When you are booking your holiday, consider your travel agent to be your new best friend. Over the past few years, many consumers have gained access to the entire world through the internet and so many choose to book their holidays independently by booking flights, accommodation and experiences separately.
We understand some consumers prefer to choose to book independently but it is important to understand that when choosing to do so an agent can’t help at a later point. Essentially, when you book independently you must accept you are forfeiting that professional support, so when something goes wrong, or a rule changes, you will not have someone to call. A good travel agent can help their clients and is wonderful at their job, but they can only support their clients as their clients have appointed them to represent them and look after their holiday.
Throughout the past 18 months, the value of a travel agent has shone through. We appreciate that travel may seem hugely problematic during covid, but a travel agent will make it simple. Many consumers appreciate this but for those who book independently and then pop into a travel agent to ask for help on a booking they are not managing, please do not be surprised when the agent politely declines to support you. Consumers need to understand that the travel agent is not being rude or unhelpful. The consumer must understand that unless they book with an agent then agent support will not be there – it is the consumer’s choice. Furthermore, only your agent can help you with your booking.
Travel Agents Are Always Ready to Help Their Clients
If you’re booking your trip with a travel agent, that agent will be available to you to get in contact with and to request help from, from the moment you book, to the moment you arrive back home. This is the service a travel agent provides; you are hiring an expert in the field to take care of you and ensure that your travel can go as smoothly and stress-free as possible.
From the smallest to the biggest problems, a travel agent is there to provide and assist. As experienced travel experts, they can help you whether you just need to confirm the dates, you have a query, or you’re looking at a destination that they know is going to be tricky to travel to, whether that’s because of covid destination policies, the time you want to travel, or something else.
If you need help getting in contact with a tour operator or supplier when something goes wrong, as well, this will fall to the travel agent’s shoulders. And most likely, the travel agent will already have a relationship with these travel companies, meaning these issues can be solved even more efficiently.
This is also part of the reason why a lot of tour operators sell to consumers through a travel agent because having a professional as a go-between with the consumer will help the whole machine run more smoothly.
However, some tour operators will sell directly to consumers, and this will work differently from booking through a travel agent. If you’d like to learn more about the difference between a tour operator and a travel agent, you can check out our blog.
What You Can Do If You Decide to Book Independently
This is where a lot of consumers get caught and turn to a travel agent for help. If you are the type of traveller that likes to book independently, this can work just fine, but this is where it’s important to be aware that once you’ve made that booking, you can’t turn to an expert for free support. Especially during the rapidly changing state of travel in 2021, this makes it incredibly risky to book independently, even if you are very confident.
When you book independently you are, in a sense, signing that contract with yourself as the organiser. This puts the responsibility of noticing possible issues, re-bookings, cancellations, covid changes, destination requirements, and other issues in your hands. Ultimately, it can save you a lot of stress and money to book with a travel agent.
If you book with a travel agent, as the name suggests, they are acting as your agent, taking on the responsibility to point out these things to you and do all the organising on your behalf. It’s a method we recommend to those who are uncertain, or don’t feel confident enough themselves to pick up on small things such as when a flight has non-refundable cancellations.
In saying this, if you want to book independently, it’s important to be aware that you cannot then turn to a travel agent for help. Once that decision is made, that responsibility is yours, and you need to be prepared, and confident you know what to do.
If You Need to Cancel or Reschedule When You Book Independently
This is going to start as a case of whether you have a refundable cancellation attached to the elements of your holiday. If you do, then cancelling each element is going to be the hardest task, because you can’t cancel them all together like with a package. It’s most likely the individual element providers won’t have the same policies.
If you have booked any non-refundable elements, it might be worth looking at rescheduling. This is not particularly easy because you need to line up all elements to suit a later date. You will then need to contact the providers to request a reschedule.
If you just want to cancel, but something or all things are non-refundable, then there isn’t much that can be done here, since you aren’t protected. We will discuss this further, but all consumers must be aware that they lose all Package Travel Regulation protection when they book independently.
If you do have travel insurance, your policy may cover some of the costs as long as you have a reasonable excuse to be cancelling. If you are only cancelling your holiday because you’ve changed your mind, then travel insurance will not cover this. If you want to learn more about travel insurance, you can check out our blogs that go into more depth about what they will cover you for and when.
We highly recommend that you are prepared beforehand for this kind of situation. This means having excellent travel insurance and doing your research into anything that could cause cancellations, such as political unrest, pandemic, or rules in the destination. You also need to have a keen eye and double-check any travel contracts you agree to. If it says ‘non-refundable’ and you think there may be cause for cancellations down the road, it’s best to avoid this. There is a reason non-refundable deals tend to be significantly cheaper, and it doesn’t often work in the consumer’s favour in today’s world.
If You Need to Change an Independent Booking
If you want or need to make changes to your booking when you book independently, this situation is quite dependent on the changes you want to make.
For example, if your destination was added to the Red List and you needed to change your flight you would need to contact the airline directly. Some airlines offer great customer service, but many are quite difficult to contact. Be wary of customer service reviews when booking independently – it is important.
However, if you want to change hotels, this is going to go back to the cancellation cautions. If your hotel is refundable, and it’s not too close to your day of travel, then you should be relatively okay to cancel and rebook.
