29 secrets travel agents know that you don't

So-called ‘drip pricing’ can make it difficult to determine the total cost of airline tickets and vacation rentals.
Fair warning: Local wildlife can bring traffic to a standstill on Parks Highway 3 while you're driving through Denali National Park. Then again, that is part of this road's allure.
Slide 1 of 30: Holidaymakers across the globe may think they know all the tricks of the trade, but there's a whole wealth of well-kept travel secrets waiting to be unearthed. From accessing the best perks to money-saving tips, our 29 insider hacks will help you get the best-value vacation ever, whether you're booking online or in store.
Slide 2 of 30: Initially, always book the best room you can afford, but it's always worth asking your agent for an upgrade nearer to your departure time, or schmooze the front desk when you arrive at the hotel. Flag any special occasions such as honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays and there may be a bottle of fizz eagerly awaiting your arrival. See our full guide to bagging a hotel room upgrade here.
Slide 3 of 30: We all want the cheapest deal possible, but what travel agents want even more is your business – they don’t want you to trade with their competitors. The initial price they give you is rarely the lowest rate on their system as suppliers alter their rates almost daily for a variety of reasons. Tell the agent you’ve found it cheaper further afield; it’s likely they can and will sweeten the deal.
Slide 4 of 30: You don’t always have to visit your local travel agent’s branch – instead you can give them a run for their money over the phone. You’re more likely to play hard ball and secure worthwhile savings if you’re not face to face with somebody.
Slide 5 of 30: When haggling, it’s more effective to settle price-per-person than the overall cost, making the discount appear less than it is. For example, asking for $50/£50 per head to be knocked off your bill for a family of four is more appealing than proposing a $200/£200 reduction in the total price.
Slide 6 of 30: Many holiday providers will offer you a price promise, where they’ll match a competitor’s quote for a package holiday with the same dates, board and room type. This is where there are a few loopholes designed to catch you out. Grades of hotel rooms are often called different things: one agent may call it a 'Superior' room, another will label it 'Deluxe'. Visit the hotel's main website or give them a call and you may find both rooms are exactly the same and you can bag the cheaper-priced deal after all.
Slide 7 of 30: Yes, it's geeky, we know, but double-checking flight codes can mean you can get the same flight at a much lower price. Some flights have multiple flight numbers thanks to ‘codesharing’, where airlines assign their own flight numbers to a flight flown by another company. We found on one flight from London to New York – operated by British Airways but shared by American Airways and Iberia – that it cost $2,303.33 (£1,788.20) to fly with BA or AA and $1,264.76 (£981.94) to fly with Iberia. Same economy flight, just a $1,038.57 (£806.26) price difference...
Slide 8 of 30: It may seem obvious, but flying at off-peak times of the year, week and even the day can save you big money. Be flexible with your flying availability, and consider options which may mean you fly at an ungodly hour in the middle of the week. Furthermore, FareCompare claims that customers tend to get the best deals if they book on a Tuesday afternoon.
Slide 9 of 30: If you're in the UK most travel agents (whether high street or online) offer reputable protection by being members of ATOL or ABTA. Check your company of choice is a member, especially if they’re small and independent, as these schemes offer financial protection should the company or hotel go bust or your flights get cancelled. Unfortunately, similar schemes are not in place in the US, but you can seek professional and impartial advice from ASTA. On both sides of the Atlantic, paying with a credit card offers you better protection when circumstances are out of your hands.
Slide 10 of 30: With the motto ‘If it looks like a package, it should come with package-holiday cover’, the EU's Package Travel Directive, which came into force in July 2018, is designed to ensure everyone is protected if a company goes bust. Consumers who select a travel service from different suppliers via a single website, call centre or shop, are now entitled to protective privileges, obliging the vendor to take responsibility for any problems.
Slide 11 of 30: Just like with car insurance, there are plenty of price comparison sites for holidays, which will save you time and money as you scour for the best cruises, flights, hotels and package deals. (All holidays advertised are ATOL protected for UK travelers too.)
Slide 12 of 30: Sign up for handy newsletters from sites like fly4free, Scott’s Cheap Flights and Jack’s Flight Club UK who scan the web in search of hiccups and blips in booking systems that make usually extortionate flights much more affordable. Although you can’t always directly select a particular destination, the deals they find are just too good to refuse. US West Coast to Beijing for $369 (£284)? Or Manchester to the Azores islands for an unbelievable $53 (£40)? Yes, please!
Slide 13 of 30: Brits: you’ve tried price comparison sites, but have you tried agents on the other side of the Atlantic? Brits can often get more lucrative deals when booking with US companies. Cruises especially are often much less expensive stateside: check the operator will accept a UK credit card, calculate any international fees charged by your bank and examine the current exchange rate. If, after all this, you’re good to go, you may end up saving a small fortune.
Slide 14 of 30: For travel on an international carrier, visit their foreign website – britishairways.fr instead of britishairways.com, for example – and compare the price. As well as conversion, factor in a potential non-home currency transaction fee and you may find it’s still cheaper.
