The Ultimate Guide To Booking Travel : How To Book Travel Like A Pro

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Hello…

And welcome to guide 4 of our travel planning series, The ultimate guide to booking travel. If you are new here, check out our summary showing you all the guides in this series.

Possibly the most exciting step, the one that makes it official. It is time to book your trip. With a bit of research, there are some great deals to be had. Luckily, this guide includes all our tried and tested techniques to help you save time, energy, and money. From the pros and cons of who to book with, be that from travel agents, tour operators, or doing it yourself (DIY). To how to keep your booking safe. Our booking guide and its planning tools also include tips on how you can get the most for your money, save money, and even make some money in the process.

What we have covered

A few points are specific to the UK but they can be used to guide you wherever you call home. All the links we have included are from sources that we use and highly recommend. They are reliable, up to date, and in our view awesome.

So here we go, let us help you be a travel planning pro!

Starting to book

The Travel Pro Planner tool. This can be used to help budget, save a track your trip.

Once you have all the information needed for booking your trip you can hopefully save yourself some time, energy, and money. Along with the Travel Pro Planner tool this post has been created to help you with that. Using this tool throughout your booking you can track key details like flights and accommodation. You can also see if you are keeping within your budget.

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Look out for our logo throughout this post. This will guide you through our travel pro planner and 3 quotes tool.

Where to book your travel?

Travel agents office where the booking of your trip would take place

When booking your trip with a tour operator, travel agent, or directly by doing it yourself (DIY). Seeing some pros and cons may help you choose the best option for your trip. 

Tour operators

Tour operators create package holidays for you to buy. Usually, packages include flights, transfers, accommodation, and tours. Some examples of larger tour operators would be TUI.

Pros

  • Convenient: saving you time and energy by helping you plan all parts of your trip.
  • Experts: offering great advice through their experience and knowledge of destinations.
  • Low upfront costs: often you can secure your trip with a deposit only, not having to pay for the full trip until a few months before you leave.
  • Protection: legally all tour operators must be ATOL protected giving you peace of mind as any issues will be their responsibility.
  • Value: as they create the package, they can offer competitive prices.

Cons

  • Inconvenient: options for flight times and arrival/departure locations may be less convenient.
  • Limiting: packages that offer full board options, although convenient, may mean that you miss out on the food and experience of local restaurants.
  • Restrictions: your choices of transport, accommodation, and experiences may be limited to what they can offer only.

Travel agent

A travel agent sells a range of different packages built by the tour operators. There are 2 main types independents and multiples. Independent travel agents usually cater to small towns and villages, examples include Hays travel. And the larger multiples being companies such as Expedia and Booking.com. 

Pros

  • Experts: they can help you choose your trip with their expert knowledge of many destinations.
  • Convenient: they can help you plan every part of your trip.
  • Protection: make sure the travel agents are ATOL protected if so, you are protected if anything goes wrong.
  • Specialists: many specialize in certain types of trips such as STA travel for adventure tours and gap years.
  • Time saving: they can search for many different packages and deals for you saving you time and energy.

Cons

  • Higher costs: prices can be higher.
  • Limited options: they may only have access to certain companies that can limit your choices on things like accommodation or flights.
  • Waiting on someone else: your trip is in the hands of someone else. You may then be relying upon them and their schedule to make any bookings.

DIY

A DIY trip is one that you organise and book yourself. This includes everything from flights, accommodation, transportation, activities, and more. Each part is booked separately by you.

Pros

  • Confidence: companies you are using have been checked by you.
  • Flexibility: every part of your trip is fully flexible and can be booked at a time that suits you.
  • Freedom: you do the research which gives you the freedom to choose every part of your trip, from when and where you want to go to what you want to do and see.
  • Spontaneity: you are not restricted to rigid plans letting you go with the flow.
  • Value: you can often get the best value for your money through price comparison websites, cashback, voucher codes, and loyalty programs.

Cons

  • Time-consuming: it can take more time and effort.
  • Higher risk: booking everything yourself can be more high risk due to no financial protection (ATOL/ABTA). Also, booking flights outside a package tends to be non-refundable. If you need to cancel and are not covered in your travel insurance, you run the risk of losing the money.
  • Higher upfront costs: usually activities, transport, and transfers must be paid up front.

How to book your travel?

Apple Imac laptop, Ipad and Iphone. You can use these devices when booking your trip.

Booking travel has never been as easy or flexible. Giving you the option of booking your trip from anywhere. Be it at home, in a restaurant, or at a high street store. There are 3 ways to do this:

Telephone bookings

You can make bookings with tour operators and travel agents over the phone. This can also work with DIY bookings, as you can call your accommodation or airline direct.

Online bookings

You can book your whole trip online. From transport and accommodation to tours and insurance. You can make online bookings with tour operators, travel agents and when doing a DIY trip.

Highstreet bookings

Most tour operators and travel agents have high street stores you can visit in person. Some may only have an online presence, but you can contact them via telephone.

