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The problem with surveys is that they’re usually paid for by companies that have a vested interest in the outcome, which puts a bit of a taint on the results.
That said, the results of a survey released last Friday by online travel agency Travelstart are eye-opening.
The company paid multinational consumer research company Synovate to source international flight prices from traditional travel agency groups, with surprising results.
Prices varied hugely, leading Travelstart to allege that the agencies often quoted fares on which they stood to earn the highest margins, rather than those that were cheapest for the consumer.
A word about the methodology, because I think it’s important: the researchers contacted 50 different branches of six traditional travel agency groups, collecting 317 quotes for the Joburg/Cape Town route as well as flights to 10 international destinations, ranging from London and Paris to New York and Bangkok.
They compared pricing, consistency and quality of service.
The agents who were contacted were not told that they were part of a survey, and the first price they quoted was used – no negotiating took place.
Travelstart chose the travel agency brands and flight routes, but the researchers independently selected the dates and flight times and number of passengers.
Of the 10 destinations surveyed, the prices for flights to Amsterdam, on the same dates, were the most alarming, with quotes ranging from R6 000 to R14 300 from Cape Town, and from R7 429 to R12 426 from Joburg.
Quotes for flights to Frankfurt and London were the most inconsistent.
Interestingly, nearly 40 percent of the surveyed traditional travel agents either refused to give a quote over the phone or did not get back to the caller with a quote.
The prices quoted to London from Joburg on the same dates ranged from R8 628 to R16 155 – a huge variance of R7 527, or 87 percent. This would mean an overcharge of more than R30 000 for a family of four.
Flights to Frankfurt on the same dates were no better, with one agency quoting R6 115 from Joburg and R6 369 from Cape Town, and another quoting R11 400 from Joburg and R8 213 from Cape Town – a whopping 86 percent more expensive in the case of the Joburg price.
So the person who believes they are being given the best price on the day and fails to shop around could be paying dearly for this assumption.
Proving a pattern in the research, one traditional travel agency group offered five different quotes, varying by as much as R4 577, from five of its Gauteng branches, for the same Amsterdam flights from Joburg.
“We were expecting different prices when we commissioned this research to compare our online service with traditional offerings, but we were shocked at the huge price variations from the traditional travel agency groups,” says Stephan Ekbergh, chief executive of Travelstart.
“We were even more surprised at how different branches of the same travel agency group were quoting such different fares.
“This research shows that South African travellers simply cannot trust that the traditional travel agencies will get them the best available flight deal first time round.”
Every travel agency has access to the same fares distributed by the airlines, worldwide, Ekbergh says.
“So pricing discrepancies, like we have seen in these results, occur when travel agencies load fares with exorbitant and inconsistent service fees.
“Clever marketing leads customers to believe they can trust the big buying power of the traditional travel agency groups, but this research proves exactly the opposite.”
Interestingly, while up to 50 percent of flight bookings in the US are made online, only five percent of flight bookings are made online in South Africa.
“Consumers are realising that online travel agencies offer them the advantages of lower prices, greater transparency, more flexibility, convenience, a wider choice and more control over their flight booking experience,” Ekbergh says.
Naturally, Robyn Christie, chief executive of the Association of SA Travel Agents (Asata) – of which Travelstart is a member, incidentally – has a different view.
“Turning survey results into intelligence is always an interesting exercise and obviously Travelstart have interpreted a version that reflects kindly on their online travel business,” she said.
“But it is harmful to an industry to create a perception that all travel agents other than themselves are rip-offs.”
She cautioned against underestimating the intelligence of travellers.
“South Africans are sophisticated travellers; they know what they want and neither traditional travel agents nor online agents are smarter than them, so to indicate that they are being ripped off to the extent of 85 percent is sensational and perhaps a little insulting.
“Asata members abide by a strict code of conduct and without seeing the details of this survey it is difficult to understand who is deviating from the norm.
“I can testify that 94 percent of all our calls of complaint are about non-Asata members, including a deluge of travellers who have been let down by the internet.”
Not all travellers were seeking the cheapest price, Christie said. “Many are seeking advice from travel experts, advice they are prepared to pay a negotiated price for.
“This intermediary service includes the negotiation of competitive rates, providing 24-hour access in the event of any unforeseen changes, not to mention having to interpret complicated fare rules to avoid unnecessary charges.”
For the past eight years, she said, travel agents had been charging service fees, as a result of airlines moving away from paying commissions to agents.
“Therefore the survey is not well informed as to its assumption that the agent will move business in an attempt to maximise their earnings.”
More than 80 percent of airline fares in South Africa were booked by travel agents, Christie said, so the internet had not replaced traditional agencies.
“The market is well versed in the virtues of the online booking agents, but equally aware of the consequences of when things go wrong, which they do more often than not,” she said.