In these situations, taking a thorough look at the contract will be the key. All information like this that you need should have been provided, and if not, then you can request it, though we recommend finding this out before booking. This can vary from one provider to another, so don’t forget to read up.
All the above changes and situations are the very areas that a travel agent would ensure you’re avoiding when you book with them. They’ll make the process as simple as possible, and in a lot of cases, when you need to make a change to a booking, it’ll barely take any of your time because everything will happen between the travel agent and the providers. In essence, a travel agent is one quick call away but booking independently can be incredibly time-consuming.
Information You’ll Need If Booking Independently
In many cases problems or panic can be prevented by simply making sure you have all the information you need; this is where great expertise is particularly valuable. If you’ve already gotten into a twist, this isn’t going to be helpful, but it is good to keep in mind for future bookings.
So, the information you’ll need is as follows:
- Deadlines – When does it become too late to cancel or move a booking? When are refunds cut off? When do you need to arrive for an experience? Etc.
- Refund Policy – Does this contract allow you a full refund if you cancel? Does it allow a partial refund if something goes wrong? What are the policies on emergency cancellations?
- Cancellation Policy – Does this contract allow you to cancel? For what reasons can you cancel? Is there a cancellation fee? Is there a deadline for cancelling?
- Contacts – Do you have easy access to contact your chosen flight or accommodation providers? When are they contactable? Keep in mind that a lot of the time, this will be a call centre system meaning contact may not be efficient and can take hours.
- Travel Insurance – It’s important to get this at the point of booking for full protection. From the moment of booking, if anything should happen that could result in a cancellation or need for medical protection, having travel insurance is going to be vital. This could be anything from a flight time changing to the change in a country’s covid policies.
- The Destination’s Policies – The rules in your destination will inevitably vary greatly from in the UK. You’ll need to know if there is a chance of emergency cancellations, perhaps the predicted weather for your holiday, how accessible it is, how far your hotel is from the airport, any risks you’ll need protection for, etc.
- Covid Policies – This applies to both the UK and your destination. At present, travel is fluctuating constantly, almost by the hour. Knowing the policies in your destination and UK regulations, such as whether a country is on the green list or not, is vital. Furthermore, you must understand the testing requirements for both the UK and your chosen destination.
What Financial Protection Do You Have When Booking Independently?
If you are booking independently, you will have virtually no protection. The Package Travel Regulations and ATOL do not apply unless you are booking a package holiday. (You can find out more about the differences between booking a package and independently on our blog). This means you have no legal and financial protection for the elements of your holiday themselves, whereas a package would provide you with cover that may go unnoticed unless something happens. However, Package Travel Regulations cover will be incredibly valuable if something does happen.
There are some smaller forms of financial protection you can investigate on your own if you’re booking independently. However, these will only provide a certain amount of protection. These options consist of travel insurance and credit/debit card payments. All protection is even more important whilst travelling during covid times. Not all policies will provide any or much protection against covid related situations and it is vital that you ensure it does when you intend to travel. Always check the destination’s covid policies to ensure these are covered.
Getting excellent travel insurance is an absolute must whether you’re booking independently or with a travel agent. A travel agent will be able to point you in the right direction to assist you in choosing your preferred travel insurance policy.
Travel insurance will generally cover you for three things:
- Medical Costs
- Lost/Stolen Items
However, it will only cover these things for a certain amount and within certain restrictions, depending on the insurance you choose. You can find out more about how to look for the best travel insurance for you on our blog, but generally, this is going to be different for each booking.
You can purchase travel insurance cheaply but when it comes to travel insurance you get what you pay for. It is well worth paying that little bit extra to make sure you’re properly protected. These things become even more necessary when you’re booking individually because you don’t already have the backbone protection of Package Travel Regulations in cases of unexpected or unavoidable circumstances that could cause cancellations.
This one isn’t going to provide quite as much as travel insurance, but it will give you a little extra security.
What this means, is that we generally recommend paying for travel by credit or debit card if you can. Never pay by BACS into an independent person’s bank account, or by cash no matter how friendly the manager or host may be (you could only pay by BACS into trust accounts, and you should verify account details directly with the account provider). Travel related fraud is rife when booking privately owned villas and properties so please always ensure that you’re booking with a legitimate business.
There is a huge amount of information that all travellers need to know at the moment when it comes to travel. We appreciate many consumers will still want to book privately and independently – we respect this, and we do hope the above information is useful and supportive to you all. We also hope that you all can fully appreciate quite how invaluable the knowledge and support of an experienced travel agent will be to help travellers today.
Ultimately, if you want to book independently, that is fine, but you need to be aware of the responsibilities and knowledge that come with that. At the moment, travel guidelines are changing incredibly fast. It really won’t take much to get in a pickle if a destination’s covid policy changes or a country moves to the amber list.
Travel agents are some of the kindest and most knowledgeable professionals you will meet, and they are always so happy to help their clients. Travel agents are passionate about organising great holidays, and they are experienced in booking safe and stress-free travels. So, don’t rule out the option – good travel agents are pretty spectacular and will ultimately help save you a fortune in time and money.