Transport

People boarding aeroplane for travel

Flights

Starting your booking with the flights can help you save money. If you can be flexible with your dates do a quick “cheapest month” search on Skyscanner. This will show when the best month and date is to fly to your destination. Skyscanner also has an interactive tool that can be used as a guide “The Best Time to Book Flights”. This lets you see the cheapest month to travel to your destination. And how much you can save if you book at the right time (from 0 to 24 weeks before the flight).

Another way we have saved money is to fly indirectly, into another airport and get a flight from there to your destination. Sometimes this can offer better flight times too.   

Once you know the best dates to fly, then you can book your accommodation and experiences, if doing a DIY trip. Or you can go to your tour operator or travel agents with these dates and they can help you plan the rest of your booking.

Car rental and train travel

Booking your car rental 3 to 6 months before you travel can secure the most competitive prices. For train tickets usually the best time to book is 12 weeks in advance.

When to book

photo of planner and writing materials  which you may use when booking your trip.

Flexibility

Staying flexible when booking your trip is the quickest way to getting the best value. This could be everything from your choice of destination to the date you travel.

Sales and promotions

Throughout the year there are several sales and promotions running within the travel industry. Sales like Black Friday and Cyber Monday run in November and offer some great deals and discounts. And the winter sales after Christmas can be a good time to book. Other sales include the Wave season in the cruise line industry that usually runs from January to March. Look out for other promotions throughout the year too such as free dining, drinks packages, and accommodation offers.

Advance bookings vs. last minute

Deals can be found when making advance and last-minute bookings. We have had success with both and find that this can be more a matter of preference. With advance booking, you will most likely have more options available and you can secure your trip sooner. But last-minute offers the ultimate in spontaneity.

Comparisons & cashback

Decorative paper tags on a blue background.

You can use these tips below for all your travel bookings. Whether using a tour operator or travel agent. Or even booking through accommodation, transportation, and attraction sites.

Price comparison sites

It is always worth checking prices through comparison websites. They can offer a quick and easy way of comparing many different options getting the best price for you. Comparison sites include Trip Advisor for accommodation and Sky Scanner for flights.

Cashback

Cashback websites such as Top Cashback offer you cashback on your purchases. You visit their site and find the retailer you want to make a purchase with. By clicking on their link to go to that retailer’s site you earn a percentage of your total cost.

For example, at the time of writing TUI had a 4.2% cashback offer on all hotels on Top Cashback. If you were making a booking through TUI for a hotel only, say 4 nights at a total cost of £550, you would get £23.10 cashback.

Occasionally we have found that using the cashback link may increase your total. We tend to get the final price first through the tour operator or travel agent. Then go through the cashback site after making sure the final total through their link is the same price.

Bit of a disclaimer here, although personally, we have not experienced any problems with cashback, do think of it as a bonus, not a guaranteed payment. Do not base your decisions on the rate you could get.

Loyalty programs

There are many types of loyalty programs available. They have been created to reward customers who spend regularly with a certain brand. Points are received with every purchase. These points then can then be redeemed in either money or vouchers. You can also collect points when spending on some credit cards. If you would like to learn more about how to start collecting points through loyalty programs The Points Guy offers some great guides to get you started.

Voucher and promotional codes

Several booking sites often offer customers a discount code to use on purchases. We use sites like VoucherCodes to search for any live deals. At the time of writing, Hotels.com were offering customers 8% off bookings via a code we found on VoucherCodes. For a hotel booking costing £500, this code would take £40 off the total. Not bad for a quick search for a code. The code is added at the final stages of the booking before payment is made.

The use of a voucher code can stop any cashback deals or loyalty programmes. Check with them first to make sure they do not offer a better deal.

Keep your booking safe

A gold padlock on a door show safety when booking your trip.

When you come to booking your trip, the following will help keep your purchase safe. 

ATOL or ABTA protected

When booking your trip through a tour operator or travel agent make sure that they are either ATOL or ABTA protected. They both protect you financially if the company you booked with ceases trading. The main difference between them is what is included in their protection.

ATOL

This stands for Air Travel Organisers’ license. It is a governmental run protection scheme ran by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). It covers package holidays that include flights and some flight-only sales.

Any UK based travel company selling package holidays including air travel must be ATOL protected by law. Usually, they will say if they have this protection clearly on their site. You can check to see if the company you are booking with has ATOL protection on the CAA website.

After you make a purchase, even if this is just a deposit, you should receive an ATOL certificate via email or in the post. Keep this certificate safe in case anything goes wrong with your trip.

ABTA

This stands for the Association of British travel agents. It is a private company that has been in business for over 70 years. Over 4,300 travel brands have an ABTA membership, which unlike ATOL is voluntary.

They make sure that their members protect package holidays as required by law. And can provide protection for holidays that do not include flights. They offer advice, guidance, and expertise if you have any issues with a trip that you have booked. A package holiday sold by their members in the European Economic Area (EEA) only, is protected financially in the event of a company failure.

For any cruises or package holidays that do not include flights, you should check to see if the company has ABTA protection. You can check if your tour operator or travel agent is an ABTA member and find out more on their website.

DIY trip – no ATOL or ABTA?