“It is at these times when the value of a relationship with a travel company becomes essential.” - Pretoria News
Kerry I have one question for you: If you knew that the calls were for the survey why didn't you give the best prices? Probably you would look good in the survey, even better than Travelstart...I'm just wondering! Another question for "another travel agent": You said that ...."you have a HUMAN to call". I just want to say that there are a lot of humans that charge a lot of money only to "speak" if you know what I mean, so I think that it depends on what you are looking for... I like: "South Africans are very sophisticated"...yebo gogo
@ @ I am a travel agent, wrote
No, you are not being ripped off. Let me see if I can put this into laymans terms. If you go to watch a show at a theatre, you have the choice of purchasing the most expensive seats or the cheaper seats, but you decide to wait until the day before the show to book your seats. When you try to book the show now, all the cheaper seats are sold out and you are now faced with the most expensive ticket for the show - same show, different price. That's exactly how the airlines work. The sooner you book, the better chance you will get a discounted airticket. Try book a ticket to London on the day of departure and the cheaper airfares have now been sold out, so you now only have the more expensive airfare to purchase. This is done to effectively manage their aircrafts, loads etc. How would you define "peak and off peak" times? Some international airlines only fly in once a week. Most fly daily. Domestic flights have up to 20 flights a day, so what constitutes a peak flight and an off peak flight?? Should the business man who travels from Cape Town to Johannesburg every week to attend a meeting at 09:00 be penalised because he took a "peak" flight even though he books his tickets 6 months in advance and the person who travels an hour after him and only books his ticket the day before gets a highly reduced airfare?? Come on! It costs the same to fly an aircraft whether it is peak or off peak time, so if the airlines had to do this, they would all be bankrupt in a month!
Travel Sales Manager, wrote
It is every single travellers perogative to make a choice about where they want to book their travel. If an agent has a much higher fare because they are charging "exorbitant and inconsistent service fees" it is only a matter of time before they lose business and that is their problem. Many agents offer three quotes as a given and charge very reasonable and competitive service fees. There cannot possibly be a pattern to this research, it depends on whether or not they are comparing apples with apples. Airfares and availability change from minute to minute and would certainly change over several days of research. Online travel is a choice and so are travel agents. One does not negate the other, in fact, our agency uses online fares to save clients money where the situation presents itself. It is narrow minded and damaging to imagine that by presenting 'research' that slags off travel agents and publishing it in a national newspaper, will encourage more people to book online. You must be desperate for marketing...
@ I am a travel agent, wrote
So if I understand correctly, your statement "the fuller a flight gets, the more expensive it becomes" is a blatant admission by YOU, a TRAVEL AGENT that customers are being RIPPED OFF!?!? Surely the prices are suppose to be regulated where peak hour flights cost more than off-peak flights? Also that would mean that full flights make the most money, not only on the basis of being full, but also that the 'late bookers' are being charged more. So that would mean empty flights could essentially be operating at a loss... I seriously think you are BSing
Right, let's put something straight here. We were one of the travel agents that were contacted for these flight quotations. We received up to 5 phone calls a day for the same routings, which we found to be VERY ODD!! This lasted for more than 4 days with various routing requests. After the first four phone calls on the first day, we realised that something was up, as the callers would not supply a land line number and all the fax numbers were similar. Added to that, the e-mail addresses were all gmailyahoo addresses. So, we were 90% certain that this was some form of a survey from a competitor and to "ruin" the survey, we gave incorrect and completely fictitious airfares. Eventually, one of the callers gave us a land line number and when we called the number back and asked for the company name, we found out that it was a survey company and sent an e-mail to the MD of the company to cease contacting us immediately for airfare quotations, as they were acting on behalf of a competitor and we could lodge a complaint to the competitions board. All calls ceased thereafter. My request to the consumers out there - please don't take this article as fact. If we realised that we were being used for a survey and gave fictitious airfares, then I would bet that most of the travel companies out there figured out the same thing and also supplied fictitous airfares.
I am a travel agent, wrote
I am a travel agent, and I can tell you. Just as with any other profession, you get agents that know what they're doing and agents that dont. It is important to find a good travel agent you can depend on and stick to them. That way they will get to know your needs. With regards to this article... interesting that the "survey" was done by TRAVELSTART - a company that mainly focuses on taking business away from agents. Obviously they will do everything in their power to have the survey be negative. Also - prices are SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY. the fuller a flight gets, the more expensive it becomes. Surely a company such as TRAVELSTART should know this, and therefore you cannot do a proper survey based on airfares. Even the AIRLINES will agree with this. They obviously phoned at different times, different days and therefore got different prices. All to their own - if you want to sit for ours researching flights, or give a quick phonecall to a professional that they look at the varoius options - its all up to you. Flying to cape town? Book on the website? spending your hard earned money & your saved up leave to go on a once in a lifetime holiday? Book with a travel professional. You'll know the difference when something goes wrong or a volcano erupts - that you have a HUMAN to call. not a website where 1000's booked through. Oh - and buy the way.. my clients always phone and say they've check on TRAVELBUY and the price for the ticket is R.... - and I ALWAYS get it cheaper WITH my fee in. Dont think TRAVELSTART does your booking for free - they also charge... I would think if they're so SURE of themselves, they would not have time for petty "surveys"...
