Airfare 101

Published on September 1st, 2011 | by Emma Hackwood


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.

passengers in airport 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’

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About the Author

Emma Hackwood

a freelance copywriter, amateur glider pilot and full-time adventure seeker, has travelled extensively in pursuit of her lifelong dream of simply seeing it all. Up to over 50 countries, she lists American Samoa and the seldom visited Marquesas Islands as her current favourite destinations, with a wandering eye on Guam and Tonga to complete her Pacific escapades.

11 Responses to Booking Flights: Agent vs. Internet

  1. browntabbycat says:

    Joel – I enjoy reading your insights, not that I always agree with them.

    I will openly admit that I avoid TAs like the plague because I have met many who are clueless about destinations (perhaps I have an edge as I was a travel writer for many years) and are put off by their aggressive selling techniques and inability to listen/understand my needs – ex. I say I will be staying in hostels or local B&Bs, and they push five-star resorts out of my budget in my face. What I cannot understand, though, is how wildly different prices for the same flight can be from different TAs.

    Recently my parents, who are not computer literate, went to four different travel agencies. Two were Flight Centre. They needed return tickets, Vancouver-Warsaw, economy class and within short notice due to a family emergency. The flight that they were after was through Heathrow on British Airways.

    One TA quoted them $6000 per person. One Flight Centre had around $3000 per person. Second Flight Centre was $3200. The last agency was $4500 per person. These quotes were for the same flight.

    I wound up booking on the BA website for them and the cost there was just below $1500 per person. Why the discrepancy? Prices on Kayak, Expedia, Travelocity, etc. do not differ by such a large margin. Is it commission (and who sets the percentage, in that case?)?

    • Joel Pennington Joel Pennington says:

      Hi there,


      for your response.

      sad to hear that your experiences with agents have left you disappointed,
      Hopefully my current and future blogs will sway you to see we love backpackers
      and independent travelers too! I personally love the freedom of making it up as
      you go along and I love a bargain just as much as the next


      glad you have asked why rates can often fluctuate from Agent to Agent as this is
      why Flight Centre has for a long time now offered a Lowest Airfare Guarantee. As
      a Travel agent we have many different avenues of which to book a flight for a
      client, from wholesalers to direct with the airline the options are sometimes
      endless. Now you may assume that surely direct with the airline is always the
      best option right? not the case, as you may have read previously in my blog even
      economy has different booking classes. So what agents (including online agents
      and wholesalers) can do is negotiate a rate with the airline for a certain
      class. For example Flight Centre may have a contract with airline X for V class
      on routing from Toronto to Orlando for a standard $250, but the airline might be
      charging $450 for V class on a particular day and then $100 for V class on
      another day. This suddenly makes endless options for one particular flight let
      alone the many different airlines, destinations and dates.


      So for
      your parents flight it is clear why they can receive such variances in prices as
      different Agents have different levels of experience and knowledge on where to
      go to find the best price (direct with the airline can be overlooked as
      contracts with airlines can often be much cheaper). This is precisely why Flight
      Centre offers a Lowest Airfare Guarantee as on the odd occasion an option is
      overlooked by an inexperienced/new agent (Yes we have to start somewhere!) we
      can still book the best priced option for our clients.


      I hope
      this clears things up, If you have any other questions please feel free to email
      me at or
      tweet me at  @FCpenno:twitter 


      • browntabbycat says:


        I appreciate the response, you didn’t explain commissions. It wasn’t too long ago that I interviewed for a position with Flight Centre and ultimately turned it down because I was uncomfortable with the commission structure and push to sell but not necessarily offer great customer service. During the in-store orientation, the staff openly told me that they’d try to grab as much commission as possible out of the more difficult and demanding customers, and for the nice ones around 10%.

        I feel that letting individual agents slap on whatever commission they felt like is a system that hurts the customer and makes booking directly with the airline and hotel much more attractive. Treating customers as walking dollar signs is poor business and the unfortunate prevalence of this attitude in many travel agencies truly hurts the good travel agents out there (I’m sure they exist somewhere)!

  2. Sandhya says:

    Hi,nice guidance that you are providing,Thank you.
    Here i want to give you some information about travel agencies in our country at:

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