Holiday FAQ

Common questions from our clients

What is the difference between a travel agent and a tour operator?

A tour operator is a company that actually puts a holiday together, taking all the various elements such as flights, transfers and accommodation, and ‘packaging’ them to sell. A travel agency acts as a retail outlet (normally in a prominent position such as the high street) to sell the packages offered by the many tour operators.

People often wonder how travel agents make money. Can you explain how RWT earns its money?

Like all travel agents, we earn commission from the suppliers that we use, and not from any fees charged to our clients. A hotel, for instance, will sell a room at a particular rate, but will allow a travel agent to book that room and earn a small commission from the sale. A tour operator, such as Hayes and Jarvis or Crystal Holidays, will work in the same way – promoting a holiday at a certain price in their brochure, but allowing a travel agent to book a holiday on behalf of a client, and then earn a commission from the sale.

If tour operators pay commission to travel agents, is it cheaper to bypass the travel agent and book direct?

Not normally. Most tour operators have a fixed brochure price and will charge that price whether clients book direct, or through an agent.

What are the advantages of booking through a travel agent?

A good travel agent will be able to offer informed, unbiased advice and to recommend a holiday to suit your exact requirements. They will provide information about your chosen destination, as well as the experiences of previous clients. They will also take on the often long, and sometimes frustrating task of trying to find an available holiday to match specific dates and budgetary restraints.

Unfortunately many people have had experiences of poor service from some of the high street travel agency chains, and perhaps don’t appreciate the benefits of an informed agent who is prepared to spent plenty of time researching a holiday and discussing things with the client.

Do all travel agents offer unbiased advice?

Unfortunately not all travel agents are truly independent and therefore the information that you receive from some agents will never be totally unbiased. The travel agency chain Going Places, for instance, is owned by Airtours, and agency staff are rewarded more (through a bonus scheme) for selling Airtours holidays, as opposed to holidays from other operators. This is no problem, unless of course the staff are trying to tailor your requirements to fit an Airtours holiday, rather than offering you a holiday from another tour operator than may better suit your needs. Incidentally Lunn Poly are owned by Thomson, and Thomas Cook and JMC are part of the same group. It makes commercial sense for these agencies to actively sell the holidays of tour operators owned by the same company, over those offered by other operators.

The independent travel trade is currently lobbying government to ensure that the general public are made aware of any links that may exist between travel agents and the holidays that they are selling. A new law may require agents to explain to clients about their links with any tour operators, so that everyone knows whether ‘unbiased’ advice is really being offered.

Does a ‘tailor-made’ holiday cost more than a ‘package’ holiday?

The phrase ‘tailor made’ has connotations of high prices, but this needn’t be the case. A holiday that is tailored to suit your exact requirements can actually eliminate parts of a ‘package’ that you may not require, and may therefore be a more efficient way of booking.

Most tour operators have now reacted to the demands of clients requiring more flexibility in their holiday arrangements, by offering the option to ‘pick and choose’ the elements of the holiday that the clients require.

A family has been recommended a particular hotel in Italy. How is it best for them to go about booking a holiday based at this accommodation?

Again, a good independent travel agent should be able to assist in putting together a holiday for this family. The agent may well contact the hotel direct, and then suggest booking flights and car hire through specialist companies who offer competitive rates. The travel agent will need to be given the chosen travel dates, ideal rooming arrangements, length of stay, and details of any other destinations that the family may want to visit during the holiday. A budget to work to is always useful.

Is it worth waiting until the last moment to book a holiday to obtain a better price?

Fifteen years ago, many tour operators contracted more holidays than they could ever have hoped to sell, and this meant that there was an ‘excess’ of holidays available last minute, often at discounted prices.

Tour operators are generally more efficient now, and only feature the quantity of holidays that they expect that they can sell fairly easily. Because of this, there are fewer last minute offers, and it is now quite likely that by waiting until a few weeks before you hope to travel, that there will be none of your chosen holidays available (even at full brochure price).

If you really are looking for a last minute bargain, you need to have an open mind as to your destination, and if possible, your dates of travel.

The national press is full of news on how the Internet will change our lives. Is it having an effect on the travel industry?

There is no doubt that the Internet will play a very large part in all of our lives, as for some it does already.

Most good travel agencies will use it as a great source of information and see it as an asset, and not a threat, and will be happy to offer assistance to clients wishing to make some of their own travel arrangements on the Internet.

I would add however that a recent article in the Times newspaper finishes with the following quotation ….”In this age of Internet reservations and direct bookings, it is still usually cheaper (and more satisfying) to use a good travel agent”.

What would be your top hints for booking a perfect holiday?

Do lots of research about your chosen holiday / destination, either using a travel agent, or via the Internet or guide books from the library.

Don’t be fooled by most cheap offers. You really do get what you pay for when booking a holiday.

Find out about the smaller, specialist tour operators that might feature your chosen destination. They often offer a more personalised service and a more in-depth knowledge of the product that they are selling than the larger operators, and their staff will generally have visited their featured hotels and resorts. This first-hand knowledge can be very valuable when choosing somewhere to suit your requirements.

Try to start planning your holiday as early as possible – maybe 12 months ahead, especially if you are thinking of travelling during school holiday periods.

Use a good independent travel agent. Their knowledge and the experiences of their clients could well save you time and money, and booking your holiday will prove to be as relaxing as the holiday itself

How can I be sure that money paid to any travel agent will be safe?

The industry is strictly regulated by government legislation to protect money paid by clients to travel companies.

Our industry is unusual in that large amounts of money are paid by clients up to 10 weeks prior to the receipt of any services, and this does leave a period of over two months when the client is exposed, should the company with which they have booked cease trading for any reason.Legislation stipulates that any travel company (travel agency or tour operator) must provide financial protection for their clients. This is allowed in one of two ways:

  1.  The company must lodge a substantial financial ‘bond’ via a trade association such as ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents). In the event of the travel company collapsing, the money from the bond is used to either offer clients a refund of any monies paid, or to pay suppliers so that the clients’ holidays can proceed as booked. The amount of bond is related to the turnover of the company concerned.
  2. The alternative is for the travel company to operate a ‘trust’ or ‘client’ account, into which all clients’ monies are paid. These funds can only be released by the travel company either to another company that provides some financial protection to the clients, or after the client has completed the holiday and returned to the UK. These trust accounts are normally monitored.

Is it true that all travel companies selling holiday packages that include flights need to offer ATOL protection?

When you book a holiday that includes a flight as part of that package, then the company that you book through should have an ATOL licence and should issue with an ATOL certificate as soon as you pay for the holiday. This certificate confirms the outline details of your holiday and gives you instructions about what to do in the unlikley event that the travel companyy goes bust, either before or during your holiday.

When you book a holiday through our travel agency, your contract is with the tour operator that we make the booking through and the ATOL certificate will be issued by that company and forwarded to you as soon as you have made the booking. We will also confirm the name of the tour operator and their ATOL licence number on the documentation that we send to you.

For more information about how the ATOL scheme works, please visit http://www.caa.co.uk/.