choices for your trip. Many companies participate in these "sell-offs" and "discounts" but there are many companies whose products and services NEVER are listed on such sites. That means you may not be getting as many choices as you think and you may not be always getting the best options and prices for what you want. If you are just looking to "get away" and don't have any pre-conceived notion of what you want, then these sites can be ideal for you. If you are looking for something that suits your wants and needs and are willing to look deeper for this travel satisfaction factor, nothing beats a travel agent or tour operator who can find you options you are looking for by using their knowledge of the industry to narrow down the search that meets your needs, saving you the time and headache of searching hundreds of sites to try and find the right package for you.

5. Advertising magic doesn't always work the way it is advertised.
What does this mean anyway? Don't always believe the advertising you see on television or in print media - you can't see what they can't show you. The companies who design those campaigns are working on behalf of the companies who created the software booking engines and or who are re-selling other companies products and services. They are selling you what they want or are able to sell to you, not necessarily what you want to buy. Those ads would have you believe they can search all sources of suppliers for the travel industry and maybe that is true - but they only see the services that the suppliers offer to them. They carefully don't say they can offer you ALL the services and products that are out there because in reality, they can only offer you those services and products from companies who are willing to allow them to buy into their systems. Many, many companies do NOT sell into those booking engine systems with their full line of services in their company, preferring to sell to you directly. Service providers most often offer travel booking engine companies, services that that they can't sell themselves on their own web-sites so they offer them through third party booking engines to clear inventory. Buying directly or through a travel agent who does buy directly from the service provider, most often gets you the best choices and the best prices for what you want and when you want it.

6. Customized Tours and tour operators, what are they?
Have you ever gone on or heard about trips that are offered by companies, associations, church groups, etc. where people of like-minded interests, or those who might be customers of a company or employees of a company, or members of an association - are going on pre-planned organized tours? Those tours are created for those groups by a tour operator who is trained, licensed and insured to provide such packages.

Not just Air Canada Vacations, but other smaller companies plan and sell such tour packages to consumers either in brochures or on the web, but many other tour operators custom design tours specifically for the needs of clients who need or want something special, not a cookie cutter tour, but something designed specifically for that special interest group. Such tours take advantage of volume pricing, shared services and discount flights when numbers of participants reach a certain level or number. Those trips are most frequently less expensive in the long run as they use group pricing to build the packages and provide the customized programming not available through pre-packaged offerings. Such customized tour are also very much more designed to meet the needs and interests of the travelers taking part. Even though sometimes those tours are a little MORE expensive, it is most often because the travelers are getting what they want, rather than what the travel company wants to provide. Choice has its advantages in getting what you are interested in rather than just taking what you are given. Not always is the best or lowest price the best tour for what you want. Your most appropriate tour might cost a little more but you get what YOU want and in the long run, isn't that what traveling is supposed to be all about. If a pre-package vacation tour offers you flights, hotel and meals and that is all you want, that's the deal for you. If you want something special that actually is of interest to you, is a little different and better for what your desires are, then paying a little more is always better than being unhappy with something that you took because it was "cheap"!

Important Points on Travel Choices
1. Often seemingly great flight pricing results in bookings that literally take you all over the map, often making 2 or 3 stops in between, getting on and off several flights, traveling greater distances, going up and down several times before ever reaching your destination. Doesn't that sound like a lot of fun?

2. Often a travel agent will find you the most effective flights both for time and money - with as little up and down as possible and less chance of lost luggage as well.

3. Too often people forget that time is money and worth paying a few dollars more if you have fewer flights, less time in airports or in the air and more time at your actual destination.

4. Travel agents can put you in control of your life rather than a bargain based flight search engine that does not "think" but merely spits out the available options based purely on the lowest price.

5. Think carefully about your purpose and your time and yes do your home-work and compare the "computer based selections" with the Agent based choices - so you know you are getting the best services for your needs.

6. You most often will have the best options with an experienced travel agent and peace of mind knowing you are "backed up" if you need help, changes or advice relating to your trip.

For more information, refer to the article written in the Travel Market Report, a fact based newsletter that reports on the world of travel and which is based on real life situations and realities relating to the travel industry. See their article on "the 10 Reasons Travelers still need a Travel Agent" to see some interesting reasons why booking on the internet is not always your best option -