By George_Carey

Travel: do it yourself or use an agency?

When they said ‘do it yourself travel’ this wasn’t what I had in mind

 

Blogger Practically Perfect PA aka Nicky Christmas gives us her expert tips on booking business travel...

I don’t know about you but I can spend hours arranging and then rearranging travel for my director. It takes up a huge amount of time and can be incredibly complex especially if they are travelling to a number of destinations with connecting flights and a host of visa requirements. I’ve had absolute nightmares in the past such as the time I organised a trip to Japan only to be told to cancel everything the day before because my colleague now had to go to Brazil. All this stress and you don’t even get to leave your desk!

It is quite common now to have help with travel arrangements as most companies do employ an outside supplier to book flights, hotels and car hire. I do think it is useful having the additional help especially if you are busy with other aspects of your role (and who isn’t!) But at the same time I have found working with some corporate travel suppliers to be a frustrating experience and quite often more time consuming than booking everything myself.  Here are my pros and cons for booking travel yourself and booking it via a travel agent.

The direct approach

Pros

  • For point-to-point travel it can be quicker booking directly with the flight operator and hotel. You don’t have to explain what you want to someone else and you don’t have to wait to hear back on the options etc. If you know what you want and it is easy to do, sometimes directly booking everything yourself will be cost effective and will save you paying a booking fee.
  • Websites such as Skyscanner.net and kayak.co.uk have the same functionality as the systems used by travel agents so if you know when and where your manager would like to travel to you can get all of the flight information using these websites. In addition, these websites access information from budget airlines which travel agents tend to leave out of their quotes.
  • In most cases travel agents will not charge you for booking a hotel but will relay that cost to the hotel as a finder’s fee. If your colleagues use the same hotel every time then it is worth organising a corporate rate directly with that hotel because they won’t be paying any additional fees. In some cases I’ve noticed agencies have received a finder’s fee from the hotel and also charged my company a booker’s fee. Not good!
  • I think like most assistants I like to have control over my work and this is particularly so when it comes to travel booking. I definitely have peace of mind when I have booked everything myself rather than relying on a third person to get it right.

Cons

  • Some airlines and hotels will hold back from advertising their best prices online because they like to maintain a good relationship with travel agency. Potentially you could be missing out on a better deal booking directly.
  • Using a travel agency has pretty much made queuing for visas at cold and draughty embassies obsolete. Most travel agents will work with a company that will take the passports and paperwork and do this for you. So much easier and less time consuming!
  • Booking directly will require you to use either your manager’s corporate credit card or their personal card and then ask them to claim the money back. I always find this slightly worrying if they travel extensively and don’t get their expenses reimbursed straight away. Also it is difficult for the company to gauge how much money is spent on travel overall, it can be easier to have a central booking system to monitor the spend.
  • What happens when everything goes wrong? Having that additional support can be an absolute godsend.

Using an agent

Pros

  • A good travel agent will have contacts at the airlines so can advise on seat allocation, delays and upgrades
  • The travel agency will have a profile on each of your managers and colleagues so they automatically know their preferences when it comes to travel which will mean you don’t have to repeat the same details to the airline, the hotel, the car hire company etc.
  • The travel agency should have a 24 hour emergency helpline which means if anything goes wrong your colleague can contact them to find out information and get an idea of when they can get home. So for example, if they are in Australia on a Sunday when all the airports shut down and you are at home asleep they can at least speak to someone.
  • From a price point of view the agent should be able to negotiate a good deal for you because they will have access to a variety of flight prices over a larger period of time and they will know when that particular price expires.

Cons

  • Quite often with larger travel agencies the service you get differs according to the person you get on the phone or via email. Quite often they will not have knowledge of the area your manager is travelling to and will not be able to recommend hotels on experience. I’ve often booked accommodation through a travel agent only to find out later that the hotel is over 10 miles from the office my manager is visiting.
  • Although travel agents will be able to find you the best price at that particular point in time they will charge you a booking fee, factor this in when looking at the overall cost. Are they actually saving you any money compared to booking something directly?
  • It can be time consuming dealing with a third party who don’t have the knowledge that you have, especially if you have a complex trip with lots of internal and external flights and have to double check everything they are doing. There have been times I’ve booked flights through an agent which have left colleagues stranded for hours at connecting airports because the agent didn’t bother to see how long the layover time was or even if there were direct flights!
  • In most cases a travel agent will not quote prices for budget airlines. This is generally okay because if your managers are anything like mine they won’t fly with a budget airline particularity on long haul flights. However quite often budget airlines are cheaper, have more flights and therefore more options for your manager and when it comes to travel booking the more options the better!

There are definite pros and cons for booking directly and through a third party but if you are like me then your company will force you to use a travel agent – so my final bit of advice would be to follow this simple procedure when booking travel:

When you are asked to book travel check a search engine website first (Skyscanner for point-to-point and Kayak for multi-destinations), find out the best times for your flight and a selection of hotels near the office they are visiting (booking.com or laterooms.com are great for this) then contact the agency and book everything through them using their skills at getting the best price. Best of both worlds!

Happy travel booking everyone!

Check out Nicky’s regular blog at practicallyperfectpa.com 

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