Slide 15 of 30: If purchasing travel insurance directly from a travel agent, ensure your policy covers everything you need – it’s no use having insurance that only covers you in Europe if you’re going to India – and it's your responsibility to check. Furthermore, a family package will be equally useless for a couple’s retreat and, for most, a plan that doesn’t cover medical emergencies abroad is not a plan worth having.
Slide 16 of 30: Deals can often appear too good to be true, and if you have a sly feeling something isn’t as it should be, ask for a breakdown of everything you will be paying for to dodge hidden fees and avoidable costs. If you want all-inclusive, make sure it’s actually all-inclusive and you’re not paying extra to use the sauna in the spa for example.
Slide 17 of 30: While tours and day trips are an incredible way to explore foreign lands, it’s always best to book them locally and not through your tour operator. Agents want to beef up their bookings, and these tourist traps will be extortionately priced and maybe not the best or most knowledgeable that your destination has to offer. Plus, it’s likely that local tours will show you unconventional spots away from the beaten track.
Slide 18 of 30: Many passengers feel obliged to tag along with the company-organized tours when boarding a cruise. However, these tours are often not inclusive and will have you paying big money when you can hop off the boat and do your own thing instead. If a tour is really what you’re after, most ports will have a whole range of tour operators selling their services for half the price. See our guide about what you need to know before going on a cruise here.
Slide 19 of 30: If your circumstances change and you can't travel on the original dates you booked you don't always have to cancel. Let your operator know asap and they can usually move the booking forward to months in the future. Usually, you incur a charge, but it’s often it's much less hassle than you think. If you’ve booked through an agent, they will only charge you the difference.
Slide 20 of 30: When booking through agents, be wary of any ‘all flights are non-refundable’ policies and check with the airline and hotels themselves if you need to cancel. Agents want to protect their commission, and so non-refundable clauses mean some companies can pocket the excess of any costs you’ve paid.
Slide 21 of 30: For group excursions, double-check the would-be price of each individual traveler if booked separately as you should be getting a discounted rate as you are giving the company more business. If you find you’re actually paying the same price or more for a group holiday in comparison to individual travel, negotiate a lower rate with your agent.
Slide 22 of 30: We would always recommend the unique experience of traveling alone, but it can sometimes total much more than you might expect. If you’re opting for an organized tour and not willing to share a room with your fellow travelers, it’s likely you’ll be charged extra for this luxury. However, tour operators are astute to current trends and more and more fixed dates are cropping up with solo explorers in mind. Often, they’re not advertised and are likely to be limited, so ask your agent for more information and they’ll help you find the best price.
Slide 23 of 30: You can purchase individual one-way trips on separate airlines, which can sometimes work out cheaper than a return flight – just compare the difference. However, if you’re traveling across international borders, both check-in and border control require proof of return, so bring all the required documentation with you on your journey.
Slide 24 of 30: There’s a theory that airlines – as with any other website you’ve been browsing – can use cookies to track your searching habits and hike up the prices because they know you’re interested. It's still not clear the extent to which companies use this information, so it’s always worth habitually clearing your cookies and history through your browser’s settings before you book.
Slide 25 of 30: Racked up a whole load of points on your credit card and don’t know what to do with them? A huge range of companies’ reward programs, such as American Express Membership Rewards and Citibank ThankYou, can be redeemed in exchange for air travel and hotel stays across the globe. Your loyalty towards your credit card could pay for your next city break!
Slide 26 of 30: For those who like online shopping, you’ll be no stranger to searching for valid discount codes. Sites like Groupon, Voucher Codes and vouchercloud can often have loads of hidden deals to trim a bit off the final price.
Slide 27 of 30: If you're booking a package with a big name operator it's worth checking there aren't other companies within the same group offering the same holiday at a lower price. A good example of this in the UK is First Choice and TUI. They're two brands owned by the same company and regularly have the same hotels in their repertoire but at slightly different prices. It's worth checking both websites as you can often shave some cash off the total price of your holiday.
Slide 28 of 30: Is your vacation a family affair? Some operators can get you a free child’s place for every two full-paying adults. All you have to do is ask!
Slide 29 of 30: Sometimes it’s worth booking a package deal, even if you don’t want to use the hotel. There are success stories detailing experiences where people have booked flights and a hotel room, and it’s cost less than just booking the flights on their own. Worth a shot...
Slide 30 of 30: Travel agents across the globe are usually only paid a basic wage, so they make most of their money from sales commission. Don’t want a package deal to a luxury Bali resort? Sadly if you don’t make your budget and preferences clear from the start, some may try and hard-sell an unwanted holiday to you. Write down on paper your expectations and a rough budget which you can keep referring back to.READ MORE: Airport secrets officials don't want you to know

