Here is a blog article written by a gentleman I have never met. His blog however, is a familiar story from countless customers who have used our services. I appreciate the opportunity to share this story, as it is a common one. The challenge for real travel professionals is, that stories like this (there are many) do not get much attention, however, they are countless.
The internet IS a travel agents friend, we use it daily. We have been using technology for over 30 years to help people plan their vacations. (GDS) Travel consultants are the consumers last line of objectivity. Please reread this…..Travel agents are the consumers last line of objectivity. What do I mean? Well, take cruising for an example. The average uninformed websurfer thinks “going direct” to a cruise line will get them the best deal – bypass the agent. I ask them, did the cruise line offer the special savings that are only available to the travel industry? Or did they tell you that another cruise line had a better offer on the same date? Or that a different cruise line was a better fit for their vacation? A real travel agents will fit you with both the best vacation along with the best value. Long live the travel agent!
A few weeks ago I spent two hours slashing through a jungle of search results on several travel sites as I tried in vain to find the lowest cost flight for a vacation trip. A travel agent did it faster — and saved me about $150.
I gave it my best shot. I tried Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia, as well as travel search engine aggregators IgoUgo and Trip.com. I came away totally frustrated, my screen littered with dozens of results windows. Then my wife took over. She spent less than an hour at it before throwing up her hands and calling a travel agent. About 45 minutes later we had three tickets to Baton Rouge for $50 less per ticket than the best deal we could find online — and that’s after accounting for the agent’s $25 per ticket fee.
“Usually a human can outwit a search engine,” my travel agent says. She knows what days are better for departures and returns on which airlines and the quirks of each airline’s pricing. A classic maneuver: If you leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and stay over a Saturday you get better rates on some airlines. There are other tricks too — the stuff she knows that probably can’t be quantified and integrated into those search algorithms.
A travel agent can’t always beat the search engines, she readily admits. Southwest for example, may have special fares available on the Web only. But, she says, “I’m not above going to their Web site to check.”
So what happened in my situation? While search engines are good at very simple bookings, they’re not good at all with more complicated ones.
The search engines can find a hotel for you in Manhattan for May 6th or a reasonably priced flight from JFK to Reagan International departing on May 6 and returning on May 7.
You’ll get a better deal if you can be flexible. But if you’re willing to flex a bit on your arrival or departure airports or your travel dates — or all of the above — you’ll end up doing lots of separate queries. A good travel agent can save you a lot of time and aggravation here. That’s counterintuitive — you’d think that online search engines would be ideally suited to handling multi-variable problems like this. They take a stab at it in some cases. But they’re not really designed to do that well.
Getting to the bottom line
Online travel sites used to be the way to go — no one wanted to use a travel agent. Things were simpler then. Today it’s all different. I find that I waste too much precious time finding the best flight and identifying the best bottom-lineprice.
All of the hidden fees and surcharges complicate matters – and each travel site deals with them differently.
Different search engines have access to different blocks of seats at different prices. To get the best price you have to shop around.
Price the same ticket on three different search engines and you’re likely to get three different prices — and perhaps a fourth if you go to the airline’s own Web site. Fees and surcharges vary, and may be added into your price on the initial search results screen — or you may have to select specific flights and burrow down a screen or two before the bottom-line price is revealed. In my situation, those fees added anywhere between $40 and $50 to the final price. In some cases I had to repeat that drill-down step to see the final price for each flight option.
Then there’s the whole luggage fiasco. A $250 ticket on Southwest is cheaper than a $200 ticket on Delta if you’re checking two bags. Southwest doesn’t charge for bags; Delta charges $25 for the first and $35 for the second. This factored into our travel agent’s thinking when she booked us on Southwest. With the online search engines, figuring that out is your problem.
Of course, none of this factors in the wide variations in surcharges you’ll be hit with for a pillow, blanket, advance seat assignment, food, snacks, headphones, Wi-Fi and all of the other garbage airlines try to sell you while you choke on stale air in that cramped little seat.
In our case, here’s what the customer wanted, as described to the travel agent:
“We need three tickets to Baton Rouge for a 10-day vacation starting on or about [date]. We can be flexible on the dates by a week or so, as long as the trip doesn’t exceed our 7 vacation day budget (7 weekdays max). We can depart from any of three airports: Hartford, Boston or Manchester, NH. We’re okay flying into either Baton Rouge or New Orleans. Find us the cheapest flight — taking into account taxes, fees, your agency fee and any applicable baggage surcharges.”
Then the Pièce de résistance:
“Oh, and one more thing. Two of us are going for ten days. But we need a third ticket with the same departure date but returning one month later. We’d like everyone to be together on the flight out.”
Can a search engine do any of that? Not without doing many, many different queries. Time is money. The $75 we gave the travel agent was money well spent.