Here at Thrifty Towers, we’re planning our first vacation in a loooong time. Later this year we’re flying from London to San Francisco. We’re going to hire a car, drive down to Arizona and fly back to the UK from Phoenix. We used to live, work and study in Phoenix, so we’re really excited about catching up with our old chums and dining at our favourite restaurant in the world again.
You’ll be pleased – if not entirely surprised – to note that this operation is to be executed with the requisite lashings of financial chutzpah. My husband, who is self-employed, won a training grant to go to California and embark on a highly-specialised, week-long course there. Not bad, eh? The grant covers his tuition and flights, along with a week’s worth of accommodation and food costs. This has slashed the cost of our holiday. He’s flying out before me; I’m going to meet him in San Francisco the day after the course ends. Then we’ll fly back together, a week later.
I tried to book our flights and car hire online, but didn’t get very far. Flying into one airport and out of another, with three different flight dates, meant that I spent an age scribbling prices and codes down on scraps of paper, while tapping my fingers irritably as the various flight sites’ price options loaded. The car hire was a challenge too: a couple of the companies will let you pick up the car in one state and drop it off in another, but with various stipulations and with various additional charges whacked on. I must admit, the prices quoted weren’t particularly attractive either. Not unless we wanted to fly from London to San Francisco via Germany (hello! wrong direction!) and New England.
I hummed and hawed. My husband phoned from work to say he would have a go. Just minutes later, he called back to tell me that the flights and car had all been booked! What’s more, the prices he had found beat my online “bargains” by quite a hefty margin.
His secret? It’s a simple one: he popped into the independent travel agency across the street from his workshop. The travel agent tapped our dates and airports into her computer, and came up with prices for direct flights and cross-state car hire that knocked the socks off anything I’d been able to come up with online. Easy peasy – job done.
I can’t remember the last time I went into a travel agency to book a holiday. Tunisia in 2002, perhaps? Since then, it’s been internet bookings all the way. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that online “bargains” are no longer all that they were cracked up to be.
Travel agents rule!