You’ve a fair idea what type of holiday you want, or where you want to go. You’ve got the dates decided, and your leave from work is booked. So, do you head straight for Expedia, or call a Travel Agent?
There’s no doubt that DIY holidays have been on the rise for some years now, aided by the internet and ready access to competitive hotel booking sites and airlines. Indeed, we provide a guide on how to find your own cheap flights. On my travels I’ve gone down both routes, so here are my pros and cons to building your break yourself, versus booking through an agent.
Experience & Time
One thing is certain, no one is going to know what kind of holiday you want as well as you do. This puts you in a great position to browse through hotels and destinations for your perfect break. When looking for great vegan-friendly places to stay there are resources out there, such as this great guide to vegan hotels by yumveganlunchideas. For many, this search is all part of the fun of planning a holiday.
The flip side is that an agent offers experience and time that can help you make that break both easier and possibly better. As Kindred Traveller operates in the vegan niche, we’ve researched vegan-friendly breaks all over the world, and over time we’ve cultivated contacts and partnerships that can offer the sort of experiences you may not have considered. Also, any good travel agent has likely travelled to a lot of the destinations you might be considering, so can offer some really useful insights on where to stay and eat, and what excursions to go on.
The right agent can add masses of value, and remove a lot of hazards
Wildlife holidays are a particularly good example of where an agent can be indispensable. Dividing the ethical from the unethical can be a real minefield, and choosing the right agent can cut through all of that. For instance, we have spent a crazy amount of time researching our travel partners and asking the right questions, to ensure we’re supporting the right experiences.
I founded Kindred Traveller after a long career in animal welfare charities, so bring real insight to an adventure that could otherwise be confusing to research alone. Other great examples where experience in a specialist area can be invaluable are LGBTQ+ holidays, or destination weddings.
Agents can build some very complex itineraries for you to meet your needs, with no stress for you. That said, if you want the kind of adventure where you have the freedom to stay an extra few days in a place that you fall in love with, then DIY is definitely the route for you. When I went backpacking through Vietnam and Cambodia, there were several occasions where I switched flights with just a few days notice, and stayed an extra week on a beach I loved – just because I could.
If you’ve the time, and know exactly what you want, you can often find a way to do it cheaper with budget airlines and last minute hotel bookings. Agents, after all, do need to make a living.
Don’t dismiss them out of hand on the cost front though, as there are often deals that only travel agents have access to, such as extra night stays, bundle prices, or discounts that they access direct from their suppliers.
If things go wrong
For many, the deciding factor between DIY holidays and booking through an agent is security. When you book through an agent, you don’t just get someone that will advocate on your behalf if the hotel makes a mistake; you also get better financial protection.
It can be a complex area, but fundamentally there are only two things you need to check. Is my holiday protected, and if there’s a flight, is my flight protected? So let’s break down the two types of protection.
- All package holidays booked through agents or tour operators should have the protection of either an organisation like ABTA, or use a Trust, such as Protected Trust Services (PTS)
- Any package holidays that include flights should have ATOL protection
All tour operators that offer more than one service (i.e. tour and accommodation, or transfers and meals, etc.) are legally required to provide financial protection, and at Kindred Traveller all of our customers’ payments for our Solo Holidays are protected by PTS. This means that all payments are kept in a Trust, out of our reach, until your holiday is completed. Researching the best way to keep our customer’s money safe was of prime concern to us, and the reason why we took 2 years to launch – we wanted to get it right.
But what about ATOL protection? Flights will likely cost you roughly the same whether you book them yourself or via an agent. However, booking them as a part of a package with a travel agent should mean that they’ll be ATOL protected, and booking them independently may mean that they won’t be.
There’s a lot of confusion around ATOL protection for flights and holidays, but the main thing to understand is this; if you book your whole holiday as a package with a travel agent, your holiday and flights should be ATOL protected. This means that if the airline goes bust while you’re away, your agent will make sure you can get home. If your holiday hasn’t started yet, the ATOL cover will ensure that you’ll either be offered a replacement, or you’ll get a refund for your whole holiday. Sometimes this ATOL cover is provided by the agent themselves, but many times it’s provided by the supplier that the agent has worked with (as all Kindred Traveller bespoke holidays are).
The problem for DIY bookings is that even if you book with an ATOL protected airline, if you’ve booked just the flight, you aren’t always afforded the same cover. According to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), you are generally only ATOL protected if you don’t immediately receive a ticket, but do get an ATOL certificate. Booking with your credit card will likely afford you some protection, as your Credit Card company can reimburse you under Section 75 if you spend over £100. However, you may then find yourself hitting the internet to find a replacement flight at inflated prices – which could be particularly stressful if you’re mid-holiday.
Either way, if something does go wrong, your first port of call should be the CAA, who will be quick to list details of what to do on their website. If you’re with a travel agent, they will usually get in touch with you as soon as they can, and will help you to make alternative arrangements.
It depends on your travel style
Ultimately, which route is best for you depends on your travelling style and acceptable level of risk. If you’re looking to travel on a shoe-string budget or want flexibility on the go, then doing it yourself may well be for you. If you want someone to put the research in on your behalf, offer specialist insight, and provide financial protection, then you’re best off with a travel agent.