Almost every person’s occupation today relies on them knowing something that their customers are ignorant of and in general I’m ok with that. I’m quite happy to let a doctor who has studied for 7 years stitch me up rather than me giving it a bash with my limited sewing skills. There are some occupations though that shamelessly prey on people’s ignorance. You might immediately think of fortune tellers or the stereotypical second hand car salesman but the top spot on my list is occupied by travel agents.
There may have been a time, back in the dark ages, when travel agents performed an important service to society. If you were planning on joining the Crusades and you wanted to know the best way to get to Jerusalem while avoiding the Turks or wanted to book a room at a cosy 3-star Infidel friendly inn then you might have needed a travel agent. These days everyone has access to the internet but despite this these travel agencies are still in business because the majority of people believe that travel agents are custodians of some special knowledge that we just wouldn’t get.
I’d had enough talking about going to Thailand and decided to book our tickets. (I’ll work out how to pay for the holiday later.) The company I work for has an in-house travel agent that makes all the travel arrangements for the executives so I thought I’d see if she could get me a sweet deal on my tickets. She tapped away at her keyboard and her secret “travel agents only” system came back with some less than impressive prices. You only need to look at one of these screens they use to get an idea of how backwards it is to use a travel agent to book your flights these days. It’s all text based, no GUI, no drop downs to select your destination. It’s as if the whole concept of Windows passed this industry by.
There are loads of tricks to getting the best deal on flights online but because I’m lazy and Nomadic Matt does such a good job of it I’ll let him tell you how in his detailed travel hacking post.
When I’m looking for cheap flights I use Kayak, Sky Scanner and Travelstart. Once I find what seems to be a good fare I go and check on the airlines website and see if I can get a better deal there. In this case I did and booked directly on the Qatar Airlines website. I paid with my credit card, they emailed me the ticket and we’re sorted. The ticket came to R6800 Cape Town – Bangkok return. (I called Flight Centre and the best they could offer was to match this price.) The only thing is that this cheap ticket involves a long layover on the return flight and so one of my posts after our trip in April will be “19 exciting hours in Doha airport”.
Finding accommodation is just as easy. I can’t justify having a travel agent earn commission by booking me into some overpriced hotel with a beautiful view of the alleyway brickwork when it’s so easy to check out the options on websites like Agoda or Expedia. Booking through these portals is often cheaper than booking directly with the hotel because of the buying power they have. I always double check that the pictures and details on these sites correlate with what people say about them on Tripadvisor.
I know that a lot of people feel uncomfortable not having a physical plane ticket in their hands or get visions of a room full of Nigerian 419 scammers just waiting for them to enter their credit card details online but it really isn’t such a big deal. Paying a travel agent to arrange your holiday makes as much sense as paying someone to send an email for you. For your next holiday you could send a telegram to your travel agent or you could realise that if the Queen can navigate Facebook you could probably manage to book your own flights and accommodation online.