When I moved to London earlier this year i got a job with the travel agency Flight Centre as a Travel Consultant. Long story short, I quit (the first job i have ever quit!) on the 3rd week of the 4 week training period as the role was a lot more Salesy than I had initially anticipated and I didn’t agree with a lot of their sales techniques and general work ethic.
Anywho, I did learn a few things from doing the training session in regards to flight prices on the internet vs flight prices that agencies sell you which i found interesting so I’m going to share these with you so that you can always get the best flight price!
First off, it only makes sense that these agencies have to make a profit in order to stay in business and the majority of travel agents will be on commission so always keep this in mind. They are sales people and they may be selling travel and be in the travel industry but they have been employed based on their sales techniques as much as their travel experience and knowledge (and in some cases over their travel experience and knowledge).
Secondly, I feel there’s a misconception that these agencies can see and book more flights than you can see online, whether it’s on the airlines page directly or using a search engine like Skyscanner. I can tell you that you can find and see every flight that they can. It’s the digital age and airlines are not going to restrict certain flights only for agencies to book!
Two Types of people
When it comes to booking flights and trips there are generally 2 types of people, those that are time poor but money rich and those that are time rich but money poor (i most certainly fall in the latter.. and i think I’m ok with that!).
If you have an incredibly busy job and life and just don’t have the time to search for flights to ensure you arrive at your destination at the time you want, you get the least amount of stops, you fly from your preferred airports, not that money conscious and are happy to pay a bit more, then speaking to an agency and getting them to book your flight is most definitely the best thing to do!
Flight Centre’s system is quite similar to Skyscanner with some extra search criteria so they can search for flights by price, arrival and departure time, stopover time etc etc and they can do all of this for you by you simply filling in a form on their website, popping into the store or by calling them up. You can give them the basic details which would take a few minutes and then leave them to search different options and find the best flight for you, to confirm you can phone or email the agent, arrange payment and email confirmation is sent to you.. nice and easy!
However, you have to keep in mind that as with any company the agency is providing you with a service, they are spending their time looking into flights for you and you will be charged for that service (more on that later).
If a company buys something in bulk then often it get’s it for a discount and this is the same with flights and agencies. Big airlines like Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Air, British Airways etc are Flight Centres (and probably other agencies) preferred airlines because they’re reputable airlines and good at what they do. The agency pushes their flights over other companies and in turn the airlines provide them with lower prices than an individual could find on the airlines website.
So this would make you think that they can indeed get better flight prices for you right??? Wrong!
Again, the agency has to make a profit and they have to make commission so the price that comes up on Flight Centre’s in-house system (aka the slightly discounted price) is not the price they will sell you the flight for and this is when booking flights through an agency for those that are money conscious is not the thing to do!
The reason for this is the many hidden costs, firstly as mentioned the ‘service fee’ is basically the agent’s commission and when it comes to Flight Centre they are allowed to charge you however much they want (I’ve detailed an example further down).
There’s also a ticketing fee which for Flight Centre is roughly £18.00 and this is also added onto the flight price and this is due to them paying an external company to issue the ticket however if you’re booking your flight yourself with the airline direct you do not have to pay this fee (or you may but it’s already in the ticket price).
Now of course the agencies don’t give you a breakdown of all these prices, they just give you the final price- flight price + ticketing fee + commission = the price you pay and i found that although the initial flight price may have been lower on their system, once these fee’s have been added on it was no longer cheaper than booking online.
Another thing worth noting is that above i have only been referring to airlines like Emirates, Etihad ect which are the agencies preferred airlines and may provide them with cheaper flight prices, however if you book with other airlines like Air India, Malaysia Air or even the smaller airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet, It’s likely the agencies do not have agreements with these so literally the price you see online is the exact same price they see on their system and then they’ll add the ticketing fee and their commission on top!
How to avoid these costs
Channel 4 (a UK TV channel) recently did a Dispatches program all about Flight Centre. The presenter went into a store with a confident approach, he asked for a flight to NYC and said he’d looked online and wanted to see what Flight Centre could offer and they gave him a flight price similar to what he had seen online. Next they showed his Mother going into a store, she asked for a flight to NYC on the exact same dates but admitted she doesn’t use the internet and they gave her with a flight price which was £200.00 more than her sons!!
This caused a bit of an outrage on the show and with its viewers and it’s all because, as i mentioned, Flight Centre Agents (and probably other agents) are in control of how much commission/ extra money they add onto the flight because this is what they take home and they are pushed to get as much out of the customer as they can. (This is what i didn’t like about the role and the main reason I left).
Therefore the best thing you can do to ensure you don’t get ripped off is to do your research! Even if you are busy, have a look online first and give the agency an idea of how much you want to pay or the price that you’ve seen online because as with the above example, this is where they are trained to read someone and trained to play off what you say in order to get the biggest amount of commission on top of the flight price as possible.
If you’re booking a simple one way or return flight then I would say to book it yourself and recommend using Skyscanner. If you are price and budget conscious then it’s likely that a flight with Malaysian Air, Thai Air, Air India, Ryanair plus many more will come up cheaper and trust me that the agency will not be able to get this flight any cheaper than you can on their airlines direct website, or on an online agency like e-dreams.
That said, if you’re happy for someone to do the work for you then do of course use an agency, just ensure you take a quick look online first to check prices so you are informed if you’re getting charged the right price.
When it comes to booking a multiway/ around the world flights or if you want a particular city stopover for a day it is worth speaking to an agency like Flight Centre and seeing what they can offer as they may well be able to offer you a better price for a 4 part flight than you could get from booking 4 single flights. Companies like STA & Around the World Experts can book you an around the world ticket and offer you a certain amount of changes included in the price which you wouldn’t get from booking single flights by yourself, again you are paying for this service but on this occasion i would say it’s better to pay a small amount extra for this initially than having to pay for a whole new flight when you change your mind on the date you want to fly!
Also note that some agencies do offer price matches and price beats, so if you can see a flight online then you can call say Flight Centre (who claim to have the Lowest Airfare Guarantee), tell them the exact flight details and price, they will then search this themselves to ensure its correct and the final price and they will sell you the flight for this price. The agent gets a tiny amount of commission on it because they haven’t been able to add any on however if you’ve gone to the trouble of looking at the flight yourself then why not just take it a few steps further and book it yourself??
I hope this has helped you out!
For the contrary, I don’t mean to put anyone off using Flight Centre (or any other agencies) or working for them. They are an international company so of course everything they do is perfectly legal.
** Have you had any experience with booking flights through an agency, do you agree or disagree with any of my comments??**