Unlock the secrets of the travel trade

Holidaymakers across the globe may think they know all the tricks of the trade, but there’s a whole wealth of well-kept travel secrets waiting to be unearthed. From accessing the best perks to money-saving tips, our 29 insider hacks will help you get the best-value vacation ever, whether you’re booking online or in store.

You don’t always have to book the top grade room to get it

Initially, always book the best room you can afford, but it’s always worth asking your agent for an upgrade nearer to your departure time, or schmooze the front desk when you arrive at the hotel. Flag any special occasions such as honeymoons, anniversaries and birthdays and there may be a bottle of fizz eagerly awaiting your arrival. See our full guide to bagging a hotel room upgrade here.

Haggling may not be encouraged, but it is acceptable…

We all want the cheapest deal possible, but what travel agents want even more is your business – they don’t want you to trade with their competitors. The initial price they give you is rarely the lowest rate on their system as suppliers alter their rates almost daily for a variety of reasons. Tell the agent you’ve found it cheaper further afield; it’s likely they can and will sweeten the deal.

…and it can be easier to haggle over the phone…

You don’t always have to visit your local travel agent’s branch – instead you can give them a run for their money over the phone. You’re more likely to play hard ball and secure worthwhile savings if you’re not face to face with somebody.

…but don’t haggle over the overall cost

When haggling, it’s more effective to settle price-per-person than the overall cost, making the discount appear less than it is. For example, asking for $50/£50 per head to be knocked off your bill for a family of four is more appealing than proposing a $200/£200 reduction in the total price.

Always challenge price promises

Many holiday providers will offer you a price promise, where they’ll match a competitor’s quote for a package holiday with the same dates, board and room type. This is where there are a few loopholes designed to catch you out. Grades of hotel rooms are often called different things: one agent may call it a ‘Superior’ room, another will label it ‘Deluxe’. Visit the hotel’s main website or give them a call and you may find both rooms are exactly the same and you can bag the cheaper-priced deal after all.

