Yes, I do prefer to use a travel agent when they can offer me a package with lower costs or hassles than I can do myself. But then you get the travel agents who are not interested in the business or those that give you problems every step of the way and you say...Never Again!
As Lewis Carroll said in Alice in Wonderland, begin at the beginning and continue until you reach the end.
The plan to go to Morocco was a problem from the beginning. It was never on my bucket list of destinations until I saw an attractive itinerary and package in the newspaper. And then another ...and another. I made enquiries but either the package wasn’t available for the dates I required or the price had mysteriously gone up from the very attractive one in the newspaper. I solicited quotes from travel companies and either the prices were too high for my budget or the travel agents were not interested in making minor adjustments to the package and went silent on me.
Fast forward a few months, I then found an agent who offered to beat a written quote I had received from another agent. Instead when she saw how cheap they were –as they were a travel wholesaler –she made a private deal with them to give them more business, upped their price and sent it to me with her mark-up. They, on the other hand didn’t want to deal directly with me anymore as she had convinced them not to. I expressed my disappointment in her ethics to her and complained on their Facebook page about their service. They deleted my post...and blocked me.
Fast forward a few months again, and I saw another attractive itinerary and package in the newspaper. I made enquiries. It looked good. I expressed my interest in undertaking the trip 2 months later. The travel agent agreed. After numerous follow-ups from me she sent me an invoice showing the total amount due. It still looked good but as she was a private operator –with no references from Google, I wanted to meet with her. She offered to meet me at my premises instead. Warning bells in the distance?
I insisted that I wanted to meet her at her premises. She finally agreed. I had a hard time finding the office. I found the address on the GPS and rang the bell. The lady who answered didn’t know anything about a travel agency there. I phoned the agent. She said that she was at the back of the same building. I went to the back entrance. She was sharing an office with another agency. The premises looked dirty, dingy and make-shift. The warning bells sounded nearer...but the package still looked so attractive.
We decided to go ahead after speaking to the agent but made it clear that the air ticket portion should be paid via credit card so that we could get our complimentary travel insurance. I would pay the balance once the air tickets were confirmed. Almost two weeks later, there was still no charge on the credit card for tickets. We followed up with her again and again. She kept on making promises she couldn’t keep. After numerous follow-ups, she said that the credit card machine wasn’t working so she had paid from her own pocket and we should EFT the rest of the amount on the invoice. We asked for the tickets. Eventually we got them. The ticket price looked different from what we had agreed to but we figured that she was getting special rates from the airline as she had bragged that she used to be their Head of Sales and Marketing.
We asked for the rest of the documents. As with the tickets, we were promised that we would get it the next day, the following day etc etc. Over-promise and under-deliver seemed to be her motto. We finally got the documents exactly one week before the scheduled departure date. We were given 2 nights short and a check-out from the final hotel more than 24 hours before our flight was due to depart. By now the warning bells had turned into a full-blown siren but it was too late. We had already paid –and had visas and air tickets.
We brought the discrepancies to her attention. She phoned me two days later, ranting and raving that I was a difficult customer. Oops, forgive me if I was entitled to what I paid for. I accused her of being an amateur who didn’t know what she was doing. Then she accused me of being unethical because I didn’t bring to her attention that she didn’t include the airport taxes. I looked at the invoice again. It showed airfare portion + land portion, which were both different from what was initially quoted...but not by the amount of the airport taxes. I had paid the amount clearly marked “Total Amount Due”. I’m not sure how her error translated into me being unethical. I got a bigger shock to find out that I still had to fork out more money. The special deal, I thought I had got, was really not so special anymore. I would have paid the same, had I gone with any other agent –and received much better service and professionalism.
Usually the difficult part was deciding which agent to go with or whether to DIY. If you decided on the former, once you’d spoken to the agent, they handled everything from there. In my case, that’s where my problems began.
Moral of the story
Do-it-yourself...or use a reputable travel agent. Oh...and don’t ignore the warning bells.
We flew to Morocco apprehensively, not knowing whether there would be someone to meet us at the airport or not or whether we would have accommodation or a tour, but fortunately once we got there, everything worked out and we had a great time.