When it comes to booking your next vacation you may head to booking engines like Expedia or even your local big box store… Costco Travel has been getting a lot of publicity lately. While it may seem like going online and booking your vacation will be the easy and most cost effective option, in some cases your booking through a travel wholesaler may end up costing you money.
When I tell people that I am a travel agent, I see so many confused faces and get a response like “they still exist” or “didn’t they fade away when the internet started?” Well… yes and obviously no. With booking engines people no longer needed an ‘agent’ to write their ticket for them. But now that the internet is flooded with information and people have less and less time to spend planning, the Travel Advisor has emerged.
More and more travel agencies are finding a specialty and becoming an expert at a destination or type of travel. My knowledge of family friendly vacations in the US, Caribbean and Europe ensures that you don’t spend a penny on a vacation that you don’t love. I also save you time researching in what often turns into a black hole of internet information and reviews and serve as your advocate should anything go awry. Unlike online booking engines I am an agent for the supplier so you get the same benefits and perks of booking direct – with the additional concierge level serves, at no additional cost.
Yes – the online booking engines can sometimes get you a slightly better deal, but we are seeing this less and less. Hotels are no longer dumping unsold inventory and are encouraging direct bookings so we have seen the level of savings decrease significantly. Even if you are able to find a better price the savings you receive could end up costing you more time and even money in the long run.
Here is how discounted vacations from wholesalers like Expedia and COSTCO can actually cost you money:
Not all flight times or hotel options available. Some suppliers choose not to work with resellers and others only share some of their inventory. You may find a resort that seems to be a good value but you may have been able to find something even better for less if you expand your options beyond what is available on that booking engine.
Costco in particular only works with certain airlines and hotel chains. They also seem to lack destination options, especially internationally.
Online booking agencies and big box stores will not warn you about hidden fees like mandatory resort or parking fees. To avoid being surprised with your bill at check out you will want to do your own research. Resortfeechecker.com is a great resource.
A great way a travel agent can help you save money is by comparing the added costs of your resort. If you are comparing two properties you want to consider on property food costs, transportation to the activities you are interested and more. Often a hotel may be a little cheaper but further away from where you want to be, meaning your uber or taxi fare will make up the difference in room rate. I learned this personally when before I became a travel agent I tried to save some money during a girls trip to Nashville. We rented a little house in East Nashville and spent more taking taxis downtown. We would have saved more staying in a hotel within walking distance of what we wanted to do.
Where Wholesalers really get you though is in change fees. If you want to upgrade there is usually a fee associated with that. Fixing a small mistake may cost almost as much as your vacation.
Beyond these little snafus Expedia in particular is notorious for not offering any refunds. While most properties and airlines will offer complimentary changes or full refunds due to hurricanes or political coups – if you booked with Expedia you are out of luck.
Check out this story from Kristin Luna at Camels and Chocolates about her experience with an Expedia booking on Turkish Airlines during a 2016 military coup in Turkey that ended up costing her $8500. It was an epic European vacation for 8 people that she just wanted to adjust one of her flights to avoid Turkey after some ISIS bombings and a military coup – Turkish Airlines was offering full refunds… unless you booked through Expedia.
This is small beans after the drama in the last point but if you booking with an online booking engine you do not have the option to put a deposit down and pay later.
If it is an expensive vacation that money could be sitting in the bank earning interest instead of sitting on your credit card, costing you money. Expedia does have a book now pay later program but it comes with 10-30%APR.
When there is an issue suppliers prioritize customers who booked directly. When there is a delay on my Delta flight I get a notification sent to My Delta app and I have the option to change my flight from my phone often before the announcement is made at the gate. I am already booked and ready to go to my final destination while others are standing in the customer service line trying to figure out their options.
This is one of the reasons that unless there is a significant cost savings from packaging your hotel with your airfare, I will encourage my travelers to book their flights on their own.
As with anything, when you introduce a third party booking site to a transaction to save money, clear and direct communication (and accountability) is sacrificed between you and seller. Many folks have a very frustrating experience when there is a big problem, and sometimes it may not be worth the cost savings.
NOTE: This is different than using a travel agent who is working for you, in the eyes of the supplier we are not a third party, we are an extension of you. In fact, in most cases we have the authority to work through and solve the issues for you so you don’t have to be bounced around, kept on hold or fight for your rights. You explain your problem to one person and I take care of it from there.
On the off chance that something happens and you’re just not happy with the stay, it’s also faster and easier for the hotel to take care of it for you if you booked direct. Say they wanted to give you 20% off, if you already paid through the third party, they have to contact them and ask them to issue a refund which doesn’t always happen.
When you book through a third party booking site your reservation is flagged. If the resort is at or nearing capacity, those reservations are given less desirable rooms. Customers who booked direct will be given priority in terms of requests.
For Costco Travel, specifically they work with relatively large hotels and resorts, often boasting hundreds of rooms. Your room is likely to be the furthest away from the lobby and easy access to coffee, food, gym and any other amenties you plan to enjoy during your vacation.
With an online booking engine or big box store once you have booked and made payment you will likely never hear from them again. They will not be reaching out with travel tips, reminders and packing lists.
In the even that you can call to speak with a rep, you will get a different one each time. Working with an agent will mean someone knows your entire booking history and you will not have to share your confirmation number and address over and over.
Online booking engines and big box stores will do your booking for you. Unlike a Travel agent, they will not spend the time researching the best locations and properties for your family. They will book your hotel and flight but will not add additional components or painstakingly put together a custom itinerary. You are on your own to find the answers to any questions you may have, make any changes or solve any problems
Do I think an online booking site is bad or using them is inherently wrong? Of course not. If you are returning to a destination you love and are booking a property that you know, an online wholesaler is a GREAT way to save a little money.
Make sure you understand and feel comfortable with the cancellation policy or purchase travel insurance through a separate, reputable agency. You should always follow up with the resort and airline directly prior to travel to make sure you are in their system.
If you are ready to have the family vacation you’ve been dreaming of, without spending time researching, planning and making it happen, schedule a call today. I’m here to help busy working Moms plan, organize and book the perfect family vacation. With me, all you have to worry about is enjoying your well-earned time away with your family. If you are ready to stop trying to do everything on your own and see how I can help you schedule a complimentary trip planning session now.
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