Haggling at travel agent can beat web

Haggling face to face with a travel agent can be cheaper than booking online. Picture: Neil Hanna
Haggling face to face with a travel agent can be cheaper than booking online. Picture: Neil Hanna
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FACE-to-face haggling with a travel agent can cut the cost of a holiday by a quarter – and can even be cheaper than booking online, an investigation into the holiday industry has revealed.

Almost nine in ten agents cut the price of a holiday or offered a freebie such as travel insurance or airport parking when a customer pushed for a deal, a report by consumer group Which? says.

The organisation visited a total of 48 travel agents, made up of branches of major chains The Co-operative Travel, Thomas Cook and Thomson, as well as a selection of independent firms and haggled for week-long holidays to Florida and Mallorca for a family of four.

They asked for money off, free extras and an improved foreign currency exchange rate. The investigation found 38 of those able to offer a holiday which fitted the criteria specified, could offer a deal – saving as much as £756. The overall average in-store price drop was £191. Only two were unable to offer a suitable holiday on the dates specified – the second week of the school summer holidays next year.

In 15 of the cases, the price paid was cheaper than a booking online and another five matched the web price.

Over the phone, however, the success rate dropped to 49 per cent and the average saving from £191 to £150.

“Eight in ten people don’t haggle over the cost of holidays, yet we found it could save you hundreds of pounds off your holiday. It’s well worth giving it a go,” said Which? editor Richard ­Headland. The consumer group’s probe also found many agents were willing to hand out bonuses such as airport parking, child places or visitor attraction tickets in 17 of the visits. Of the 28 agents selling holiday money, 13 offered an improved rate of exchange. Researchers found it was easier to haggle with travel agent chains rather than independents.

“In a couple of cases we were told there was no flexibility to reduce the price, or that they weren’t allowed to offer discounts. But we were still able to get lower prices for holidays in seven of our 12 visits to independent shops,” said the report.

Matt Stevens, senior researcher for Which? said: “It only takes a few seconds and a couple of questions to save money on the cost of your holiday. Our researchers found that most travel agents seemed ready to knock off at least five per cent of the price if we asked.”

Leigh Sparks, professor of Retail Studies at Stirling University, said face-to-face encounters let agents know who was a serious buyer.

He said: “On the phone, someone could be making three or four calls to find out where the best deal is. If you’ve got them in front of you in a shop, you’re more likely to get them to actually buy something.”

A spokeswoman for ABTA, which represents tour operators and travel agents, said: “The travel industry is by its nature seasonal, with demand rising and falling at different times of the year: Which? conducted their ­research in October and it would be misleading to ­assume this applies to prices at all times of the year.”