How to crack codesharing

Yes, it’s geeky, we know, but double-checking flight codes can mean you can get the same flight at a much lower price. Some flights have multiple flight numbers thanks to ‘codesharing’, where airlines assign their own flight numbers to a flight flown by another company. We found on one flight from London to New York – operated by British Airways but shared by American Airways and Iberia – that it cost $2,303.33 (£1,788.20) to fly with BA or AA and $1,264.76 (£981.94) to fly with Iberia. Same economy flight, just a $1,038.57 (£806.26) price difference…

Flexibility and frugality go hand in hand

It may seem obvious, but flying at off-peak times of the year, week and even the day can save you big money. Be flexible with your flying availability, and consider options which may mean you fly at an ungodly hour in the middle of the week. Furthermore, FareCompare claims that customers tend to get the best deals if they book on a Tuesday afternoon.

The best agents offer protection

If you’re in the UK most travel agents (whether high street or online) offer reputable protection by being members of ATOL or ABTA. Check your company of choice is a member, especially if they’re small and independent, as these schemes offer financial protection should the company or hotel go bust or your flights get cancelled. Unfortunately, similar schemes are not in place in the US, but you can seek professional and impartial advice from ASTA. On both sides of the Atlantic, paying with a credit card offers you better protection when circumstances are out of your hands.

There’s a new EU law offering protection

With the motto ‘If it looks like a package, it should come with package-holiday cover’, the EU’s Package Travel Directive, which came into force in July 2018, is designed to ensure everyone is protected if a company goes bust. Consumers who select a travel service from different suppliers via a single website, call centre or shop, are now entitled to protective privileges, obliging the vendor to take responsibility for any problems.

Comparison sites are handy for analyzing the market…

Just like with car insurance, there are plenty of price comparison sites for holidays, which will save you time and money as you scour for the best cruises, flights, hotels and package deals. (All holidays advertised are ATOL protected for UK travelers too.)

…there are also flights going for pennies online

Sign up for handy newsletters from sites like fly4free, Scott’s Cheap Flights and Jack’s Flight Club UK who scan the web in search of hiccups and blips in booking systems that make usually extortionate flights much more affordable. Although you can’t always directly select a particular destination, the deals they find are just too good to refuse. US West Coast to Beijing for $369 (£284)? Or Manchester to the Azores islands for an unbelievable $53 (£40)? Yes, please!

Brits could be better off with American agents…

Brits: you’ve tried price comparison sites, but have you tried agents on the other side of the Atlantic? Brits can often get more lucrative deals when booking with US companies. Cruises especially are often much less expensive stateside: check the operator will accept a UK credit card, calculate any international fees charged by your bank and examine the current exchange rate. If, after all this, you’re good to go, you may end up saving a small fortune.

…and foreign websites can be cheaper for all

For travel on an international carrier, visit their foreign website – britishairways.fr instead of britishairways.com, for example – and compare the price. As well as conversion, factor in a potential non-home currency transaction fee and you may find it’s still cheaper.

Any insurance fine print must be thoroughly read

If purchasing travel insurance directly from a travel agent, ensure your policy covers everything you need – it’s no use having insurance that only covers you in Europe if you’re going to India – and it’s your responsibility to check. Furthermore, a family package will be equally useless for a couple’s retreat and, for most, a plan that doesn’t cover medical emergencies abroad is not a plan worth having.

Sometimes all-inclusive doesn’t include everything

Deals can often appear too good to be true, and if you have a sly feeling something isn’t as it should be, ask for a breakdown of everything you will be paying for to dodge hidden fees and avoidable costs. If you want all-inclusive, make sure it’s actually all-inclusive and you’re not paying extra to use the sauna in the spa for example.

