Travel agents are closing branches as more people head online to book their holidays. However, our research has found that visiting a high street travel agent can be just as cheap. So, should we turn to them more often?
How did you book your last overseas holiday? These days, most people use the internet to book a trip. In fact, from 2007 to 2011, the number of holidays arranged in travel agency branches dropped by 16% – although they still accounted for an impressive 17 million bookings last year.
It’s harder for many people to find a local travel branch now. As companies continue to merge, the number of branches run by the big name companies is dwindling. And many branches have relocated to out-of-town retail parks – First Choice has done this a lot.
Online holidays aren’t always cheaper
But it’s no surprise that people have turned to booking online – after all, isn’t it always the cheapest way to book a holiday? Well, Which? Travel has put that to the test by mystery shopping a range of travel agents. We compared each company’s cheapest quote in-branch with what was available on the same company’s website.
Although most of the agents we spoke to initially gave us pricier quotes than we’d found on their websites, once we showed our internet search results, many were happy to match the price. Overall, 12 of the 44 agents found the same or a similar holiday for a cheaper price, and another 15 price matched.
But getting the cheapest price for a holiday is still money wasted if the holiday isn’t suitable. Faced with thousands of possible options online, I sometimes feel I need to take annual leave just to find time to research and book the actual holiday.
The value of a travel agent
The good travel agents – either in a shop or over the phone – will take the time to not only get you the cheapest deal, but also the most suitable one.
They can steer you away from the cheap hotel that’s seen better days or gets overwhelmed with scampering children. They should highlight added costs and help sort out essentials, like visas. Plus, they can offer financial protection that you may well not get by putting your own package together online.
Some agents, such as Thomson and First Choice, do charge a £10 per person booking fee in-store when price matching. But isn’t it worth paying a little extra to have someone else hunt down the best deal and sort out any future problems?
Do you only search for the best holiday deals online? Or do you value the expertise and convenience of a particular high street travel agent?