In an age where the internet is our “go to” for just about anything we can think to buy, research, rent or discover one can be forgiven for thinking that booking a holiday online is the easiest and cheapest way to do it. Sure, the internet definitely has it’s place and there are some great deals on there. But are you really getting the best deal for you?
I’ve been in the industry long enough (19 years and counting!) to have picked up a number of tips and tricks of the trade – some of which I’ve decided to share to help you see just what value your trusted travel agent could offer!
Upgrades do happen. For hotels, obviously it will not happen when they are fully booked. If they aren’t, it can happen and I always email hotels before my clients arrive asking if they would consider my clients for an upgrade. Sometimes they get it, sometimes not, but it definitely happens more often than it would if I didn’t request it on their behalf. Many will guarantee an upgrade (subject to availability) for special occasions.
Flight upgrades are a lot less common but can happen. I generally know which airlines do offer them and which don’t. Some just never consider it no matter how full they may be in one class and how empty in the other; it’s just their policy. Upgrades also don’t happen at check in, contrary to popular belief, however if an airline is busy in your class they may well offer an upgrade at a heavily reduced rate at this stage.
If you get to the gate and the airline is aware of a special occasion they might ask you if you would like to move up. Admittedly, they are rare these days but always a huge bonus if it happens!
(Note: if you’re looking to be upgraded to business class on any airline, dressing a little smarter than usual will probably help. There usually isn’t a dress code per se, but looking presentable will help!)
Where and when to travel
Weekend flights are usually slightly more expensive, simply because more people can travel on a weekend. This is especially true for low cost and charter flights. So sometimes changing your dates even by a couple of days can help.
For children’s holidays, sometimes a couple of days can make a big financial difference if those couple of days mean you travel out or back slightly outside of the holiday dates.
It can also be that changing your departure airport makes a big difference. Partly because other airlines may fly from there so you may have more choice. But also because the children’s holidays may be very different. A great example of this is in my home town (Newcastle Upon Tyne) which has very different holidays to Scotland so changing to a flight from Edinburgh or Glasgow can be hugely beneficial financially (and vice versa for people in Scotland going to Newcastle or Manchester to fly out). Knowing the variables is key to finding the best deal.
Accommodation Websites (e.g booking.com, Trivago, Airbnb etc)
The big booking engines for hotels and apartments offer so many hotels you can find just about anything you could want. But how confusing is it when you trawl through so many that you end up not knowing which one is best for your own requirements? Not everyone is travelling in the same way for the same reason – everyone has unique requirements.
Star ratings are not uniform the world over. Many 5 star hotels are not truly 5 star. So how do you know which one is really best for you? I have had so many clients over the years say that they have looked online and are either “fed up” of looking for hours or just so confused. It happens so often. Booking your holiday should be enjoyable, not a chore, and you should know what you’re choosing is definitely right!
Most people think every travel agent hates Trip Advisor. The reality is many (if not most!) do. In my opinion, the difference is how you use it. I have had clients claim that a hotel had a bad review so they didn’t want that one. I knew it was perfect for them (I had stayed there and it was stunning, the height of luxury and definitely right for them). After looking into what they had seen, the hotel had a huge number of positive reviews, and so few even just mediocre. The one review they had read that was “negative” was about how you couldn’t see the TV from the bath (I hope most of you reading this can imagine my face!)
Sometimes Trip Advisor needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. Other times it can be invaluable as a tool. A prime example is New York. There are many hotels claiming to be in the 4 star category. The reality is that many hotels in New York have been there for decades and many need a bit of a facelift and look quite tired. It’s impossible to personally know every hotel in a city of that size so Trip Advisor reviews can be incredibly helpful and I have used them myself to help narrow down the best holiday.
Used wisely, it is a brilliant tool. Reading every review, finding one or two and deciding that hotel isn’t for you is risky. You will eventually rule out every hotel because no hotel can ever be perfect for everyone.
Types of Flight Fares
Do you know the difference between a nett and published fare? An IT fare? This industry is renowned for its’ jargon but actually they can make a financial difference to you and your holiday cost. Rarely are IT fares found online – they are fares that have a restriction on booking accommodation (or cruise) alongside them and obviously no company online can guarantee that you’re going to do that so they can’t be published, however they are usually significantly cheaper than a “published” fare which are the ones usually found online. If it’s just a flight only you need it won’t make much difference to you, but if it’s not, online is usually not the most cost effective way of booking.
I’m sure most people have heard of ATOL and how it offers financial protection on your holiday. But I personally think you don’t ever really see the benefit it gives until something goes wrong – unfortunately it can then be too late. Flights can be booked online often in a couple of clicks and are so easy to do. But when there is any accommodation that you are also booking there is no financial protection whatsoever. If the airline went out of business, or cancelled the route, or there is adverse weather and you can’t reach your destination the airline is never going to recompense you for your lost money on the accommodation. Even worse if you have an onward flight and you miss it! These are just a handful of situations that we hope won’t happen but they can and do. All of which can be avoided by booking with full financial protection. The most recent example is FlyBe – a perfectly reputable and long standing airline with a great reputation – and they have recently gone into administration, cancelling all of their routes with immediate effect. Many, many clients will have booked direct with them and booked accommodation separately (they had many routes to ski destinations and it’s notorious for people booking separately because they go to the same place every year and trust that they can do it). The accommodation, transfers or car hire, ski extras – none of this is covered by FlyBe. So if you suddenly can’t get there unfortunately you pay for your own new flights (hoping there are some) or lose your money on the holiday. No-one wants to see this happen. Clients booked with an ATOL bonded agency have all their money protected and an alternative found or a full cancellation. The difference is huge.
If you’ve hired a car anywhere in the world before you will most likely already know that car hire depots (where you pick the car up) will aim to sell you additional extras. They work on commission so it’s in their interests to do so. So you need to know what is and isn’t included. Just because you already have coverage of something doesn’t mean they won’t try and sell you more of it!
The aim is to go knowing what you need to have covered and what you want – things you can easily cover off when booking. There is usually an excess waiver you can pay to not have the high excess too – again usually you can organise this when you book and there are also companies that offer a separate insurance policy to cover the excess with any hire company.
I’ve heard many car hire clients say that they have been “ripped off” in the past. I agree, the depots morally probably shouldn’t try and sell so many extras you may not want but they can and do. If you agree to it, you haven’t been ripped off – just unfortunate that you were probably unsure of what you needed to have covered.
This is huge business these days; one of the ever growing areas of the industry. There are also a huge number of cruise companies online that claim to offer the best deals. The reality is, they are probably very, very similar. There isn’t too much price differential between agents offering cruises – the exception is if one of them have taken a large group allocation on a certain date (which is usually heavily publicised so you will know). The difference can be what flights some operators will offer; some will only offer 1 or 2 departures and some will offer even low cost flights as the easiest means to get you to the cruise, and often most cost effective.
However, it’s so important to be careful about which are offering the packages financially protected. Many online are not. What if your flight is delayed and the cruise seats sail before you get there? It can happen! A financially protected company will look after you (I post separately above about financial protection)
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Worldwide Travel Solutions
ATOL NO 11287
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