When I started blogging in 2005 I never imagined it will lead to anything. But it did, I literally went places with travel blogging. Along the way personal trips went down as I was constantly on one FAM or another and I am deeply thankful for that, because in the end travel costs money. On my blogging trips I am a pampered princess where visas arrive on their own and I just have to show up! However, I felt brave this year and booked a personal trip to Prague. I helped a friend book a trip and I am in the process of booking another personal trip. So here is what I have to say about when I book holidays on my own.
While in the past I have done everything on my own, I sometimes book the hotel and the flight with an online travel portal, like for Prague. In my friend’s case she was booking a package for Europe. We were using different service providers. Much seems to be common across service providers.
Don’t Get Pressured into Paying the Initial Money
The online service providers seem to be in a hurry to make you pay the initial amount. Once you have paid the amount you are locked. I also feel that once you pay the initial amount they relax their service standards too.
My friend paid the initial amount for her Europe trip much in advance after the pressure tactics of the online service provider. She plans to travel with her elderly father and an attendant. It was so early in the day, like 7 months in advance, that nothing was booked. Looking at everything she wanted to change her trip to a shorter duration later. The amount of fuss they created to change her plans was enormous! They were telling her they would forfeit her entire 75K pre-deposit which they pressured her into paying.
So if you are trying to book a holiday, never get pressured into paying the initial money, take your time. If that holiday is sold out there are others. You can take the same holiday with other service providers or you can go on a different holiday.
Do Your Homework
A lot of people who travel might be on their first few trips. The service providers do this daily. Hence there is an information asymmetry and the service provider may take advantage of it. I strongly recommend that you do your homework. Almost all embassies have website detailing visa procedures. Check it out, get familiar with it. read about the country in general and do read the fine print before you book anything.
In my instance the service provider offered me visa facilitation as part of the package for Prague. I thought I would use it but it turned out to be a nightmare. The requirements were not listed in one place. I was in a hurry to apply for my visa as I had the Singapore/Myanmar trip before the Prague one. After completing the paperwork, the agent told me flat that I could not apply on the next day nor on Monday as a long weekend was coming! At that point I told them to return all my documents as I would do the visa myself. And I did! It left me seething too. I mean were they charging me for creating headaches?
Put Your Foot Down
Most of the times people dealing with you are fairly junior. Thy have no real decision making authority. If you feel you are being pushed around, put your foot down and insist on talking to someone with authority. That is what my friend did, with a little prompting from my side. Her issue was resolved after she took a firm position. She was allowed to change her tour plan to a shorter one without any financial loss. And that is when I wonder, she and I are the kind of people who like to travel a lot. If you provide service and assistance we are repeat customers. But what do they care beyond closing that one deal!
Escalate if it is Necessary
For my own visa assistance for Prague, I escalated the issue on Twitter. The response was immediate. And from then on to the point the issue was closed, they remained in constant touch. I think a lot of issues go away if the service provider is willing to listen, which they did successfully in my case.
As I escalated the matter a ticket was open, and they needed my consent to close it. I was not after anything. I told them in the end that I was livid at the moment I complained but as they listened to me all the while, I was no longer unhappy. After all I was able to submit my visa application was successfully. Though my Schengen Visa is quite a tale in itself with an easy VFS experience but confusing embassy dealings.
Where is Service?
I thought when I was booking with an online service provider I was paying for service too. But they predominantly seem to be interested in closing the deal. Service comes in after that in varying amount and quality. In my own visa experience it helped that I have traveled to about 20 countries before I faced the visa for Czech Republic. I had the confidence to deal with the situation. I am not sure that is the profile of an average customer who comes to book a holiday. And that is where service is required!
I prefer to book my own holidays. But in the case I do not find cheap accommodation and flights on my own, I book it through a service provider as they have cheaper rates because of bulk booking. I am happy with that value proposition but when they offer me extra, I expect service. But whether one will get it or not is the big issue.
On the ground things went well for me for my Prague trip and I hope things will go well for my friend too in Europe.