If you decide to do a DIY booking for your trip you will not be ATOL or ABTA protected. But you can protect yourself in a few simple steps. Pay by credit card. Buy travel insurance, as with all bookings. Check to see if your travel insurance has scheduled airline failure protection (look in the small print/terms and conditions). You can buy standard airline failure insurance if not. This covers you if your airline ceases trading. You might not need this though if flying to or from a European Union (EU) airport.

Travel Insurance

Once you have booked your trip the first thing you should do is buy travel insurance. It is so important to protect you and your family while on your trip. A quick and easy way to find great travel insurance is by using comparison websites like Compare the Market. Make sure you read all the small print and are happy with the cover. For more information on travel insurance please see our Essentials post.

Pay by credit card

Whether booking DIY or through a tour operator or travel agency, using a credit card is the safest way to pay. If a purchase is between £100 and £30,000 and something goes wrong, provided the travel provider is at fault, you will be protected financially under the Consumer Credit Act under section 75.

Free cancellation

Sometimes you can get free cancellation for certain parts of your trip such as your accommodation. Check the small print before you make any bookings to make sure you are happy with the cancellation policy.

Flights and package holidays tend to be non-refundable. However, for cancellations due to redundancy, illness, or bereavement your travel insurance may cover this. Therefore, it is important to get travel insurance from the day you book your trip so that you are fully covered straight away.

3 quotes

It may take a little more time, but we have saved hundreds by doing this. No matter where you get your quotes from, getting a minimum of 3 allows you to make the best choice before booking your trip.

But it is not just about the final price. Think about things like the location of the airports you are flying to and from. For example, your flight might land at an airport further away from your accommodation. This may mean a longer and more expensive transfer. The deposit amount and final payment due date may also sway your choice. Some providers may ask for a smaller deposit and have a longer repayment period. And paying a little more may give you some extra protection and peace of mind, such as ABTA and ATOL.

The aim of 3 quotes is to find the one that is the best for you and your trip.

3 quotes tool

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The next section will guide you through using the 3 quotes tool.

If you would like to use the 3 quotes tool you can download it here.

At the top of the tool, you will see a box for you to put in the details of your trip. This is so you can do a like for like comparison with your 3 quotes. Dates, accommodation, airports, etc, and anything else you would like to add in your quote. 

Gather your 3 quotes from the ways we have discussed from tour operators, travel agents, and DIY (via telephone, online, or/and in-store). You can do one of each or a combination of all three, whichever is best for you. Throughout your quote make sure you get the following information and note them in the tool:

  • Company name
  • Cost (total inc VAT)
  • Deposit amount
  • Food options
  • Offers
  • Payment due date
  • Policies (e.g. cancellation)
  • Promo codes/cashback: the estimated amount (however, base your decisions on the rate you could get, it is a bonus, not a guaranteed payment)
  • Room/board type
  • Transfers
  • Trip protection: such as ABTA and ATOL

Once you have your 3 quotes and the information above you can make your final decision. To note, if you are booking through a tour operator or travel agent look to purchase any attraction tickets separately. Going direct to the supplier could save you money.

The final thing to consider is the “price match guarantee”. Before you book see if your travel provider offers this. If so and you find the same trip cheaper elsewhere, your travel provider may match that price.

Time to book

You have read this post and you have your trip plan, you know the essentials and your budget and savings goals are set. Now it is time to make it official and book your trip.

While booking your trip you can use the Travel Pro Planner to track all your purchases and to see if you are staying within your budget. See the images below.

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Go to the booking page of the travel pro planner. Click on the grey #buttons to get to the relevant tables. Put in your booking details and total costs. When you have done this, you will be able to see if you are within budget. In the cost breakdown tab, you will see a breakdown of each category and the LIVE countdown will show you how long there is until your trip.

The booking page from our Travel Pro Planner tool. This can be used when booking any type of travel.

The trip cost breakdown page from our Travel Pro Planner tool. This can be used when booking any type of travel.

The countdown page of our Travel Pro Planner tool. This can be used when booking any type of travel

Finalise your itinerary


Now you have booked your trip you can finalise your itinerary. Go through everything your planning on doing and seeing, and make sure everyone in your party knows the plans. We have created an itinerary planning tool to help you with this. Allowing you to plan up to 22 days. There are also some useful tips in our guide: what you need to know before you go.

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To use the Itinerary put in your destination and dates and keep a note of your daily itinerary.

Serendipitous tip

Sleep on it. A good night’s sleep once you have all your quotes may make your decision clearer. Prices can fluctuate daily. But if you started the planning process in good time you will not need to rush your decision when booking your trip.  And, although there is no hard evidence to say that it does make a difference in price fluctuation, clearing your browser cookies cannot hurt.

Next steps

The next guide in the travel planning series is: everything you need to know about packing and luggage for your travels.

For all our guides in this series check out the summary.

Thank you for reading

We hope you found it valuable. Our site and its content are for you our readers, and as such your comments are welcomed and appreciated. If you have any suggestions for future topics and content, please do share them with us.

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