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Comparing Online Travel Services to Your Local Travel Agent

by Virginia Morgan

Sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity claim to offer the best price - sometimes even guaranteed. They may even claim to offer the best rates on a luxury world cruise, a trip that travel wholesalers publicly prefer to be sold by agents. Others offer to beat any price or to match it.

The emergence of online travel sites have put many agencies out of business, and claim to have conquered the consumer base by offering quality product at a lower cost.

The volume done by these sites is said to make up for their marginal profit. But these are no more than half-truth cover stories. Let us debunk these myths one at a time.

What is the Product Difference?

When you call your local travel agency and ask for a price quote on an air and hotel luxury travel vacation package, most consumers will check against one of the more popular travel websites to see what prices better. True, two thirds of the time, you will find that the Internet will beat the travel agent price by about $150. So what is the difference? The travel website will assure you that it is the same package. They will even give you the exact same flights. But when you book with Orbitz or Expedia, they often do not take the seats off of the availability list immediately like travel agents do. This makes it easier for your flight to be over sold. And because your seats were the last tickets to be issued, you will be the first travelers to be bumped on an overbooked flight. In addition, your hotel room will be in a "less requested area." This means that while your room will be the category promised, you might have the ocean view room next to the ice machine or the ocean view above the resort nightclub. You may find your room in the only wing that did not receive renovations. And the worst part is, once you arrive and discover your room to be lacking, the help desk with the Internet travel sight can do nothing to help you, if you even get through in the first place. The resorts and hotels are aware that you are going to be in the most unfavorable rooms, in fact, that is why they sold them to the Internet travel site at a discounted rate in the first place.

How do These Sites REALLY Make Money?

Travel service sites proudly proclaim that they are able to further save customers money by selling large volumes of travel and collecting a smaller fee. There is some truth to this. Orbitz and Travelocity do have a large volume of travel reservations made, but what little they make in commission they make back in changed or canceled reservations. When you book your package, the price may not cover a number of other fees, such as a daily resort fee, an out of state car fee or some other taxes and fees that are asked to be paid at the airport, resort or cruise ship. Agencies will include this in their pricing. And heaven help you if you have a change in plans. Depending on which site you book with, small changes to your itinerary can cost you between $50 to $100. Most travel agencies offer a travel insurance that covers you and your travel companions if you should have to cancel for a medical or personal emergency.

American Express Travel offers a cancel for any reason insurance that even covers your airline tickets. These Internet booking engines are now beginning to offer "insurance", but it rarely covers cancellations in full. Should you have to cancel your Internet trip, you might get less than half of the total cost of your vacation, or none at all.

So buyer beware! The Internet is a beautiful thing, but for travel arrangements, it is not always as good as it seems. Your local travel agent is there to offer the customer care you need back at home while you're traveling abroad. When it comes to planning luxury travel vacation, you are truly better off using a travel agent. You will be guaranteed your place on a plane. If you don't like your room, your travel agent can have it fixed in a matter of moments. And should there be a problem or if you should need to cancel, your travel agent will fight the battle to reschedule your plans at the lowest cost possible. Travel agents are not focused on quantity, but quality. In this day in age, travel agencies stay afloat with their repeat clients, who swear by them. So travel safe, not sorry, and call a travel agent to hear more benefits that each agency offers their clients.

About the Author

Virginia Morgan writes tourism and travel articles for AMT American Express Travel, a premier Internet resource for American Express Vacations. Serving customers online since 1996.