/ 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?


A lot of on-line travel agents it seems to trade under a group of different trading names, they then quote a price for a flight then invoice you with extra chargesi.e. I booked one at a price paid deposit later e.mail received added charges i.e. fuel surcharge + admin cost so the figure was not as agreed on, the airline asked me what surcharge I was on about as they do not have one, so face to face contact with High street agents seems to me to be the thing, not all on-line agents are using these methods, Their Boss informed that ! we make no profit from airlines, we have to make a small profit, so investigation found this:- 17.00GBP fuel surcharge (no charge really) admin charge 35.00GBP). just be warey.

I have to say, it’s been a few years since I last set foot in a travel agents. Back then the prices given certainly were as competitive as online but I felt as if I was being pressured into a holiday I didn’t actually want.

Their pricing in the window is often not the actual price either – ‘Oh, that’s gone up by £100 since this morning’ was a common phrase I heard. Of course, this is caveated by a small ‘From’ written on the poster.

There’s also not an awful lot of choice in my local travel agents, up until recently we had a First Choice and Thomson shop on our high street who both had exactly the same prices due to the same ownership. The third shop on our high street is Thomas Cook who are notoriously more expensive for no apparent reason.

Yes, you may be able to get the same deal in store that Thomson are offering online, for example, but I would actually find it more convenient to just book it there and then on the web rather than visiting the shop to haggle with them.

It’s a shame really, the high street travel agent is more about ‘How much commission will this make me?’ rather than ‘Is this the ideal holiday for my customer?’ these days.

Right about window poster prices, even recently in the Far East a Travel Agent shop there advertising a holiday for 4 days incl flight/Hotel/Transportation was quoted at 999ph in local currency, when tried to purchase the price was 4,984 ph as the price was from, so when asked when the price 999ph was they did not know, so false pricing is used as a come on everywhere then.

U.K. travel agent takes a booking as per verbal quote, you pay deposit, an Invoice arrives within 12 hours with ad-ons i.e. Fuel Surcharge GBP17.00 Booking Charge more money, you ring airline who states there are no Surcharges on their flights, complaints made, eventually slight refund given but told we have to make a profit, airlines do not pay commission, check airline site the cost of my tkt was as per original quoted – marked Paid, so a difference of some GBP50.00 to agent.

After all this I go to the airport to check in for the flight to be told !!sorry we are not checking in that flight yet!! so I say this flight is going to where I am suppose to be going and the time and ticket date states now, go to the back of the queue for now, watching the flight fill up to my destiantion I get a bit worried as I have a connection at that destination, eventually the man comes over and we see the supervisor to whom it is pointed out my ticke flight Number is in-correct yet destination/timing is correct & a connection has to be made, luckily for me a seat given to me, on investigation at a later date it transpires the Flight Number was for one of their flight to completly differnt destination.

I put a complaint (3) by e.mail to the Travel Agent – no response, so I sent a letter before action to them then I received a reply that is is the Airlines fault not theirs, I point out this is the 2nd problem on this booking and operator, and that they are paid commision to ensure the booking is correct and isue the ticket as the contract is between them and myself, NO Reply after sending the e.mail to them stating the 30 days LBA is still relevant as no complaints proceedure sent to me only hard luck not their fault, anybody else had these problems as no-body seems to want to know

Chrissie says:
27 April 2012

I’ve just booked a family holiday with Thomson and agmy local travel agent matched the on-line price, additional services, such as airport parking, were offered but there was no heavy sales pitch. I found my instore experience very positive, speaking face to face to a member of staff is, in my opinion, far more preferable to looking at a computer screen!

Antonia says:
27 April 2012

I usually book online, but I’ve tried out a few travel agents recently as I wanted specialist advice on wheelchair accessibility, and have been disappointed. Both the High Street agent and the local Travel Counsellor listened to what I needed, promised to look into it, and then failed to get back to me. I did some online research, found something, and spoke to the company direct about accessibility in the end. I’ll stick to online booking I think.

