Consumers who book with a high street travel agent can save hundreds of pounds by checking online first, Which? research has found.
Which? Travel sent researchers undercover to 40 travel retail stores run by Co-Operative Travel, First Choice, Thomas Cook, Thomson and Virgin Holidays in March 2012. They compared the cheapest quotes offered by agents for two specific holiday requests with those on that company’s website and via its call centre.
Cheaper online holidays
In more than 80% of the offline tests, the travel agent’s initial quote was more expensive than the best online quote. It was pricier every time when we asked for an all-inclusive package to Montego Bay, Jamaica.
But once our researchers revealed the web quote we had found and asked if the agent could match or beat it, 19 of the 36 staff suddenly came up with a much cheaper price to match it or – in four cases – beat it.
A Thomson agent, for example, provided the biggest in-store reduction for our Jamaica holiday – £328 off the original quotation of £2,710. And in our phone test of First Choice, the price dropped a massive £358 from the original quote of £2,750, once our researcher mentioned her online price.
In First Choice, Thomson and Virgin Holidays stores, you may have to pay a service fee of £10 per person or £15 per booking even if the agent offers a price match for the actual holiday.
Travel companies say that this is a small price to pay for an agent who can help you make a more informed decision about the best holiday to suit you. A good agent will know if choosing another departure day or airport will improve the chances of a cheaper deal, and can sort out any future problems.
Overall, the offline retail outlets offered a greater variety of holiday options than on their own websites. But some of the agents were keen to dismiss options from rival companies, preferring to promote their own company’s holidays before looking at alternative tour operators.