As fairly seasoned travellers, we have had the experience over the years of booking travel completely on our own and also with the assistance of travel agents. Both have their perks, but these days we wouldn’t do one without the other.
You could be spending far more than you need to by relying on a travel agent to do all of your travel booking for you. Sure they are experts and they are a great help when it comes down to working out the best routes, finding package deals to suit and helping you nut out your itinerary. Sometimes they also come back with the best possible prices too, especially when you happen to be travelling a popular route or destination.
But there are also times when their prices are not the best on your travel budget! And when travelling with kids like we do, budget travel is a must! This is why we… or I should say, I… always do extensive research before we book anything with a travel agent, or at all, for every trip we take.
DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH
Usually my first step when planning the next trip is to jump straight onto flight comparison websites. In most cases, flights are one of the largest expenses for travel, especially when travelling internationally. And even more so when travelling with kids. Yep, times that cost by 3 or 4 or more…
Flight comparison websites allow you to get an idea on different carriers and stop overs for your chosen destination, or to help you explore the possible routes you can take to get to where you want to go. This can be a little tedious at times, especially in the early stages of your travel planning. However it is extremely helpful to give you a rough idea on flight costs, availability and times. Using a comparison website to find cheap flights and compare rates for accommodation and other travel essentials can be a great way to save money by doing your own research.
It’s usually at this point when I make contact with a travel agent with our rough travel plans and have them do up their best prices in the form of a quote for us. Sometimes just for flights, other times for more.
Because you have already done your research by now, this means you have a far better idea on potential costs, and not just the ones your travel agent gives you. Let’s face it. Travel agents are exceptional at saving us time, stress and helping us consider every little detail of a trip. This is extremely helpful when you’re not so confident on booking travel on your own, or if you are a bit of a newbie at it. And even for the seasoned traveller, sometimes they do come back with the best price, or at least an equally good price as the one you found.
If this is the case, I will always book via the travel agent rather than solo. This often tends to be the case for our long haul international flights.
Another tip is that internal flights that do not originate from your country of origin are often cheaper booked direct online.
A perfect example of this is while planning our next trip, two different travel agents came back to me with total flight costs of around $10k AU. A lot of the cost was due to the internal flights and the fact they were not as popular routes as our long haul segment. Instead, with the use of online comparison websites, I was able to slice the cost to about a half of what it would have been through a comparison website, rather than booking through the partner airlines used by our travel agent.
We did the same thing prior to our trip to Europe mid year, booking our internal flights directly through the international flight websites (LOT Airlines, Eurowings) and getting a price that was almost crazy cheap in comparison to the option our travel agent could provide.
Find more tips on how to save money on flights here.
LOOK FOR HIDDEN COSTS
The other place you can get stung on costs from a travel agent is the non essential extras added into the quote. We recently had a travel agent put together an exceptionally detailed itinerary and quote for our upcoming trip, including a whole lot of things we had not mentioned wanting.
For example, we requested a quote for flights to and from a certain destination, based around a 5 night stay in the middle at a specific accommodation. What we got was a quote that included flights, accommodation, transfers, car hire, travel insurance, entry to theme parks, zoos and more… plus a few sneaky extras added on top of that – like a ‘premium’ booking service that was about $99 each added onto our quote. The services it offered were not necessary and it really was a bit of a sneaky add on that could have cost us a few hundred dollars had we just gone with the travel agent and their expert service without a second thought.
BE FLEXIBLE WHEN YOU CAN
The other thing that can really make a huge difference to the cost of travel is the price difference when travelling on certain dates compared to others. If you have any flexibility, check out the dates on either side and see if there is a significant price difference. You can sometimes save hundreds of dollars by arriving a day earlier or going home a day or two later. These savings can really help!
While there can be great benefits to utilising the services of a travel agent, it certainly does pay to do your own research for travel, even just to ensure you have all the possible options available to you when you are ready to book. Keeping your options open to both will help you to reduce your travel costs and have more dollars in your pocket to enjoy while you travel!
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation is the other huge cost of travel, especially when going with a standard hotel or resort accommodation. These days alternative accommodation is becoming more popular, with websites such as AirBnB and other accommodation booking comparison sites offering private rentals, share accommodation and house stays instead. Often these are located in central areas, at a fraction of the cost of the major hotel chains.
However, when booking these type of accommodation options, be sure to do some careful research where you can by checking our reviews, utilising maps or other online services to determine location and distance from where you want to go, and finding out what transport options are available if you don’t have your own. Sure a cheap place sounds great, but if it isn’t even remotely close to anything you want to see or do, the transport costs could make it much less worthwhile so be prepared with your research before you book accommodation.
Booking early often gives you the chance to get specials and leaves you with some extra time up your sleeve to observe the price fluctuations on things such as flights and accommodation. This isn’t always possible if you are leaving things late, and you may be stuck with the higher price just because you don’t want to risk it going up even further.
Booking early isn’t always an option, but when it is… make good use of the extra time!