Travel agents, and why I am reluctant to use them again

I am not often one to publically slate particular places or companies, but I feel that with experience I have been through recently. It is totally warranted. Also, in the day and age of online review sites, lots of people name and shame certain companies all the time. I do not intend to be nasty, and I’ve tried to keep finer details of my problem as anonymous as I can.

 

Normally when I travel, I will book online to get the best deal. When I knew I was travelling back home, I did have a look around for cheap deals, but the busyness of work, I thought that I’d like to use a travel agent to take the stress out of the searching, and to be able to have everything on one through ticket, through a company that you can easily contact. This was not simple in the end so it turns out.
I initially found some quotes online, and took them to a few travel agents, and got prices, but settled on using STA TRAVEL. I’ve heard mixed reviews about them as a company. Some people have had horrendous problems, and others none. My main problem with the branch that I dealt with, was with their staff, who were unhelpful, patronising and quite frankly didn’t appear too much about the travel process at all.

STA stand for Start The Adventure, and was initially branded as a travel agent for students. It now often advertises doing most of your travelling before you hit 35 (why?!). It does offer competitive prices however.

 

In order to make this post as concise as possible, I will do a bit of a timeline, to give a general idea of what I had to deal with.
January 2013: Flights booked with STA (online via email) – paid $2500 (NZD)
Two-three weeks later (roughly): I get a call from an agent to say one of my flights on my return journey had been changed, and I would only been stopping for 2 hours, rather than 3. This didn’t cause me any concern at the time.
Following this, I heard nothing, apart from being emailed an updated itinerary, and flight ticket. So I got on with the exciting planning process, of booking accommodation and activities to do.
13 days before I was due to travel, I get a call from a different travel agent, but from the same STA travel branch.
The following is a synopsis of our conversation:
·        My flight from NZ to Australia was “cancelled” (the words cancelled were used)
·        The options offered to me where to fly from a different airport in NZ and connect from there, but I would have to meet the costs of flying to the other airport, as well as overnight accommodation, the second option was to fly the day before to Australia, and get my connecting flight from there the next morning. Again, I would have to meet the costs of accommodation and so called “Australian Air Tax”. The last option was to get a full refund, and rebook my tickets.
I soon eliminated option three, as I am well aware that trying to book a flight so close to departing would cost more, and it was likely I wouldn’t be able to stop over at my intended location. The second option was initially chucked out the window, as I really didn’t have the time off work, and the Australian air tax and accommodation costs were not something I was willing to meet, nor had I budgeted for them at this late stage of my trip. So I decided to fly from a different airport in New Zealand, meeting the cost of the airfare, which I was assured would only be $30 (according to the travel expert from STA). I don’t think I have ever got an internal flight for $30.
Initially an internal flight would have cost $200 single, but I managed to find a flight for $100 before my flight changes were confirmed, which was my own fault. However, when the flight changes were confirmed, I casually enquired as to whether my bags would be checked through from New Zealand to South Korea (Via Australia). The answer was no, as the flight was with a non-code share airline. On looking at the details, I realised that that gave me a grand total of 90 minutes to get off the flight, grab my bags and re check in. This did cause me concern as 90 minutes is not enough time at all.
Over a period of a few days I did my own investigations with different airlines involved in my travel plans, and found out that the flight from NZ to Australia was not cancelled, but that the overall codeshare airline involved had decided not to use that particular flight. When I queried this with the agent, did not get a response.
I also called another airline, which I could potentially have taken as option two. They did not recommend that I use a flight worth a 90 minute connection time.
I later went back and asked the agent manager (after all my shouting, I got contacted by the store manager who offered me a $50 travel voucher as a ‘gesture of goodwill’).
I sent about 25 emails to the manager over a period of one week with very specific questions about my flights and additional costs, none of which were answered fully.
In the end I reverted to the second option of flying out a day earlier, and had to pay $140 Australian air tax (- the $50 voucher), take another day of work (unpaid) and pay for accommodation.
When I investigated the cost of Australian arrivals tax, all I could find was a cost on the Australian government website of $55, not $140!

STA Travel caused me a lot of stress and hassle, and didn’t even help me gain the correct tourist visa prior to travelling, and I will not be using their services again.

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