Travel agents are here to stay, so here’s what you need to know before booking with one.
Travel agencies have seen a surge in bookings as consumer confidence rebounds and restrictions ease across the world, with particularly popular beach breaks.
While many travelers feel confident enough to arrange their own trip online, travel agents can still play an invaluable role in helping people adapt to changing travel regulations and a host of holiday offers.
Whether you’re booking online or in-store, here are seven key things to remember when planning a stress-free vacation.
1. Shop around for the best deal
The internet is your friend and there are plenty of price comparison sites to help you find the best price. Indeed, one of the biggest annoyances for travel agents is that customers book elsewhere because they have been offered a lower price.
Haggling is alive and well, so if you find a cheaper package holiday elsewhere, a travel agent can often save you money. When it comes to price matching, there’s often a dedicated team to liaise with suppliers to get the best price possible, so it’s worth a try. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
Also think about when to book. Booking a last-minute vacation package is often the cheapest thing to do, if you’re flexible about where you’re going. But if you have a particular destination at heart, booking a vacation about a year in advance – when many airlines release their seats – can help you get a decent price.
2. Do-it-yourself or all-inclusive?
With the cost of living rising, you might want to consider whether you should stick to a self-catering vacation instead of going all-inclusive. Self-catering generally involves less upfront costs than all-inclusive, but there can be good deals for the latter.
2021 Holiday Post Office Expense Report showed that those taking a DIY approach spent an average of around £151 in shops and supermarkets during a week’s holiday. This represents a significant saving of 33% on the average £227 families said they spent on food and drink at the resort – although this assumes do-it-yourselfers spent nothing in bars and restaurants. Still, it’s definitely something to think about if you’re on a budget.
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It should also be noted that there have been few signs of all-inclusive guests reigning in their spending, according to the same report. Quite the contrary, in fact, the percentage of guests spending more on cocktails rose to 43% from 14% in 2014. Similarly, those spending money on a la carte dining at hotels rose from 14 % to 39%.
Whether you’re going solo or opting for the all-inclusive option, it’s worth thinking about your vacation priorities and setting a realistic budget before you go.
READ MORE: 9 ways to save money on self-catering holidays
3. Check what’s included
Getting a cheap flight and/or hotel can be one thing, but the costs can quickly add up if you need to book transfers, luggage and extra activities. Excursions like snorkeling or wildlife viewing can be pricey if booked at destination – something to consider if you’re going somewhere particularly remote.
Many travel agents – online and in-store – will give you the option of adding extras such as airport parking and lounge access; day trips and insurance, when booking. This saves you time and money, not to mention making your life easier once you get there.
Plus, make sure you don’t get caught out on the baggage allowance, as many airlines now offer a range of carry-on and check-in options to suit all budgets. You can also often add extra if you need to, depending on the airline, but check before you go.
Remember, however, that EU duty and import allowances have changed since Brexit. Details of what you can bring as a personal allowance can be found on the UK government website.
4. Consider schedules
While getting up at dawn when you’re looking forward to lounging on the beach for a week might seem counterintuitive, catching an early flight has its perks.
Early flights are less likely to be delayed than afternoon flights. In fact, the later in the day your flight is scheduled, the more likely it is to be delayed as the airspace is less crowded in the morning and becomes busier as the day progresses. Also, if you are traveling short distances, you will probably have a good part of the afternoon/evening to explore your destination.
That said, flying later on Saturdays can also be a more economical option for the same reason – afternoon flights often cost significantly less than their previous rivals. Similarly, flying midweek tends to be cheaper than prime-time weekend slots, especially during times of the year when traveling, such as during school holidays.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about road tripping in Europe
5. Make sure you’re protected
In the UK, most street and online agents offer you additional levels of protection under schemes known as ATOL and ABTA. These can protect your holiday, so if the company you’re booking with goes bankrupt or your flight is cancelled, you’ll be covered. But it’s also important to understand what they cover before booking.
Membership of ATOL is a legal requirement for all UK companies selling travel packages, but does not cover companies based overseas. Vacations covered by ATOL include flights booked with accommodation and/or car rental as part of a package as well as some, but not all, flight bookings. Flights purchased directly from airlines are also excluded. When Thomas Cook collapsed in 2019 it sparked a record £350m in payments under the ATOL regime.
Meanwhile, ABTA is designed to cover holidays purchased in the UK which do not include flights. This coverage includes vacations that involve cruise, train, or car transportation options, but not packaged vacations where flights are included.
Don’t forget that it’s always wise to also take out travel insurance – single trip or annual – and buy it as soon as you book. For that extra level of security, also use a credit card to pay for your reservation.
6. Check flexible booking policies
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us when it comes to travel, it’s that flexibility and coverage are key. Although ATOL and/or ABTA may offer protection in certain circumstances, it is useful to know your rights should you need to cancel for other reasons.
The conditions vary from one travel agency to another. Even if you change your mind about your trip, easyJet Holidays will allow you cancel up to 28 days before you depart and refund your deposit (£60) as a credit to your account. You can also change your vacation up to 28 days before travel free of charge as long as you do it online.
However, canceling a booking with Jet2holidays up to 70 days before the scheduled travel date will result in costs you your down payment, and you’ll be charged an additional amount of your total cost depending on proximity to your travel date – including 100% if within two weeks of your departure date. You may, however, be able to change your booking for a fee, as well as any increase in the cost of your holiday.
7. Know the entry rules and COVID
Brexit and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that travel regulations are slightly more complex than they were a few years ago.
Since the United Kingdom left the European Union, British tourists can stay in most European countries for up to 90 days within a 180 day period. If you visit more than one EU country in a 180 day period, check that you do not spend more than 90 days in total in all of those you visit, as most apply the 90 day limit as a group, with the exception of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus and Romania. Similarly, there are also tighter passport and conduct post-Brexit regulations.
COVID-19 has also added a layer of complexity when traveling abroad thanks to entry, testing and vaccination rules that vary widely from country to country. Many destinations require proof of vaccinations both for entry and some for certain activities while you are there.
So check the directions for your intended destination, both when you book and just before you leave, on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website to avoid disappointment.
READ MORE: Everything you need to know about ETIAS
Main picture: Bohbeh/Shutterstock