What a travel agent does and why we still use them

7 August 2015

Travel agents have evolved from just booking services to being travel consultants. Here are the pros and cons of booking through a travel agent.

The latest way to book travel online

Flight deals website DiscountMyFlights.com.au has arrived in Australia, making cheap flights even easier for Aussies. Like Webjet, Expedia, and Trip Advisor, Discount My Flights is a flight deals website that collects over 5 million flight deals available daily. Travellers can search easily for flights to and from their next holiday to thousands of Australian and international destinations.

Discount My Flights has partnerships with hundreds of travel agencies and airlines to make this possible. After starting in Canada in 2014 and quickly branching into the UK, the Australian version was launched in August 2015.

Marketing Director Don Power says, “Australians are well known for their love of travel, and now they have another tool at their disposal to make that travel much easier and much more affordable. Discount My Flights is pleased to be part of keeping the spirit of adventure alive and well for the Australian traveller.”

So have these DIY services for booking flights, accommodation and tours online put travel agents out of business? It turns out they haven’t.

These days, travel agents have reinvented themselves from travel booking services to all-in-one travel consultants.

Booking a holiday by yourself can be hard work. Between the flights there and back, the accommodation while you’re there, any special tours or activities you want to do, and the travel insurance, it can be a lot to organise! For many, it’s simply easier and more convenient to get it done through an agent.

What does a travel agent do?

A travel agent’s role involves a bit of everything:

  • Giving advice about holidays
  • Planning different options for a holiday
  • Checking several hotels for availability and room types and booking accommodation
  • Finding the best transport from the airport to the hotel to the tour / conference / business meeting
  • Organising any necessary visas
  • Booking tours and other activities
  • Booking flights and making sure that special dietary meal requirements and seat preferences are taken care of
  • Putting together a full itinerary so that a person can see their whole holiday laid out in step-by-step instructions
  • Schedule a payment plan

Pros and cons of booking through a travel agent

Pros of booking through a travel agent

Travel agents can be the way to go if:

  • You want advice about where you could go for a holiday. Most agents travel regularly for fun and as part of their role, and can advise you on their favourite hotspots.
  • You are unsure of whether you can confidently book everything yourself, especially if you’re dealing with international travel and accommodation.
  • You don’t have the time or energy to look into the details of every stage of your holiday. A travel agent can pull the information together and lay out several options for you to choose from.
  • You’re going on a trip with multiple people and you want everyone to book at the same time so you know you’ll all end up at the same place.

Cons of booking through a travel agent, and why most of them are myths

“If you like to be in control, a travel agent is probably not for you.” If dealing with all the minute details of flights and taxis and foreign phrasebooks is your thing, by all means go it alone. But a travel agent will usually give you just as much control over the detail as you want, and all they will do is book and confirm it for you.

“It can be confusing to know how much your holiday will cost when you aren’t booking it yourself.” When a travel agent advertises a deal or gives you a quote, they must tell you at least the minimum total cost you would have to pay. This is a single figure that includes all the minimum costs for the entire holiday package, based on up-to-date information.

“There might be additional costs like couriers or visas, and a cancellation fee if you decide against the trip.” These are fees you would probably have to fork out for yourself anyway. And a cancellation fee for one travel agent is bound to be cheaper than an individual cancellation fee for the airline, and the accommodation, and the tour operator… Also, agents are aware of promotions and special deals that you can’t find for yourself – so your holiday often works out cheaper through an agent.

“The deposit is not refundable.” Well, sometimes it is. Find out whether your deposit is kept to cover the agent’s administration costs or whether it’s refundable if you change your mind within a certain timeframe.

“It may take just as long to book through an agent as by yourself.” Find out when your ticket and other documents will be available before making the deposit and pre-payments. Your tickets should normally arrive within 2 weeks of payments.

According to former travel agent Tegan Sullivan, some large chains simply do not treat their agents well. The hours are long and staff are thrown in the deep end with very little product knowledge. The salary is low, so to make up the gap to reach commission targets, some agents can be forced to overcharge on their fees or tell customers that their deposits are due earlier than they are. She simply recommends finding out as much information as you can online first, then coming to the agent already having an estimate of how much everything should cost.

Choosing an agent

From 1 July 2014, travel agents in Australia are no longer required to hold a licence, but you should look for one that is a member of the industry association Australian Federation of Travel Agents (AFTA). Also, look for the symbol of national accreditation of best practice, ‘ATAS – Travel Accredited’, awarded to travel agents by AFTA.

Australian travel agents are also bound by Australian Consumer Law (ACL) because they are providing you with a service. If they breach provisions of the ACL, you may be able to recover your financial loss in the form of damages ordered by a court or tribunal. It is not as simple to obtain a remedy from an overseas travel agent if something goes wrong, because they are not bound by the ACL.

Travel agents sometimes specialise in a certain type of travel, e.g. hiking trips, cruises, Contiki tours, etc. Check whether they offer deals for the type of travel you want to do.

It’s a sensible idea to ask if your travel agent has insolvency insurance to cover supplier or agent collapse. Insolvency insurance makes a big difference to you as a customer if your agent goes broke. Your other option apart from insolvency insurance is a credit chargeback to refund the money you had already paid.

Watch the ‘Pack some peace of mind’ video by the Australian government if you’d like more information.

Don’t forget about travel insurance

Make sure when booking through a travel agent that they have included travel insurance for you in their quote and booking. If you’re booking travel on your own, don’t forget to buy when you book.

Travel insurance generally covers the cost of cancelling or changing travel arrangements for unforeseen reasons, replacing lost luggage or passports and visas, overseas legal bills, and overseas emergency medical expenses. You can compare travel insurance policies on our Canstar website.

If you’re considering applying for travel insurance, we have compiled a snapshot of the travel insurance policies available on the Canstar website below. This table is generated based on a single traveler to Indonesia, and is sorted by Star Rating (highest to lowest), followed by provider name (alphabetical). 


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