I had to do some market research this week on a couple of major high street names in the UK travel world.
While was sitting with the travel advisor and discussing my travel requirements - all imaginary, but she didn't know that, there was a lot of banter going on between the advisors and some heavy bartering apparently happening in a phone call to the company's head office.
A little bit of earwigging gained me some useful information for other travellers, and also some evidence of very sharp practices in the industry.
Let's say you want to take your family to Florida during the school holidays. How do you go about getting the best prices and discount offers?
I can tell you what NOT to do.
Don't get a load of brochures, wade through them then try to work out from the small print what is and what is not included. The brochure price is NOT what you pay! There are fuel surcharges, transfer costs, airport parking, room supplements, insurance and all sorts of things which will massively increase what you see. You may not be told about spot deals for free child places, special Disney passes, inclusive car hire or airport parking in the UK.
Nor is it a good plan to just Google for where you want to go and think that the price you are seeing is a fantastic bargain - ooooohh noooo
Do a sort of end-to-end list. Starting from your front door and ending back there, think of all the things that are going to comprise your holiday cost.
Include all the elements above, and also make a note of food and drinks because they will be relevant if you are looking at self-catering at one end, or an all-inclusive resort at the other - the all-inclusive label very often specifies 'local drinks' and that you have to eat in specific restaurants on site or pay a supplement to book in a more luxurious eating place.
What I overheard was this. The customer they were talking about had been in and been advised about some prices. They had gone online and found the same holiday cheaper. The head office wanted to know the exact website they used to ensure the comparison really was like for like. In this case the customer got discounted back to the web price but with the security of booking with a high street name.
OK so now I know the wrinkles, but the average person is not going to know that and is going to be paying full whack and putting money in the pockets of holiday companies in the UK when they could be saving and taking more spending cash on holiday with them, or upgrading to a better hotel.
By all means use the brochures to find out about areas, resorts and hotel specifications, but don't be seduced!
Maybe we need a little more regulation in the package travel industry so that the price you see really IS what you pay. I've heard and seen several consumer programmes on UK radio and TV recently who would agree.