In many ways how you get where you are going is just as important as where you are going, after all it sets the tone for the trip. Long haul flights are an ordeal enough without anything going wrong. It’s also why travel agents make a living doing the heavy lifting for you. If you find a good one they can accommodate your crazy requests and get you where you need to go with a minimum of hassle.
A bad one can have you stuck in transit for a day between flights, on old aircraft sitting next to the screaming baby aisle or right next to the never ending traffic of the toilets. At worst, dictating the way you travel. A travel agent had a “does not compute” moment when I mentioned that I am travelling to Europe for at least several years without a full itinerary, I had planned ahead 18 months and knew roughly which countries I would be in, they simply couldn’t think in terms of travel for that duration. I think they were mostly cryhurt I didn’t want to book with them then and there to fly to every single city when Europe has a fantastic rail network already.
If you are just starting out and considering planning your own trips I would say shop around travel agents and get some itineraries as a guide first. If you are being especially sneaky see what different companies say about each others draft itineraries when comparing. I avoided being sent on a crazy series of stop overs and connections the last time due to getting a second opinion of a very helpful travel agent. After taking one look at the proposed itinerary she asked what the rival agent I had been dealing with prior had been smoking.
My requirements to Italy last time were flying Emirates all the way, minimal stopovers, on the roomy and comfortable a380s as much as possible in an aisle seat not to close to the galley or the toilets and a friend of a friend at FlightCenter made it happen. A good agent will also help you sort out any missed flights and connections along the way (time difference permitting) thankfully it wasn’t something I had to experience. This time I have decided to plan my own travel and as risky as that is I’m glad I read up on a few things first.
I was planning to start my journey in Porto, Portugal, the flights I had been looking at connected from England’s Heathrow via Gatwick to there. I assumed at first it might have been a switch over within the two terminals, maybe a rapid-transit between. Nope. Not even close. Your options are landing at Heathrow, processing through customs, (even if you are transiting you still need a transit visa as you leave airport grounds to connect) collecting your checked baggage, catching a bus, train or underground ranging between £50 to £5 and taking up to several hours depending on traffic conditions etc in whatever time window you have to make the connecting flight. Even with the proposed 3 hours between flights that seemed like the most fail idea ever.
After reading a few more experiences from others about this it sounded like a complete nightmare and I would avoid it like the plague if at all possible, after running several further searches on skyscanner I found that I could fly directly from Auckland, New Zealand via Dubai’s Emirates hub with less than a 2 hour wait in the glorious Dubai Airport and then on to Lisbon
with only the difference of $300NZD for the same price. (updated pricing alerts thanks to sky scanner made me so glad I had not booked yet the ticket price for the same flight as it just dropped by $300) Lets do the maths, £50 at its most expensive (and convenient) equals $98 NZD, so that brings the difference down to $200, the cost to travel up to Porto is €25 or $38 NZD but I would have spent that anyway going from Porto to Lisbon, I might even stop in Aviero (the Venice of Portugal) on the way. After thinking about the extra cost of the ticket versus the up to $100 NZD travel fees and hassle of navigating the Heathrow / Gatwick problem I decided I would much rather have a hassle free flight and connection, on better aircraft with better service, even if it meant travelling up to Porto from Lisbon then back down the coast later. Going with the flow is essential to keeping that zen of travel mindset. Also flying economy on Emirates is much like flying premium economy with other carriers, paying several hundred extra to get me to my destination sanity intact is worth it in my opinion.
I am also quietly cursing I forgot to claim my miles from last year flying Emirates which have now expired, any perks you can get add up, so sign up to all those air miles plans with carriers you are likely to use again.
I have been using the excellent SkyScanner app and skyscanner.com website, it simplifies the process in searching for a flight, gives you the ability to watch-list flights and filter by carrier, duration and cost. I’m not getting anything to endorse either Emirates or Skyscanner (although that would be marvellous) I quite happily endorse a company who’s products or service is outstanding and Emirates most certainly deserves its reputation. Air travel is often the most costly part of the trip (in one chunk anyway) the urge to economise wherever possible is a strong one but sometimes the overall negative aspects of the experience can far outweigh small increases in cost with picking a quality carrier and better route. As consumers now in the information age we are capable of doing everything just as well as an agent, better if you consider you already know what you want as a client. The resources of booking and flight agregators on the internet put the power directly into the hands of the consumer.
In conclusion if you know the route you are taking and how flexible your plans are you might be better off planning it out yourself you can customise where you like rather than the agent trying to second guess what you are after, which dates are flexible and if budget or a smooth trip is the primary concern, you could even run it past an agent for anything you might have missed to make sure, there isn’t any obligation for you to have to book with them, they are there solely for advice.
Conversely if you are happy to let someone else handle it or you have a number of stops and limited time then use a travel agent as they may be able to see seats on flights and make bookings unavailable to the rest of us. But absolutely shop around and read up no matter what you choose.