November 14th, 2011
South Africans are being ripped off by traditional travel agencies who do not provide the best available flight prices for customers, according to research commissioned by Online Travel Agency, Travelstart.
Synovate, a respected multi-national consumer research company appointed by Travelstart, contacted 50 different branches of six traditional travel agency groups to explore flight pricing, pricing consistency and the level of service offered. The researchers asked for the cheapest available prices for return economy class flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to 10 international destinations that were popular with South African travellers.
Of the 10 destinations surveyed, the prices for flights to Amsterdam, on the same dates, were the most alarming, with the quotes ranging from R6 000 up to R14 300 from Cape Town, and from R7 429 up to R12 426 from Johannesburg.
Even more alarming was the fact that six different outlets of one particular traditional travel agency group offered quotes that varied by up to R5 300 on the Cape Town to Amsterdam route.
The prices quoted to London from Johannesurg on the same dates ranged from R8 628 up to R16 155 - a huge variance of R7 527, which equates to of 87 percent - for a family of four travelling to London. This would mean an overcharge of more than R30 000.
Flights to Frankfurt on the same dates were no better, with one agency quoting R6 115 from Johannesburg and R6 369 from Cape Town. This was great if you were lucky enough to call that particular agency to book those flights. But if you were unlucky enough to call a different agency, you could have been hit with a fare of R11 400 from Johannesburg and R8 213 from Cape Town - a whopping 86% more expensive in the case of the Johannesburg price!
Stephan Ekbergh, CEO of Travelstart said: "We were expecting different prices when we commissioned this research to compare our online service with traditional offerings, but we were shocked at the huge price variations from the traditional travel agency groups."
"We were even more surprised at how different branches of the same travel agency group were quoting such different fares. This research shows that South African travellers simply cannot trust that the traditional travel agencies will get them the best available flight deal first time round."
Ekbergh explained that every travel agency (whether online or traditional) had access to the same fares distributed by the airlines, worldwide. "So pricing discrepancies, like we have seen in these results, occur when travel agencies load fares with exorbitant and inconsistent service fees.
Online gaining ground...
"In the US, up to 50% of all flight bookings are made online," says Ekbergh. "This trend is slowly catching on in South Africa, with 5% of flight bookings currently being made
Consumers are realising that online travel agencies offer them the advantages of lower prices, greater transparency, more flexibility, convenience, a wider choice, and more control over their flight booking experience."
Booking flights online allows consumers to take control of their own travel arrangements, with all the relevant options visible on one screen - enabling them to compare routes, airlines, times, stops and to choose which flights they want. They can also choose how much they want to
spend on potential add-ons like insurance.
"The beauty of online travel shopping is that you can do it whenever you want to, even if you're sitting in bed, in your pyjamas, late at night. Every step is transparent, you are in charge" says Ekbergh.
The survey findings in brief:
• Traditional South African travel agencies overcharge customers for international flights
• Flight prices, for the same dates, vary by as much as 87% between agencies
Traditional travel agents sell the flights that earn them the highest
margin - even if it's not the cheapest deal for the customer
40% of the surveyed traditional travel agents either refused to offer
quotes over the phone or did not bother to get back with a quote at all
• Flight prices to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London were the most inconsistently quoted