Photo: Flickr / bcurio
Airlines are testing out a new ticket initiative to compete with websites that could go in effect by 2016. Under the plan, airlines will solicit info to create a personalised ticket that folds in traditionally a la carte items like bag-check and meals. This could bode well for members of frequent flier clubs, but other consumers might be upset that it heralds the demise of travel agents.
According to The Flight Deal, a blog that tracks fares, “consumers do not need travel agents for the traditional tonnage business of booking simple itineraries as airline websites and online travel agencies have filled that need.”
Yet with the advent of personalised tickets, travellers might not see a need for agents at all. They can choose to get what they need from the airlines directly, or may have no other choice but to do so if airlines refuse to make the new fares transparent. If agents don’t know what they’re up against, there’s no way they can offer competitive fares.
“Their business will suffer greatly,” predicts Flight Deal, “unless they can move up the value chain. They need to be true value adds like the Virtuoso agent network, which provides booking for high-end, customised experiences where the agent’s knowledge trumps the technology.”
However, consumers shouldn’t write off bricks-and-mortar agents just yet. As U.S. News’ Daniel Bortz points out, travel agents come equipped with a deep Rolodex of sales associates, first-hand experience, and knowledge of an area or service that’s often tougher to dig up online for a niche destination.
“You’ll pay a fee to have a travel agent do something,” says Brett Snyder, an expert who blogs at The Cranky Flier, but “they generally focus on tours, land packages and things where they can actually make a living” and charge a commission.
Regardless of the fee, if agents fall by the wayside, consumers still risk losing out on one of the best ways to find cheap fares. In an informal comparison between online search sites and agents, The Times’ Seth Kugel determined that agents are better on price and service.