Those that know me, appreciate that I work long hours most days of the week and while I thoroughly enjoy what I do, I do need to get away and recharge the batteries from time to time.
Like the postman who goes on a walk for his holidays, I like to travel despite being in a plane on average 4 times a week. I do not have time to sit and plan a trip etc and so I have always used a travel agent to advise me. (I rely on an insurance broker as well for my insurance needs.)
For many years I used Qantas travel but they closed the one near my office and I went with the consultant that I trusted and who had looked after me so well into the CBD of Melbourne. This was not as convenient as it was further to travel and parking was awful but I stuck with it as the service and advice was so good. Qantas in their wisdom closed that down as well, no doubt due to competition brought on by the internet.
I then looked around and found that there was a Flight Centre nearby. I used them a few times but it was not the same as it was always left to the last minute and things did not run as smooth was when Fiona Williams of Qantas was involved.
My last trip was to a continent I had never been to before and so I needed real advice. I was accompanied me on my first visit to discuss the trip with my daughter. We were given a few brochures and had a discussion as to the options. One of the things that jumped out at my daughter was a particular tour and we asked if we could book that as well and we were advised that this could only be booked at the venue on the day. This was in February last year and payments were made in March, June and the final one at the end of September.
After a lot of chasing I only got the tickets etc about 2 weeks before we were to travel and in this I found a note to say that the excursions had to be pre-booked. I went straight back in person to the travel agent to find that all the spots on this and a second excursion that I would have booked had I even known of its existence were full.
As I was unlikely to go to this area again in my lifetime I advised the travel agent to reschedule the trip till another time when the excursions were available. The only advise I got was that it was too late and that a 100% cancellation fee would apply.
Meanwhile, my PA not knowing any of this had come to her own conclusion that Flight Centre, or at least this store, was not right for her had started to work with another travel agent nearby and was finding her very good.
Frustrated and not knowing what to do I rang her for advice and she suggested I ring the customer care area of her parent firm. I did this only to find that the two companies were owned by the same parent and that it was not customer care but risk management.
At the end of the day, I had no option to do the trip but I was very disappointed at the treatment and while the tour operators were able to do some things for us, a couple of things that my children wanted to do were booked out. When I asked the tour operator I found that the excursions were only filled 6 days before I was given my tickets and if I had received them even 2 months after final payment I would have been able to remedy the wrong advice and get on the excursions. Interestingly, the last people to get on the excursions booked on line and did not start the process until after I had paid for my tickets!
Upon my return to Australia, I arranged to meet my lawyer to discuss the options but I knew it would be time consuming and costly. About 3 weeks later and before my lawyer had started the process the risk manager contacted me and offered compensation and asked what I sought. I gave it some thought and felt that I could not seek compensation for the services rendered and that the only fair thing was the commission received by them for organising the trip.
This was completely rejected and a very modest monetary amount was offered as a credit to be used at another Flight Centre location. My PA wrote back saying that neither her nor I wished to deal with Flight Centre but wished to deal with another company in the same company stable near to us that she had developed trust in but again this was rejected. It was take the offer or leave it.
I was then confronted with going back to my lawyer or getting on with life. I chose the latter. I will use the amount to fund airline tickets with no advice component and only use it if it comparable to the online price. We will not use Flight Centre nor any other company in their stable of travel agents again.
So what are the lessons learned. 1. Some clients prefer the advice model but expect to receive accurate and timely advice. 2. Genuine customer complaints should be looked after by people with compassion and not in-house lawyers working under the title of risk management. 3. If the customer is prepared to compromise and accept less than a fair settlement, give some ground and do not be completely bloody minded.
The internet is here, the travel agency business has been changed for good by websites like Webjet and all the hotel booking sites. Insurance is now facing its turn with Choosi, iSelect and now the new heavy weight CompareTheMarket which is heavily advertising.
More than ever the true value of an insurance broker as a trusted adviser assisting with risk management, business continuity, policy selection and claims at claims time needs to be conveyed and deliver on.
I do not think I can do without a good travel agent. I am yet to find one! Insured’s need a good insurance broker more!