Published on September 1st, 2011 | by Emma Hackwood11
Booking Flights: Agent vs. Internet
From sleeping at airports, to scouring websites for hours, Joel has learned a thing or two about finding the best deal and shares his experience with us:
I think I am fairly experienced from my travelling days to say I know how booking flights online works and where to look. I booked my own flights for five years travelling all over the world and I have done everything from translating the Hungarian airlines website to sleeping in Hong Kong airport for 2 days to save $450.
I can comfortably say I learnt more in my first week as a travel agent than I did in the 5 years I scanned, searched and scoured the internet looking for the best deal.
I am a travel agent, so please don’t be under the impression I am non-partisan in this debate, but I think I can present a well-balanced argument to the general reader who is looking to understand the travel industry and is looking for value for money.
Yes it is very convenient to book online; you can do it from the comfort of your home and entirely at your own pace. There are some websites out there that compare prices from different airlines (I have still yet to find one that does every single airline). It will generally show the lowest price first, but this can be a pro and a con as the website has absolutely no idea what you want.
My main point here is that a website cannot qualify you at all, it cannot ask you key questions to ascertain what it is your really looking for. Lets look at the process of booking online and with an agent and then this will become clearer.
First step online: you put in where you are leaving from, and the website takes the information into it’s system.
First step with me: you say where you want to leave from, and I suggest other airports which may be closer, less expensive to fly from and more convenient or nicer for business/first class clients.
Example: I had a young man flying to Australia come in and ask for some advice. I saved him $350 by flying him out of Detroit instead of Toronto. Would a website suggest that? Please tweet me (@FCpenno) if you know a website that does.
Website: 0/ Agent: 1
Second step online: You put in your destination, The website takes the information or gives you a choice of airports for that city with no further explanation.
Second step with me: You tell me where you are flying to and I suggest other airports that may be more convenient, closer to your final destination, or less expensive (Heathrow or Gatwick? Haneda or Narita? Charles De Gaulle or Orly?)
Example: I had a lady looking at flights to Budapest via Paris. I looked at the same flight and showed her she was flying into Charles De Gaulle and out of Orly, Something that would be near impossible to do in 3 hours with Paris traffic.
Website: 0/Agent: 2
Third step online: You enter your dates and (my favourite) it might ask if you are flexible with your dates.
Third step with me: I ask when you are looking to go and HOW flexible you are with your dates. A day? A week? A month? Can you go anytime in the next six months? These questions are vital and you should know why after reading my blog on seasonality.
Fourth step online: Flights are displayed without preference to stop-over cities, departure times, arrival times, airline preference, potential visa requirements or basically any other alternative.
Fourth step with me: If I have not already separated myself from the internet then this is when I do. Unless the internet becomes a human, then I will always have this edge and that is my ability to ask you questions and make suggestions to get you exactly what you want.
Example: I have one for every single client that has walked in the door, but the most significant thing in my opinion is that the internet won’t say to you “for an extra $30 you can stop in Paris for 2 hours instead of 6” or “You do realize you’re looking at Sydney in Canada not Sydney in Australia right?”.
Website: 0/Agent: 3
Feel free to go online and search for flights (and possibly get very frustrated), but I encourage you to then come in and chat with me and let me show you how easy it is.
For more information and travel tips about booking flights, be sure to check out our blog ‘Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Booking Flights’