Bob says:
27 April 2012

My experience has been that , there are clearly specialist and expert travel agencies where a combination of knowledge and enthusiasm from staff offers a real added value. Using agencies like those makes sense for anything unusual or complex or , where the the holiday/trip involves multiple flights or destinations -anything bespoke.They are usually operating in a different part of the market and , probably have a different customer base.

At the risk of generalising that’s less true of the main high street businesses who are primarily selling an “off the shelf” package.In many cases I have known more about the place and the alternatives for getting there etc than they have. It’s probably wrong to assume a massive level of expertise so , if you do some research first the focus becomes on who sells at the cheapest price. The travel industry is such a (deliberately) complex one that comparing becomes really difficult – unless you know what you want or are the sort of person for whom the research is part of the fun.
At the end of the day the high street firms are primarily selling products rather than services -despite what their advertising may claim? What is best often really comes down to how much time and energy you want to invest in choosing your holiday.

Lol says:
27 April 2012

We ( myself and my wife) have used travel agents only since 1981.Why? its a package if anything goes wrong we simply talk to the local rep and let them sort it (no phone calls e-mails etc).Also prices are competitive.
For the last ten years we have booked only with an independent travel agent in Dorset mainly Thomson Holidays who both provide an excellent service at good prices. We have only ever had problems twice (1) Air Malta, on return business class flight from Malta no first class seats available owing to a industrial dispute, our independent travel agent arranged a full refund (not credit) of out and return fares received within a week by cheque. (2) Holiday with Thomson in Spain, on arriving at Malaga for our return flight air traffic controllers went on strike just as we arrived at the airport, within two hours Thomson had us in a local Hotel with all meals for two days at no cost to us.

I haven’t used a Travel Agent since online booking became a reality. True, they do offer some advantages but these, for me, are far outweighed by the pressure to decide instantly – I’d rather go away and mull it over.

But the real clincher is the fact that 27 of the 44 agents you surveyed brought their prices down to match/beat the online prices. This doesn’t impress me one jot. Quite the opposite. In effect these agents are saying “Yes, we have every intention of ripping you off if you haven’t done your research!”

Would you want to do business with a company so cavalier about overcharging you?

Very presumptive without any knowlege !!

Snowdin says:
27 April 2012

Totally agree with John, I never buy off firms that “match prices” because I feel their inital motive is to take you for a mug. I usually go on specialist (wildlife) trips which travel agents don’t have expertise in, so never use them. I do find Saga online has dependably competitive airport parking / hotel packages but don’t use their holidays.

Do you not use John Lewis ? They “match prices” are a probably one of the best retailers in the UK, not sure if they treat their clients as “mugs” !!

. . . and they match prices publicly before they are challenged so the price you see is the lowest you can pay.

There are still a few independant small travel agents on the high street and on-line that do add value still, long may they exist but it must be hard with the advertising might of the big boys.

John Hertfordshire says:
28 April 2012

From the comments I hear about how fair Aussy car hire is. My recent experience was that when I left the hire car with a full tank(or so I thought). at a local provincial airport as arranged.I was charged again for another full tank. When I challenged this I was told that the tank had to be absolutley full although there was no petrol station in the immediate vicinity,.
I was also fined for not purchasing a permit for travel in Melbourne city centre where this had recently been introduced without warning from the hire company.

John NIxon says:
30 September 2014

I also suffered the same fate with being charged again for a full tank. I again was not warned about a permit for entering Melbourne city centre but this was in 2009.So the permits had been required much earlier than you were told. It looks as no warnings are still the case.

keith west says:
29 April 2012

We always check on-line before visiting a travel agent and have always found them willing to match internet prices. We prefer to use al travel agent so if we have a problem we can talk to someone face to face.

