The airlines spend millions of dollars every year promoting their airline to travel agents as they recognise agents have a great influence over a passengers final choice of airline transportation.
How to choose a travel agent (that's right for you!)
Like in any service industry, there are the good, the bad and the ugly service providers. It is no different with travel agents. As a general rule, if your travel agent does not know more than you do about your intended travel destination and airlines that you wish to use then it may be better to find another travel agent.
In Australia to be a travel agent a person must study and obtain the relevant qualifications and licence to operate as a travel agent. This is not necessarily the same for all overseas countries. Prior to engaging a travel agent to make your travel plans, Airline Guru strongly recommends that you ensure that the agent that you use is a licenced travel agent.
There is no reason why you cannot shop around for an agent that suits you and your needs. Air travel is expensive and passengers need to be sure that they are going to get what they have paid for. There are travel agents that specialise in particular areas of travel. For example if you are planning on taking a cruise then it may be better to find an agent that specialises in organising cruise packages. If taking the kids to Disneyland is the plan then there are travel agents who specialise in family holiday packages.
Being provided the cheapest deal by the travel agent is not always necessarily the best option. If your agent does not offer a range of suitable options then they are not doing their job.
An experienced travel agent will ask lots of questions to understand your needs as a traveller. For example, if you are a frequent flyer there will be advantages of travelling with those particular airlines involved in the airlines' frequent flyer programme. Be aware that the cheapest deal may mean a twelve hour delay or overnight stay on the way to the destination. For some passengers, travelling a particular airline may not matter but being stuck in transit for a lengthy amount of time will. Any transit time will add to passenger costs - not on the ticket costs perhaps but on the eventual travelling costs. If a passenger is in transit at an airport for an extended period of time the cost of meals, accommodation and entertainment options can be costly. Sometimes paying the additional amount on a ticket for a more direct route is worth the saving in flying time and transit expenses. Ultimately it is up to the passenger to make that individual decision.
Cost of using a travel agent
Travel Agents are professionals so passengers need to expect to pay a travel agent for their time, expertise and assistance. Prior to confirming any travel plans with the agent, ask the travel agent what fees you are to pay for their assistance. Gone are the days that when travel agents will work for no booking or service fees. This is largely due to the airlines and travel providers withdrawing or reducing the commission paid by airlines and travel operators on confirmed bookings. In order for agents to stay profitable - yes they are a business - they need to charge fees. There are no set standards so shop around for the best deal that suits your budget. Ask your agent what the fees cover and if there will be any additional fees over and above what is quoted.
Advantages of using a travel agent
- The main advantage of using a travel agent is having someone else do the research and comparisons for you. A reliable travel agent will be able to recommend several airlines to travel with and be able to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using each option. A travel agent will have the ability to search for more flight options and search for the availability on all airlines and the best price.
- Sometimes fares purchased via a travel agent can be at a lower 'consolidated' rate than what the airlines can offer. What does this mean? This simply means that a travel agency has negotiated a special deal between the agency and the airline involved. At times the financial savings can be significant. However for the cost savings on the ticket there will be a trade-off in regarding to terms and conditions of the ticket. This reduced price of the ticket many mean that the ticket may not be able to be changed if required. Always ask the agent for the conditions of any airfare.
- Travel agents have access and support of an industry trade centre for assistance. These centres are only for travel agent use and unavailable to the public for any reason. Airfares can be complex to negotiate and most airlines have set up their own specialist centre for agents to contact if necessary. If your agent advises that they need to speak to an airline for clarification or assistance it is more than likely they are contacting this specialist centre or their local airline sales representative.
Questions to consider when choosing a travel agent
- Are they licenced?
- What hours do they operate?
- Do they have 24/7 worldwide service?
- Are they happy to assist you after you have paid the money and the tickets have been issued?
- Are they willing to assist you once you have commenced travel?
- Have they advised you of all the terms and conditions of the airline tickets when discussing the options prior to purchase?
I need to change my travel dates. Do I call the travel agent or the airline?
Prior to travel commencing passengers need to contact their travel agent. Airlines are unable to assist a passenger change a ticket until travel has commenced. This is the agreement between airlines and travel agents. Once travel has started then the airlines are permitted to assist passengers in changing an airline ticket. There are travel agents who advise passengers that they are unable to assist and that they must contact the airline for assistance. This is simply incorrect. The only time that the airlines will get involved is when travel is on the day of departure under certain circumstances. Any changes that an airline makes to a ticket will be made according to the fare rules of the ticket. Airlines will not override the conditions that an agent has sold to a passenger. Agents should not advise passengers that an airline has the authority to waiver any change or service fees. If the airlines are making the change to the ticket, then the airline has the right to charge their service fees to make the changes, since they are doing the work.
My travel agent will not make the changes to my ticket. I have not commenced travel. The airline has directed me back to my agent. What do I do?
If your travel agent is unwilling to help you change your ticket, then you need to speak to a manager of the agency. If the agency is a large organisation and they have a head office, contact them and make a complaint. Some agents won't change tickets because the actual agent doesn't know how to do it. Changing a ticket can be complex but there are systems in place to assist travel agents when they are unsure what to do. Simply advising a passenger that they cannot help and to go back to the airline is not good enough. If this fails, then speak to the airline and explain that the travel agency has refused to assist you with a ticket change. You must be able to provide the agency names, the individual travel agent involved, ticket details and correct contact numbers for the agency. The airline may then be able to get in contact with the agency on your behalf and remind them of their obligations.