Don’t be trapped by tours…

While tours and day trips are an incredible way to explore foreign lands, it’s always best to book them locally and not through your tour operator. Agents want to beef up their bookings, and these tourist traps will be extortionately priced and maybe not the best or most knowledgeable that your destination has to offer. Plus, it’s likely that local tours will show you unconventional spots away from the beaten track.

…and cruise tours aren’t mandatory either

Many passengers feel obliged to tag along with the company-organized tours when boarding a cruise. However, these tours are often not inclusive and will have you paying big money when you can hop off the boat and do your own thing instead. If a tour is really what you’re after, most ports will have a whole range of tour operators selling their services for half the price. See our guide about what you need to know before going on a cruise here.

You can move your travel dates

Cancellation fees aren’t always as high as you think

When booking through agents, be wary of any ‘all flights are non-refundable’ policies and check with the airline and hotels themselves if you need to cancel. Agents want to protect their commission, and so non-refundable clauses mean some companies can pocket the excess of any costs you’ve paid.

Holidaymakers can end up paying more in group bookings

For group excursions, double-check the would-be price of each individual traveler if booked separately as you should be getting a discounted rate as you are giving the company more business. If you find you’re actually paying the same price or more for a group holiday in comparison to individual travel, negotiate a lower rate with your agent.

Traveling solo doesn’t always come with a supplement

We would always recommend the unique experience of traveling alone, but it can sometimes total much more than you might expect. If you’re opting for an organized tour and not willing to share a room with your fellow travelers, it’s likely you’ll be charged extra for this luxury. However, tour operators are astute to current trends and more and more fixed dates are cropping up with solo explorers in mind. Often, they’re not advertised and are likely to be limited, so ask your agent for more information and they’ll help you find the best price.

Sometimes, one-way is the way to go

You can purchase individual one-way trips on separate airlines, which can sometimes work out cheaper than a return flight – just compare the difference. However, if you’re traveling across international borders, both check-in and border control require proof of return, so bring all the required documentation with you on your journey.

Clear your cookies just in case

There’s a theory that airlines – as with any other website you’ve been browsing – can use cookies to track your searching habits and hike up the prices because they know you’re interested. It’s still not clear the extent to which companies use this information, so it’s always worth habitually clearing your cookies and history through your browser’s settings before you book.

Points can be put to good use

Racked up a whole load of points on your credit card and don’t know what to do with them? A huge range of companies’ reward programs, such as American Express Membership Rewards and Citibank ThankYou, can be redeemed in exchange for air travel and hotel stays across the globe. Your loyalty towards your credit card could pay for your next city break!

Discount codes are available – but you’ll have to dig

For those who like online shopping, you’ll be no stranger to searching for valid discount codes. Sites like Groupon, Voucher Codes and vouchercloud can often have loads of hidden deals to trim a bit off the final price.

Same companies, different rates

If you’re booking a package with a big name operator it’s worth checking there aren’t other companies within the same group offering the same holiday at a lower price. A good example of this in the UK is First Choice and TUI. They’re two brands owned by the same company and regularly have the same hotels in their repertoire but at slightly different prices. It’s worth checking both websites as you can often shave some cash off the total price of your holiday.

Kids can go free

Is your vacation a family affair? Some operators can get you a free child’s place for every two full-paying adults. All you have to do is ask!

The value of package deals shouldn’t be underestimated

Sometimes it’s worth booking a package deal, even if you don’t want to use the hotel. There are success stories detailing experiences where people have booked flights and a hotel room, and it’s cost less than just booking the flights on their own. Worth a shot…

Some agents will try the hard sell

Travel agents across the globe are usually only paid a basic wage, so they make most of their money from sales commission. Don’t want a package deal to a luxury Bali resort? Sadly if you don’t make your budget and preferences clear from the start, some may try and hard-sell an unwanted holiday to you. Write down on paper your expectations and a rough budget which you can keep referring back to.

READ MORE: Airport secrets officials don’t want you to know

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