/ Travel & Leisure

Get away! Travel agents can be just as cheap as online deals

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?


You must understand that once upon a time the real travel agent existed. Where you could go and buy your airline ticket (not referring to the old bucket shop). The travel agent was professional, they could sit and work out manually without the aid of computers your whole flight itinerary and calculate the fare and finally write out the ticket for you there and then. A travel agents job was professional in all capacities from booking your package holiday, train tickets, ferry tickets and book your hotels. So all you budding on line bookers, think for a minute what you have lost because the net has in effect not saved you money, you are paying what the airlines want. They killed the travel agent to save themselves what was a mere 9% commission on what where regulated prices. The joy of going to a travel agent to sort everything out for you has now gone and so have the countless great tour operators of the 1970s and 80s. By booking on line we have shot ourselves in the foot and opened doors to a handful of airlines and tour operators who make their own rules and price structures. Shame really, just feel sorry for those real travel agents who wasted their time building a career in an industry which needed them and helped them to prosper. Thanks a lot to certain budget airlines in their infancy who took advantage of the humble travel agent only to shun them after using their services. The list goes on and on. So please if you have a need to criticise the travel agents which are left then get your facts straight because had it not been for them you would have nothing to book on line.

Pauline says:
20 January 2015

I have used our local Travel agent as I have always got a good deal…. Until last week I booked our holiday and knowing before where I wanted to go and where I wanted to fly from and also knowing the exact hotel I wanted to to…..I thought it must have gone up as I had left it until January, booked and paid over the deposit and when I got home the holiday was £800.00 cheaper online. I wasn’t going to do anything as I don’t like making complaints…. But all my clients said I had to do something about this….Feel really embarrassed…. What are my rights?
Please help.

If the holiday was identical in every respect ie: Flight times, Airport, Hotel Meal basis etc then give the tour operator a call as most offer some kind of guarantee like Find the same holiday cheaper and we will refund the difference etc. Remember, If it the same tour operator (or sister company) then you would be justified in complaining. Again, not your travel agents fault, They would have used a reputable tour operator who would very rarely offer the same holiday online at a cheaper price unless it differed considerably (usually flight timings)
Good luck

Lorraine says:
17 May 2016

I booked a holiday on line – flights and accomodation. I was given seperate prices for each but the total at the end was less than both added together. Is this common?