The Dangers of booking DIY

Why would you do everything yourself?

To save money obviously.

My answer to that is not necessarily. Firstly yes of course travel agencies make money but they do so by negotiating contracts and often these are cheaper than booking direct. As agents like myself have been around a long time we have learnt all the shortcuts and routings that we need to make things work as cheaply and smoothly as possible. We also have fares that must only be used with accommodation. These can be hundreds and even thousands of pounds cheaper and in many cases they can cover the cost of the accommodation but the terms of the contracts must be strictly adhered to and if this is somehow bypassed either the agent or the client is subject to a hefty surcharge for abusing the system and in extreme cases the agent can have their licence revoked. This can also apply to unused return flights so I’m sure you can understand why as a professional agent I wouldn’t take the risk, would you?

If you look long and hard enough and if you have the time to research it you could almost guarantee to get it cheaper in the end but you have now used your valuable time saving a few pounds here and there and left yourself open to all sorts of challenges.

Exchange rates are unpredictable so if you book something in dollars or euros today, what you actually end up paying can be very different if you don’t prepay for that reservation. The euro and the dollar have already lost their value against sterling by around 15% in the last year and it is likely to drop even more. If you prepay let’s say a hotel reservation today, often all we need is a £25 deposit and the rate is guaranteed even if the exchange rate changes, Admittedly that can also go the other way but if its still available it is possible to rebook at the new rate and I am happy to do that, but at the moment at least the trend is that everything will go up over the next few months rather than down

The whole point of having a package or ATOL flight plus is so that we as agents have to use our ATOL licence or that of an approved tour operator so that if your flight or hotel goes bust you will be reprotected or offered a refund if that happens before you go or the CAA will get you home if it happens while you are in resort. Full ATOL also protects the health and safety aspect of your holiday. Please feel free to read more about ATOL and check that we are a genuine ATOL licence holder on the CAA website https://www.caa.co.uk/atol-protection/

Low Cost Holidays got round this by moving their operations to Spain so they kept their prices low and this kept everybody happy but they were operating on a knife edge with very low margins but they still had overheads and staff to pay and eventually they realised post Brexit that they didn’t have enough money to pay the hotels so they folded in July 16 leaving 140,000 affected in the height of the season when there was no longer any availability at the cheap rates they had quoted. Many of the hotels simply resold the rooms at a higher rate to anyone willing to pay the premium as they were stuck with the flights.

Another excellent, well established and solid tour operator, Anatolian Sky went bust last year not because of Brexit but because terrorism affected the sales to their main destinations, Turkey and Northern Cyprus to such a large degree they could no longer survive.

The effects of Brexit and exchange rates are still unpredictable and it is highly likely that at least one large hotel agency and a tour operator will disappear over the next few months. There is no regulatory body for hotels like there is for flights or packages so virtually anybody can set up an internet hotel agency and if it goes bust and you have prepaid your only redress is the credit card company but as many found out with Low Cost Holidays it would be virtually impossible to get the same rate elsewhere at a later date and you still have to wait to be refunded so you will have pay again and usually at higher cost.

Another danger is that if you book on the internet, the site could be fraudulent. Even if it has an ATOL licence, this may not belong to them or they could be using a false one. Additionally anyone issuing scheduled flight tickets must have an IATA licence. There are many sharks out there waiting to take your money and the amount of money taken by fraudsters is staggering. I can’t find the exact figure but it does run into millions and many of these sites are reached through well established brokers or because they look genuine but they have actually copied a genuine site and have a slightly different email address.

I recently came across a potential client that decided to book a flight to South America via Houston as it was £150 cheaper. It turned out in the end that one of them had a previous criminal record and wouldn’t be allowed to transit the USA so sadly they lost all their money.

Another recent enquiry had a client wanting to go to the Caribbean. He said he found a cheaper flight than I offered but thankfully we realised on time that the “connecting” flight was a day later so he would have had the added hassle and expense of overnighting in Miami.

Another client phoned from the airport to say he wasn’t told that he need a visa to go to Australia. This is a service I provide free of charge when I book the flights or when I get passport details if they are not available at the time of booking.

As an agent, of course I would say all this, after all its my job and my survival but trust me I have seen many. many scenarios where clients have risked their money and lost. I have just given you a few examples of the sort of things I encounter frequently. So what protection do I give as a Travel Counsellor?

We have a full ATOL licence and in fact we were the first in the UK to get approval. We have two IATA licences, one for our published flights and another for our negotiated contract fares and packages.

Everything we book, not just packages, but also flight only, hotel only, transfers, car hire and attractions are covered by insurance so if a a company we use goes bust we reprotect or refund under our ATOL licence or for non ATOL we can use our insurance to reprotect that particular element of your booking. An example of this is when Low Cost Holidays went under we protect 4000 client, either by rebooking with another company or paying the hotels direct. Our insurance covered that.

Another important point is that if anything goes wrong eg strike, natural disaster, illness etc. our duty office and our local handling agents can work with us to help with language difficulties, logistics and time zones. If you DIY, it does make it a lot more difficult to coordinate or track if anything does go wrong especially in a very different time zone. It is also a lot more difficult to contact you in an emergency if the flights change or cancel at the last minute. I can usually email the hotel but if I don’t know where you are staying or if you have wi-fi, I only have your mobile/cell phone to fall back on.

You may wonder if I book my own holidays direct online to save money as I know the shortcuts. Actually you may be surprised to learn that would rather pay a little extra to have my own arrangements insured and with the peace of mind of knowing that I have somebody to contact in resort and that I haven’t exposed my credit card to a possible fraud so there are very few occasions where I would actually book directly.

If you want the reassurance of a holiday that may or may not cost a few pounds extra but with the added layers of proper 24/7 support, financial protection and the advice of an expert email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com or call 020 3432 4740

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One response

  1. Too many people don’t understand the value of peace of mind. Booking through an agent brings guarantees that may well be relied on later – a price worth paying. Also, agents know so much about practicalities they can cut out huge irritations and inconveniences.

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