Travel booking lesson hard learnt

As a regular traveller, I have been booking my own trips for years, but heading into new waters for a visit to the Caribbean, it seemed a good idea to seek the advice of professionals.

I happened to be passing one of the many offices of a large national and international travel centre, so I stopped in to enquire about flights to Central America.

An hour later, I left feeling quite pleased with myself. The price sounded right, the itinerary included the destinations I had in mind and it was all done.

Why, I thought, would I want to go home and try to book that online?

It would save me a lot of time and anguish, right?  

Wrong. It was all downhill from there.

Returning the next day with cash in hand to make the booking official, I was greeted with the news that the cost of one flight had gone up substantially and I either paid an extra $1200 or diverted by another route that cost only $200 more.

The pressure was on. Book now or you will miss out on even more. You are lucky I found this one for you. Get in now while you can. It doesn’t make much difference to what you had planned.

Foolishly, I fell for the pitch and booked anyway, paying the extra over the price quoted 24 hours earlier.
I did point out though, that the recommended turnaround time allowed on one leg hardly allowed me enough time to make the connecting flight.

And that was really my cue to stop right there and then and reconsider the whole thing.

Did I stop and ask myself what other mistakes could have been made? No. The pressure was real and I handed over my hard-earned. And it had to be cash on the spot of face another percentage increase in credit card fees.
My confidence in the abilities of the travel consultant continued to erode from there and I came to realise that perhaps she was driven more by the need for commissions than by the need to make my trip one she would want to take herself.

I got home and studied the itinerary more closely. The original flight that should have been 90 minutes had been changed to a long route by another whole destination turning it into a day trip, the equivalent of flying to Sydney via Perth.

“The moral of the story is to stick with local, smaller travel agents that aren’t on every street corner”

Now here’s the good bit. When I went in to ask about this (isn’t this why one would use a big travel agency?) attack was the best form of defence and I was soundly put down as having agreed to it before I paid (no mention of the pressure that was being applied) and nothing could be done about it.

Yes, that was my fault but it is a salutary warning to travellers not to put all your faith in a travel consultant who must rely on commissions to make a living having your best interests at heart.

To make matters worse, the original, cheaper, shorter flight was now miraculously back on the books, but it was too late as I had already paid. Funny that.

I asked for information about visas and was sent a cut and paste from the Department of Foreign Affairs site.
I found more than that by a bit of searching through Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet.  The other visa advice supplied was totally wrong and there was no point in even asking about currency exchange. She didn’t have a clue.

So why did I go there?, I ask myself.

A good consultant might have said “we don’t have bookings for the budget airlines but there is one there and you might want to check out that leg for yourself. It would save you a day’s flights which is the best I can do”.
Or so I thought, but it seems it was more about commission before customer.

Since then, I have heard other nasty stories about the same group; like the retired couple who booked and paid for a cruise a year in advance to get the cabin they wanted at the stern only to be told a week before departure that they had been “upgraded” to two decks lower at the front of the ship.

They even had to phone to ask for their tickets to be sent to them. It seems that while they had paid, their booking hadn’t been forwarded to the cruise company and the response was to hide it under the guise of an upgrade.

Despite the error, none of it of their own making, they had to fight hard to get a refund.

Another older traveller arrived in Los Angeles to find his accommodation hadn’t been booked even though it was paid for, while another arrived for a flight to learn it had left 24 hours earlier.

The list is undoubtedly a lot longer.

I have equally heard happy tales of smaller agents who have not only advised clients that they are unable to book a room in their system, but “don’t worry I will help you do it yourself on the web”.  

Now that’s service.

The moral of the story is to stick with local, smaller travel agents that aren’t on every street corner, and who will have the same staff there every time you go in, often year after year.

These are the owners who have a vested interest in their community and who will be personally answerable, not heaping responsibility on the unwitting client.

Read your itinerary carefully and imagine the scene of the route you will be taking, ensure every last piece of the booking is in order and don’t be pressured by talk the fare will disappear.

But if you have a good travel consultant, don’t worry. They will do that for you.