We have been traveling the world for many years now and we keep on learning new things along the way. I’m not just talking about the places we see or people we meet. Today I want to focus on the practical and financial side of planning a trip. I want to share some of our recent experiences with travel agencies. The last one was the figurative drop that spilled the glass and also added to my motivation to start this travel blog…
How we used to book our trips in the past
When we first started to travel we always booked our trips through a travel agent and usually chose one of their standard itineraries. After a few trips we realised that we are often missing a lot, and that standard trips don’t always provide the best travel experience.
We then started making our own travel itineraries and looking for a travel agent who could offer us the best price/quality for the trip we wanted.
That worked pretty well in the past as it was only two of us traveling and probably because we didn’t know any better.
We were not just paying for two rooms when we could have stayed in a spacious family room at a lower price, we were also paying too much for each of the rooms separately!
Now we travel with three children, and with standard hotels offering rooms for standard families (max 4 people) we have often ended up staying in separate rooms – my husband and our older son in one, me and the twins in the other one. There are places in the middle of Namibian desert or Australia’s Red Centre where there are no alternatives, but give me a break and don’t tell me that ‘there are very few family rooms in the US hotels’ . When we started looking for alternatives, our eyes really opened – not only were we paying for two rooms when we could have stayed all together in a spacious family room for a lower price, we were also paying way too much for each of the rooms separately! On top of that we were paying too much for the flights and rental cars as well.
It’s always worth checking with a travel agent if you are looking for a last minute beach vacation, an adventurous group tour, or a trip to a remote location you can hardly reach on your own.
Just make sure you compare not only the price, but also the quality of the trip.
I am not saying that all travel agencies charge you too much for all the trips. Charter flights, beach hotels, last minute vacations, adventurous group tours, tours to destinations you cannot reach on your own (Galapagos, Antarctica,..) – it’s definitely worth checking for the best deals with your travel agent, just make sure you compare at least a few sources. But if you are traveling the world like we do, go on road trips and book flights, several hotels, and a rental car it’s often cheaper if you do it yourself.
There are a few agencies that do their best to find exactly what you are looking for, but most of them just offer copy-paste solutions. In all the years we have worked with just one (!) travel agency here in Belgium where people really made an effort to book the trip we really wanted and where we didn’t feel that we have gotten robbed. Once they even reimbursed us 500EUR for the flight after all was booked and paid for because they could get it cheaper in the end. Needless to say that most travel agencies just put the money in their pocket. Nobody wants to work for free, fair enough, but there is a big difference between charging a fair percentage and the true practices of many travel agents when booking individual, ‘custom made’ trips.
We often ended up telling travel agents exactly what we wanted and then paying them for the work we had already done
They are the ones that will book you on a flight with 2 stop-overs with little kids, squeeze 4 people in a tiny hotel room, or book two separate rooms when there is a family room available at the same hotel. They will make your trip itinerary promising you will see half of Europe or US in two weeks time, and you will end up driving 5-6 hours every day just dotting the map and getting frustrated… while paying a premium price.
Several examples of our high-price low-service experiences with travel agencies
I don’t know if it’s the way the travel agents work that has changed, or is it that we are better informed now, but it has been one frustration after another recently.
- Two years ago we booked a trip to Corsica for 8 people for a ridiculous amount of money thinking we were getting the best service. When we arrived at our hotel in Ajaccio we found out that the travel agent (THE Corsica specialist in Belgium) only booked one of the two suites we had paid for. Luckily we got it sorted out, but as the agent was not available during the weekend, it was up to us to clean up their mess…
- Last year we received a couple of offers for Costa Rica round trip which were more expensive for 2 weeks in mid-class hotels than what we paid for 4 weeks in really nice hotels in Namibia. It’s not that Costa Rica is such an expensive destination, and Namibia is by no means cheap either. It’s the way travel agencies work that make it affordable or expensive.
- We gave up on Costa Rica for now and decided to travel to Dubai (we are just back as we speak). We got offers for hotels with 2 separate rooms or suites at ridiculous prices up to 14,000 EUR + tax (20%) for one week for just the accommodation! We ended up booking a wonderful 3-bedroom suite with sea view at one of the best locations in Dubai for a much much lower price through Booking.com.
- The last drop that spilled the glass was the preparation for our trip to the US next summer. We contacted three different travel agencies in Belgium and the Netherlands for an offer, and while some of them were better than others, they had one thing in common – they were highly overpriced. I ended up booking the whole trip myself, and saved – you read it right – more than 60% (!) compared to the cheapest offer we got. On top of that we now booked better flights with less connections and nicer hotels than the ones in those offers, often at a much better location, with breakfast included, etc.
How we book our trips worldwide and travel cheaper
We just booked a trip to the USA online and saved 60% compared to the best offer we received from three different travel agents
It will not come as a surprise that after all these experiences we are booking more and more of our trips from A to Z ourselves. First of all because of the flexibility, but also because of the price. We all have better access to information and many more options now than ever before. That’s why we use all available online resources to make the best itinerary that suits our family’s interests. We book our entire trips – hotels, flights, cars, and excursions – online.
There is nothing special in what we do, thousands of people book their trips online, and you can do it too. All you need is Internet access and a few hours of your time.
How to travel better and cheaper: save on your next flight, hotel, and car rental
Here are a few of my favourite websites we use all the time: Momondo, Booking.com, Expedia, Viator, and TripAdvisor.
For our trip to the U.S. be booked almost all hotels (except the ones in the National Parks which we booked directly) through Booking.com.
The most complete resource for all kinds of destination information and reviews is probably TripAdvisor and I never book a trip without consulting it, mostly for all kinds of activities.
For the very best offers for flights, hotels, and car rental make sure to also check Momondo. Most seasoned travellers recommend this search engine as one of the best ones on the market at the moment.
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