Travel agents vs online travel agents, let’s do the maths

Can an online travel agent (OTA) beat a flesh and bone travel agent? We bust out our calculators to find out!

So here's the deal. We want to see if a travel agent can beat the offer of an OTA to get us from Sydney to Los Angeles.

We head on over to Skyscanner. Skyscanner's great. You can filter results only displaying direct flights, limiting layover times and you can look at prices across the whole month to check to see which days are the cheapest to travel.

First problem: we've accidentally selected Sydney, Canada instead of Sydney, Australia because of the placement of the options and our big, clumsy fingers, so we have to go back a screen and input details again. We don't want to be one of THOSE people who only realise their booking mistake at the last minute.

From the listed options we decide to go with Fiji Airways because it's the cheapest and is part of 'oneworld' so we'll get points. We select this and then are sent to Aunt Betty's website. Pretty easy, but we're pretty familiar with Skyscanner.

Because I read reviews of pretty much anything I purchase these days (and yes, I know reviewers tend to be either really happy or really unhappy, so I take each review with a good portion of salt), I check out what folk say about Aunt Betty. The company looks to be Australian which is a big tick, but folk don't seem to be too happy online with their Aunt Betty experiences.

The process so far has taken a little over fifteen minutes because I get caught up reading the reviews. But then disaster strikes when my toddler swats my phone closing my web app. I go in again, but cannot find the same Aunt Betty option.

Back into Skyscanner and I'm faster this time. The cheapest option is still Fiji Airways but now with eDreams. Not Australian, though, and reviews are also not great so I dismiss them (plus Aunt Betty was cheaper).

I then decide to go direct to Aunt Betty's website. I input the data again. The site's a little slower, but just as easy to use. When the results appear though, while Fiji Airways is still the cheaper option, the price shown is a good $300 more than what was first shown via Skyscanner. I take a screenshot with my phone.

All up, I've spent about 30-45 minutes online.

The next day, I'm at the bakery up the road, waiting for the poppyseed scrolls to come out of the oven. I decide to nip in to the travel agent next door.

Mike is friendly, writes down the names of all travelling and jots down some details: the price we found online, those dates of travel and our frequent flyer program. He then asks if we're flexible with dates.

He comes back with a price that's not only $200 cheaper, but because we've been talking about how we were tossing up between a tropical getaway and a trip to visit friends in the US, he suggests a stopover in Fiji.

I had thought about this, but couldn't see how to do this easily online so simply discarded the idea. The price for flights goes up a bit due to airport taxes, but Mike offers to waive the credit card fee. He asks if we'd like to book accommodation, but I'll save that comparison for another story.

All up with Mike has been about 15 minutes, or the length of time it takes to wait for a poppyseed scroll.

If the first Aunt Betty option was all good to go, I'd have saved $100 more than what Mike came up with, but I feel infinitely more secure booking with him than with an OTA.

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