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Can travel agents get cheaper flights? Why seasoned travellers NEVER use travel agencies

So you’re searching for a flight on Skyscanner and your result comes up. Some travel agent that you’ve never heard of is $300 cheaper than booking direct. Sounds like a result to me! What could go wrong?!

Here’s the thing, seasoned travellers don’t use online travel agents. Online reviews of travel agents are filled with 1* horror stories - refunds unpaid, calls ignored and extortionate add-on charges. And that’s in the good times – expect the coronavirus to make things much worse. In this article, I explain exactly how online travel agencies work and why they should be avoided.

So can travel agents get cheaper flights? Yes they can, but it’s probably not worth it.

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Why are flights cheaper with travel agencies?

Travel agencies are a business that really shouldn’t exist in the modern day. Before the internet, you would visit a travel agent to book your holiday. This was far better than calling up loads of airlines and hotels. In 2003, I went to a travel agent and paid £93 for a flight from London to Athens. Would anybody do that today?!

In the modern day, you don’t need a travel agent. You can search for flights on Kayak or Momondo and book it yourself. The exception would be for specialist travel agents that focus on mountaineering or surfing, where you may need an expert.

So why are there so many travel agencies? They basically exist to undercut the prices of flights compared to booking direct. Each time you book a flight via an online travel agency, they will get a small commission from the airline. Are travel agents cheaper? Yes they are – they have to be. If they weren’t cheaper than booking direct, then nobody would use them.

The key thing to understand is that your ticket is issued by the travel agency and not the airline. If there are any issues, then you need to speak to the travel agency and not the airline.

Travel Agencies are often located in low cost and poorly regulated countries, like Malta or Greece. Long story short, if something goes wrong, you’re not gonna get a lot of help.

You have little protection if something goes wrong

Because your ticket is issued by the agency and not the airline, you need to speak to them for any changes. During the coronavirus outbreak in 2020, thousands of flights were cancelled. To get refunds, people needed to call up their travel agent. The result wasn’t pretty:

  • Emails were ignored
  • Calls went unanswered
  • Refunds were refused


Getting a refund from a travel agency is harder than teaching maths to a toddler. Many people have tried, but it normally ends in tears. These companies make very little money and make it as hard as possible to get a refund from them.

Also, many of these companies are located in low regulation countries like Greece or Malta. You basically have no protection if they break the law. To be frank, many online travel agencies are basically scams.

Travel Agencies will charge for small changes

This is where the travel agents make their money. They entice you to buy with low fares, but if you need to make a minor change, they hose you. Name change? Flight change? Expect to pay at least $100 in “administration fees.”

There’s no real justification for these charges, but once you’ve bought the ticket, what choice do you have?

When people ask whether travel agents get cheaper flights, it’s the wrong question. The cost of the flight might be cheaper, but the add-on charges are where you get hosed.

You won’t get any hotel points

Major hotel groups like Hilton, IHG and Hyatt don’t give out hotel points unless you book direct. This can be very important if you have status with a Hotel. Status can be very beneficial and come with benefits like free breakfast and upgrades. These benefits will not be applied if you book via an online travel agency.

The difference can be staggering. When I stayed at the Conrad Maldives, my Hilton Gold status gave me $1,000 worth of benefits. At the Intercontinental Boston, I was upgraded to an awesome room with a view of the docks.

Conclusion

In theory, travel agents can get cheaper flights. But the reality is often worse.

Online Travel agencies charge low fares, but this comes with a hidden cost. You have no protection if something goes wrong, and these companies will overcharge you for minor changes.

On a personal level, I don’t use travel agencies because of the stress if something goes wrong. In my opinion, you shouldn’t either!

Do you like to travel and have some great stories to tell? Do you want to set up your own travel blog? Check out my free guide on how to set up a travel blog and make money.

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November 24, 2022

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