[eafl id=”1635″ name=”Booking.com Genera;” text=”Booking.com”]It’s that age old question – do you use a Travel Agent or Book Yourself?! Before I begin to conclude with my own opinion on the matter, let’s just start with a few facts about who is who so we’re all on the same page.

What is a Tour Operator?

A tour operator is a company that combines certain elements of travel together into a package. This could be flights plus hotel accommodation, rail travel with a reservation at a restaurant, or an around the world adventure combining lots of different activities and types of travel. Many operators also have some sort of theme to their holiday, and will include specially organised activities and excursions – sometimes unique and exclusive to their company.

These ‘packages’ are put together by what is known as the ‘Product Team’. These are the guys that get the real perks! Often jetting off around the world, they search out the best rates and negotiate deals with suppliers based on volume. The idea here is that they buy things like hotels nights, transport and accommodation at a reduced rate, in order to sell it at the normal (public) price – that is how they make their money.

So, the product team puts lots of different items together into a package, and gives it a swanky holiday name.  They then add up all the costs they have managed to negotiate – and whack on a mark-up. This is their profit! The travel industry however is one well known for small mark-ups, purely as the industry is so competitive. The mark-up, in most cases, brings the cost of the holiday back up to what would be the ‘public price’. In theory….had you booked all the elements individually yourself.

What is a Travel Agent?

A travel agent is a company who in most cases resell a Tour Operator’s holiday / product. In return, they get a commission – and that is how they make their money. Some Travel Agents now have their own Atol licences or bonding protection, which means they may also sell short breaks combining travel and accommodation themselves. Again, selling at a ‘public price’ that would be the same as what you would get yourself.

Should I book through an agent, or the operator

That’s a toughy! There is this whole thing in the industry called price parity; i.e is this holiday being sold cheaper elsewhere? This comes into play with tour operators and travel agents in the most part. The rule of thumb is that a travel agent will sell a tour operator’s product at exactly the same price as they sell it themselves. That way, they are not competing with each other – and it means that customers won’t lose out. This agreement is often a contract between the two parties.

However, in reality – people are people. Commission can always be bent and individual consultants have some element of flexibility. It’s a bit of a no no in the industry – but it can happen. It can also be good for you of course

It is important however to bear in mind that many prices on websites are only ‘from’ prices. You’ll  be given an accurate quotation when you phone up. Before you start venting off about paying less elsewhere, be sure that the dates, routes, and inclusions are exactly the same!

Is it cheaper to use a Travel Agent or book yourself?

Again, this is tricky. The answer is probably yes – but it will cost you in town or a badly judge seat choice. You know what type of hotel you like and how many changes on a flight you can cope with. Tour operators and agents have access to a huge range of options, but not all the options are available to them. You may end up finding something that they don’t have access to. Additionally, with the likes of [eafl id=”1635″ name=”Booking.com Genera;” text=”booking.com”] now, flash sales are common and when a hotel is eager to shift rooms their loyalties to tour operators may dwindle.

Flights wise it’s unlikely you will save a huge amount, however there are some operators who mark-up flights – if included in a holiday package. You may never realise this, but you could be paying quite a bit more for the flight than you would if you went directly to the airline. On the other side, Skyscanner is an incredible tool for comparing a huge range of airlines quickly. Some Travel Agents and Tour Operators will only use a set number of airlines, preventing them from accessing lower rates.

That said, many tour operators have the option to actually hold flights for their customers for a set period of time. As a regular member of the public you don’t have this flexibility, so if you are a little undecided you may end up paying more by booking it yourself if you wait a few days, as opposed to with an operator who may have held the option for you!

Benefits of bookings with a Travel Agents or Tour Operator

Protection and knowledge! By law any packaged holiday that includes travel and accommodation (sold in the UK) has to be financially protected. This means that if the operator goes bust before or during your travel, you will get your money back. If you book yourself, each element of your travels has the risk of financial failure, and the likely-hood is – you wouldn’t get your money back.

Aside from this you’re also tapping into the knowledge of travel experts. They can provide real recommendations and ideas for your trip – something that could be considered invaluable. Additionally, industry expertise means they can reall advise on small home comforts that will make your journeys just a little better. For example, when flying to Finland for work I will always sit in 12F – it’s an emergency exit row but not a row that is ‘paid for’ – yet still includes extra leg room!

So should you use a Travel Agent or book yourself?

I personally prefer to book my travel plans myself. It gives an element of flexibility, and the researching side of any trip away can almost be just as much fun. There is a sense of adventure, that it could all go wrong, a feeling of the unknown – and I like that.

I am currently in the middle of booking a holiday to India – with lots of rail travel and domestic flights. I’ll be honest, it’s actually the first time I’ve felt a little worried. Booking rail travel in India is tricky (I used a company called cleartrip.com) – and I really don’t quite know quite what to expect – but surely that’s part of the fun?

For simple fly and flop beach breaks, or city trips abroad, I’d also recommend doing it yourself. There is far less that can go wrong and using the likes of [eafl id=”1635″ name=”Booking.com Genera;” text=”booking.com”] and [eafl id=”1660″ name=”Expedia General” text=”Expedia”], you have access to a massive range of options that you can compare. Their businesses are based on bringing as many possibilities to the table, and sometimes, that just outweighs the buying power and range that an agent or tour operator has.

Where you’re looking for a longer, more complex trip, an operator is a good choice. They’ll make sure nothing goes wrong and you have that added element of protection.

I’ll let you know what happens in India!