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Travel 101: Booking Direct Vs. Online Travel Agents Vs. Travel Agents

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Should You Book Direct, Book Online or Book Through a Travel Agent?

Planning a trip is a huge task! With so many different ways to book transport, activities and accommodation, it’s not always clear where you are getting the best deals or what’s going to be the easiest. We’ll go through the pros and cons of booking direct, booking with online travel agents and booking with travel agents in this guide.

While booking direct might be cheaper than booking with an online travel guide, you may find it’s harder to cancel and get your money back if things don’t go to plan. What’s more, you might even want to consider using a travel agent if the word “planning” scares you. Whatever booking method you prefer, we will tell you a few tips about each in the conclusion at the bottom of this article so be sure to scroll all the way down!

To help you save more money on your travels, be sure to check out the 11 Ways to Save Money and Stretch Those Dollars Further.

Booking Accommodation, Transport and Activities

These are the three main aspects of your travel that you will have to book. We’ll go through the pro and cons of booking direct, booking with an online travel agent, and booking with a travel agent below. Before that, see our tips for each type of travel booking in the following articles.

Travel 101: Booking Direct Vs. Online Travel Agents Vs. Travel Agents© Tourism New Zealand

Booking Direct: The Pros and the Cons

With any travel company, whether it’s airlines, buses, car rentals, activities or accommodation, you have the option to book direct. In most case, you can book directly online. But because this is New Zealand and it can sometimes be a bit behind the times, in some small instances, you may have to book over the phone, by email or at their office.

What We Like About Booking Direct

Booking direct means the money you are paying for the service is going straight to the company. They get the reward for giving you the experience, as they don’t have to pay commission to travel agents. It helps support the business and gives you good karma.

You usually get the cheapest deals when booking direct! Without the middleman, which is the travel agent, there is no commission to be paid therefore they don’t have to raise their prices to make sure they are making a profit. If you do find a deal cheaper elsewhere, however, then it’s as simple as contacting the company directly and seeing if they will match the price. In most cases, they will.

In the case of airlines and some accommodation, they will give you better seats or rooms than they have listed with travel agents or online travel agents. They usually save the best services for direct bookings.

Making changes to your booking is more likely to be straightforward when booking direct than when having to go through an agent.

Because you are in charge of your own itinerary, you’re more likely to stick to your budget, rather than being tempted by add-ons that travel agents suggest.

What We Don’t Like About Booking Direct

This involves a lot of planning on your part. You have to take the time to do price comparisons on websites that links directly to several direct airlines (as well as online agents) for example, contact the companies and make your bookings. Make sure your itinerary all adds up and you don’t plan things on the wrong days or the wrong times!

In many cases, the cancellation policies with companies are pretty strict meaning you may not get a full refund if you cancel.

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Booking with an Online Travel Agent

Online travel agents, or OTAs, are the websites you use to compare prices of flights, activities and accommodation. Think and Hostelworld for accommodation, Viator, Tripadvisor and Tour Radar for activities and tours and more agent suggestions provided by meta-search engines like Skyscanner, for instance. You can find more details of using OTAs for accommodation in What are the Best Websites to Book Hostels in New Zealand?

What We Like About Online Travel Agents

They are at your fingertips! OTAs are so easy to use and can be accessed whenever it suits you. We all know how the Internet works – it’s just crazily convenient.

They do the comparisons for you. You can get an idea of what accommodation or flights suit your budget when they are compiled in a list together.

Once you have used them once, it’s easy to just use the same account to book activities and accommodation all over the country.

Online booking agents have more relaxed cancellation policies. To be listed on their websites, travel companies must adhere to their terms and conditions which usually involves cancellation policies with full refunds. This means you are not committed to staying in a specific accommodation or doing an activity. You can be more flexible.

Sometimes, these websites are the only places to book travel. Take Airbnb, for instance. You usually cannot find the spare rooms of locals listed anywhere else. Take a look at Everything You Need to Know About Airbnb in New Zealand.

Online Travel Agents often have reviews and ratings, which are more likely to be trustworthy compared to the positive ones used to advertise on the travel company’s own website.

What We Don’t Like About Online Travel Agents

They are not always the cheapest. You can sometimes find cheaper when booking direct. Some OTAs may involve extra fees to book with them.

The rooms or seats listed on OTAs are not necessarily the best ones.

Some booking sites can be misleading when saying there are “only two beds left” in an accommodation. What it really means is there are only two beds that can be booked through that specific website. You may still be able to book directly.

Most OTAs are based overseas, which means your money is going out on New Zealand and can have a negative impact on small New Zealand businesses.

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Booking with a Travel Agent: The Pros and the Cons

Travel agents are companies who plan and book your travel for you. They can be travel agents from your home country or ones with offices in New Zealand. Think STA, Flight Centre, Student Flights, etc. Many hostels across the country also have travel desks which are travel agents.

What We Like About Travel Agents

They organise your itinerary for you. This takes the stress out of planning your travels.

Travel agents have often done free trips for activities so they can recommend them to you. This can be a good thing, but remember that the free trips they experience may be slightly different from the paying customer experience.

Some travel agents can offer good combination deals.

They can help you with the nitty-gritty of visas, and other things that you might not have thought about when planning your trip.

You only have to speak to one person. If there are any changes, then the travel agent can make those changes on your behalf.

What We Don’t Like About Travel Agents

Booking with an agent can be a little pricier considering they are paid commission from the travel products they sell, plus the service of planning the trip and booking for you. This is where it is important to use comparison websites to make sure you get a good deal as prices wildly vary from one agent to the other.

Like OTAs, many of the travel agent companies are overseas companies meaning the money is going out of the New Zealand economy. Try using travel desks of hostels or New Zealand-based agents for more ethical travel.

Travel agents may be less flexible with your itinerary, only able to offer you the specific products they sell.

They often are unable to match prices (or particularly cheap prices) due to not making enough commission.

Overseas travel agents have been known to charge outrageous prices to customers who don’t know any better until they land in New Zealand and see much cheaper deals. By then, it’s too late.

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In Conclusion…

Choose a booking method which best suits you. If you are hopeless at organisation and are a complete newbie to travelling, then you might want to use a travel agent. Using a travel agent based in New Zealand is where you will find better travel agent deals.

On the other hand, if you prefer to be in charge of your own itinerary and budget, then we suggest using a mix of online booking agents and booking direct. You can use online booking websites as a tool to compare the prices of flights and deals. Once you have found a deal that you like, visit the direct website of the travel company and see if the price matches the deal and book! If the price doesn’t match, then it’s usually as simple as contacting the company directly and they will match the price.

For more advice on getting the best deals for travel, take a look at How to Book a Cheap Flight to New Zealand.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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