Travel agents are not the most useful bunch. I once went to one that promised to buy my ticket for me if I could get the flight at a cheaper cost. They took so long getting my flight that I started checking on my Blackberry and I was in fact able to get the very same flight almost R1000 cheaper. I then had to sit through a long winded explanation of why they were not going to pay for anything so I just left and went to the airline direct.
Alan, the article might be a bit skewed, but it is not as skewed as you are making out. It is true that prices do change regularly, but you should only get 2 or 3 different prices for the same route on the same day and not such a wide range. Also Robin Christie is talking nonsense when she cites the different requirements of different clients as the reason for the variation in prices. If you phone and ask the same question to each agent, you should get a similar answer. Variation in answer should be the result of either a different question or of the agent asking for further particulars of your requirements. Standard questions shouldn't produce different answers - especially from different branches of the same agency! The deluge of calls about being let down by the internet is probably related to the fact that a lot of people still haven't figured out how to deal with the risk of missing a connection when you book a flight with 2 different airlines on 2 different tickets online. If I am right about that, then South African travellers are not nearly as savvy as she claims!
may one enlighten me, what would happen if i miss a plane , am i entittled to a refund or i lost completely? i have never travel by a plane
I have not checked, but I really think you have made an error. That price looks like a Business class price. By the way, where else would Paris be if you are flying to CT on AF? A little dorpie just next to the Vaal river?
I booked via Expedia.com to London last December, thought I had saved myself R500, on the return sleep in the airport for 3 days because of the snow, Expedia and the airline were not answering their calls and basically not interested, in fact the airline had a recorded message to tell you to get hold of your travel agent !!I spent hundreds of rands on calls, my friends were laughing at me, they contacted their travel agents who arranged alternate flights, at no cost, gave them updated info, I spent an extra 4 days in the UK at great expense and stress and they were already home !!
Why dont you vote for communism, and get the same price for everyone. Or even better: "Why dont you buy your own plane and fly for nothing" Pathetic wingers.
Like everything else - shop around for a second opinion or a better price. Get 3 quotes and dont leave it for the last minute. Companies charging ridiculous prices should be brought down to earht and the public informed. People check the internet for prices.
Just checked and you won't believe this! I need to get from Paris (France) to Cape Town on 24 November. Economy price with Air France R36 963 - with Emirates its R7 430. A difference of R29 530... WTF? What is Air France thinking?
I agree with Nigel. I do ALL my travel arrangements online. This includes air travel, hotel bookings and transfers. I don't trust agents cause every travel agent advertisements that I ever inquired about, always worked out much more expensive than the actual advertisement stated. Doing your own bookings take a lot of time but its nice to see all your options, be able to read hotel reviews and see what you are getting for your rand
Never mind the discrepancies on long distance fares. The FlySAA website is hideous, often it must have a glitch as it quotes R36,000 for a fare from Joburg to New York and a week later, less than half that fare for same travel dates. While on an SAA rant, they are a con as I paid full fare of R2000 plus for a return Durban Cape town fare and they take your booking on their website and book you on a budget airline where one has to pay cash for every thing on the plane, the seats are tiny and cramped and when one queries this we are glibly told "SAA doesnt fly Durban to Cape town anymore". Why couldnt their website reflect that, or at least sell you the ticket at the same price as the budget airlines they shove you on to? In my case I paid double the price!
This article is skewed. There are a number of rreasons why prices would vary so much. the main reason being that all flights have various levels of flight class which come at different prices. YOu can literally book one minute and then try book again 5 min later and the price will be different. This is becausde that particular flight class ticket ahd been snapped up by someone else. Such a bad article to publish and unfair on the travel industry. Know your stuff iol before publishing such hog wash.
ASATA is a puppet organization that does not protect consumers but its members. Travel Start offers an online system to book - oddly two weeks ago I tried to book a flight via their system - and it was more expensive then the travel agent - strange???
I buy on-line direct from the airline I have chosen and it may not be the best offer. You have to research what is available, some may prefer direct flights versus stop overs etc. Anyway in a nutshell I have not use a travel agent for ages, been taken to the cleaners once to often. I am in control of what I pay and who I use. If the airline routes my bookingpayment through an intermediary I am oblivious to this.
SAA Durban - Dusseldorf R 12496 Air Emirates Durban - Dusseldorf R 8468 Guess witch Flight i booked??