Are Travel Agencies Evil?

I've long hated travel agencies and found them useless in most cases.  For years I've been forced to use a travel agency for business travel and it irks me as the agency and it's agents are often clueless and tend to be more of an obstruction to getting to my end point.

Om recent years I've learned one of the benefits of travel agencies is mixed-carrier itineraries.   Unfortunately you can't book an itinerary with multiple carriers on any airline's website so you're left to the travel agencies of the world.  So I've used Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia a number of times over recent years as well as some other ones occasionally. 

I swore off Orbitz a few years ago when they refused to instant-ticket a reservation that was valid and by the time they went to ticket, the fare was gone.  Through that process I learned that when Orbitz see's a spike in a particular routing/city-pair, they stop automatically issuing tickets.  This can be a disaster if you're trying to jump on a mistake fare. 

I was then left with Travelocity and Expedia.  Neither really excites me, but my gut says Expedia is likely the better of the two to trust.  Travelocity, is a division of SABRE and SABRE has always left a bad taste in my mouth.  Don't ask me to explain it, it's a gut thing.  I recently booked one of those lovely Yangon, Myanmar fares for next year.  Unfortuantely for me I booked it on Travelocity since it gave me the option of picking three preferred carriers which was helping easse the booking process.  

As we all know, SWISS canceled the flight segment in question.  However, they didn't refund the tickets, it was Travelocity who refunded the tickets.  The issuing agent has to be the one to refund the ticket, an airline can only cancel a leg.  In theory, when SWISS canceled the leg, Travelocity should have found alternate arragements, but they didn't.  Why?  Because they didn't want to eat the difference in cost.  So, instead, they refunded the tickets and are blaming the airline.  

It's an interesting issue and one that the DOT has been made aware of, so we'll see how it plays out.  But, I'm back to my thinking of how evil travel agencies are.   That said, I'm not saying all travel agents are bad, as I know there are a lot of good ones, but the large online and corporate ones are often the worst as they have no interest to really help you.


BWell_SoCal November 8, 2012 at 12:51 pm

In my line of work, having a personal travel agent is invaluable for complex international travel itineraries or when there is a high likelihood of travel dates constantly changing on short notice. They are also extremely useful when communications are spotty and it's difficult to stay connected to the airline via phone or online. When I'm working on offshore oil facilities I'm usually working 16-hour days and dealing with the airlines is the last thing I want to do on my downtime and with spotty communications.

Ray Gregory May 23, 2013 at 05:06 am

I'm not sure why you expect an agency to reimburse you for an airline schedule change. In the event of an ASC, it's usually the responsibility of the ticket's issuing carrier to arrange alternate flights. A travel agency can contact them on your behalf to intiate this, or Travelocity can even reschedule on their own if there is a procedural policy in place from the issuing carrier. SWISS may have said the agency has to refund, but that is really at the airline's discretion. Many airline reservation agents will just go ahead and refund even if an agency issued the ticket. After all, the ticket was plated on the carrier, the carrier holds the money, it was the carrier's sked change, so why pile on more work to the agency that works gratis for them on discount fares, and may make some commission on the more expensive tickets.