Portia says:
30 April 2012

The internet has made it so easy to source accommodation and flights separately that a package holiday looks less and less appealing. It’s easy for us to book an hotel or a self-catering or serviced apartment, anywhere in the world, online, that it’s hard to see what travel agents actually offer nowadays.

vicky says:
1 May 2012

I priced up a holiday five days ago with Sunmaster ie flight accom tfs, There was nothing about luggage so i phoned them,even though it was a package holiday the operator priced the flight ofcourse it had gone up and becouse the flights had gone up so had the accommodation the quote was £100 more than i had priced it. Ok the bag was £28 but take that off the £100 that is £72 but WHY. A package, should mean, That is the price and it should include everything inc baggage I am a pensioner and every penny counts.

tony says:
21 August 2012

Firstly you say that you dont deal with companies that price match, because they are trying to get away with higher prices. Understand one thing. As an agent we try to work on 8 percent. if when we quote the client, they come back with I can get this cheaper online. we do our utmost to get the booking. So are forced to price match and make as little as 3 percent. a percentage you cannot live on. What I hate is all the internet bookers that use us to get the info and brochurs and then go and book online. If you prefer to book online then just do it. If you used my service you wouldnt even ask to price match as you would see the time and effort we take to get the best prices and product for our clients.

Whether you like it or not, Tony, some customers will use your information, haggle about prices and book online. If you cannot live with that then you will have to find another job. One way of overcoming the problem is to offer a product that is different so that the customer cannot make a direct comparison, but that will not necessarily stop haggling.

You would be glad to have me as a customer because although I compare prices carefully I find haggling horrible and embarrassing. I would be interested to know if you pay the advertised price for everything you buy. 🙂


You need have no fear of me using you for brochures then going elsewhere. I look at the advertised prices and, having adjusted for other factors, go for the best deal.

I don’t haggle.

My advice – advertise your wares at the price you think appropriate. And stick to that price.

Andrew says:
7 November 2012

I recently compared the cost of a Thomson holiday to Crete for next summer staying at the Royal Mare in Hersonisos. By booking my flight (with Easyjet) and hotel with totallyGreece.com I saved a whacking 175 quid. Plus the flight times were better and I was able to book 9 nights (basically only taking 1 week off work) as opposed to the 7 and 14 nights Thomson could provide. So in terms of price and flexibility buying your holiday separately seems to have alot of advantages.

anthony says:
17 April 2013

which all of that you can get at an independent travel agent will full security of knowing if anything goes wrong then you are financially covered, how much for peace of mind? the amount of internet based firms going bust each month/year is frightening due to them trying to work on ridiculously low profit margins. is it worth that extra time and effort on your behalf you spent finding the holiday when you probably could have had the same product from an independent at the same price if you had just given them the opportunity to ‘tailor make’ you a package. you will find there’s not many independents out there these days that will offer you a ‘thomson’ package before checking if there’s a cheaper equivalent out there, especially with thomson’s pathetic commission and support structure they now offer

But no ATOL protection, and no help if another ash cloud happens !

Dan123 says:
9 November 2012

Sometimes I find a really good deal from a small travel agency like Asia Wonders, they take worldwide hotel bookings. I recently booked Thistle Royal Trafalgar with them for 2 nights for £325 but most online travel agencies quoted £398.

Eddie says:
26 August 2014

Most online agencies are atol protected now, Thomas Cook and Thompson are just too expensive, they aren’t on the same page anymore. They rely on people who are green on the subject or loyal to them. I would pay a little extra for the service they provide, for me though with my family of 5 the difference is thousands…
I just booked Florida for two weeks next summer with British Airways including car staying a stones throw from Disney for the 5 of us. I got it for £3000. I was getting prices around 5-6k from agents in my high street. As for service they ask me where I want to go what hotel I’d like and what dates… That’s not finding me a holiday that’s finding me a price.
I can’t see how travel agents can survive much longer, except those working in niche markets.

Travel-logik.co.uk says:
29 September 2014

You can find some good deals online, I would suggest buying your flights accommodation and tours separately, their are some good sites such as opodo, skyscanner & kayak providing good quality flight, try going directly to the airlines website this can be a good way of getting reasonable priced flight, a good idea is too look at specialist sites relating tot eh destination that you plan to travel to.

[This comment has been edited to align with the Which? Conversation guidelines, thanks mods]

Much Cheaper says:
10 December 2014

You should be aware that if you book flights and hotel separately you will have no financial protection from ATOL if things go wrong before your trip or whilst you are abroad.