* Prices may differ from that shown
People work long hours and often save hard all year to give themselves and their family or friends a decent holiday. For many this is the highlight of their year and the last thing you want is to experience a nightmare holiday. Holidays abroad are now big business and for the layman can be confusing. A seasoned traveller will already know exactly what they want from a holiday and know the right travel agency to choose, but what can the ordinary person expect from an agency?
I used to pick the most reliable names, little knowing that these companies often offer incentives in the way of bonuses to their staff to sell a particular travel company. After a lot of disappointments I finally found a company I could trust to help with all my needs, this is a company called Travelcare, the largest independent travel agency in this country, backed by the Co-operative group which also specialises in banking and insurance with an annual sales figure in excess of £5.1 billion.
So what exactly are independent travel agencies?
Unlike the larger names such as Thompsons, Lunn Polly etc, an independent company does not favour any particular travel company, instead they will stock a large range of brochures, and will also advise their customers on which company best meets their needs.
Travelcare has a policy of its The Customers right to know an open policy which will tell people exactly what to expect form their chosen destination and resort.
Unlike other companies that I will decline to name, no bonuses are paid to staff members to favour a particular company; instead an overall bonus is shared between the staff of 1500 people in branches all over the county. These bonuses are for overall performance in meeting the requirements of the customer.
Each branch uses the agents Gazetteer which has a vast amount of information on each country and resort that are sold through their network. When a customer asks for a particular destination, the staff will use this to inform the customer of each pro and con about the country and the resort chosen. For example, say you are a family with two young children; you want a local beach and a place for your children to play safely. In some cases you may want to have some time for yourself with someone to watch your children both day and night. Other factors may be the heat, is it too hot for you and your children? Which is the best time to go? Is the food hygienic and does it cater for different dietary needs? You may also prefer to go self-catering and take the children out for meals. All these details and many more will be taken into account by the dedicated staff.
Are you an older couple with mobility needs and dont want to have your sleep broken by noisy nightclubs? Again the staff will help. Most important of all, any building work that is ongoing will be explained to you. For teenagers or young couples who want some nightlife and some activities such as water-sports, a resort will be found for you. The information will be presented clearly and you can actually read the book for yourselves, if you are in a hurry, the staff will photocopy the relevant pages for you.
Their web site is a fount of information, giving discount details, newsletters and an E-Mail service. They also provide good insurance cover through the co-operative society. Currency can be ordered over the Internet with safety or pop into a local shop. Parking and car-hire can also be booked in advance, but if there is a reasonable local company with a better deal, you will be told about this.
They also accept Tesco club cards, provide an online map for their branches and can even arrange gift-vouchers for a wonderful present for that special person.
How do I know this is true? I have been using Travelcare for many years now. I was a civil servant and holidays must be booked the year before to ensure there is sufficient staff to keep the system running properly. My first time with Travelcare I was at my wits end. I had booked two weeks in June and had also had to book the cattery well in advance, the Summer months are soon booked up and I had two cats to board out. My partner and I wanted to go to Rhodes, but we had to either book it early and pay full price, or chance a last minute reservation. By the middle of May I was panicking, the prices were still well over a thousand pounds for two people for two weeks and the cattery needed to know if we would be booking the cats in for extra days.
We went into Travelcare on a Saturday and despite being busy the woman that took our details was polite and helpful. Learning I worked in the Job Centre, a mere four minutes walk away; she took both my home number and my works number.
Each day for just over a week, she called me at my office number with various offers some were real bargains but we had set our heart on a holiday in Rhodes.
With barely two weeks to go, we finally got an offer for two weeks in Rhodes for £600 all in the price, self-catering as my milk allergy can lead to complications with foreign food.
It was not ideal, the resort was very close to the airport and we were told to expect a lot of aircraft noise. On the plus side it was a small village mostly untouched by tourism and a good place to tour from, with a private shingle beach as well.
She did warn us about the noise and suggested a resort that would cost us just over a thousand pounds. Armed with photocopies and a few days to decide, we weighed it all up and went for the unspoilt village, after all the other resort would still be noisy with loads of younger people. I went in on the Monday and booked it straight away on my credit card.
The flight was on a Saturday and so I booked an extra two days either side of the fortnight to board the cats and arrange to pick them up on our return.
In retrospect it was a good thing I did that, the flight was from Gatwick at 2pm, we drove up to London and my daughter drove us to the airport and kept the car for the two weeks, thus saving a fortune in car parking fees. Gatwick was a nightmare and I will never travel from there again, the queues were horrendous and we were worn out before we even got to the departure lounge. A few stiff drinks soon revived us and we were pleasantly surprised to find we would be flying by British Airways, a last minute seating plan arrangement.
Once aboard the legroom was far superior to other airlines, our stewardess gave us a complimentary bag full of goodies, a neck pillow, socks to ease our feet, soaps, toothbrush and paste, eye-shades to aid sleep, a refreshing face spray and some wet-wipes, now that was service for you!
The five-hour flight was hard for me without my cigarettes, but the in-flight movie took my mind off it for a while. I had pre-ordered a dairy-free meal, but the last minute change in our flight left me with a poor choice of meal, the cream-laden Chicken Chasseur was replaced with a breakfast meal that I could eat, full marks once again for British Airways.
Rhodes Airport was very busy and I expected a long delay, but we were through customs with our suitcases within half an hour. The buses were ready outside and the staff were quick and friendly, our resort was a ten-minute drive away, we were booked in quickly and after a shower and change of clothing, we were ready for a Greek meal and some bevies.
Saturday night was the main flight night, but we were too bushed to hear the roar of the Jets outside.
The Airport was busy each day and the aircraft flew so near we could make out which airline they were. We soon got used to it, except on Wednesdays and Saturday when the planes went overhead every few minutes, it became an in-joke with the other British tourists to find out who could spot the most common airlines.
Our room actually had double-glazing but it was far too hot to keep them closed, fortunately our trips out wore us out so a late-night bevy soon put that to rights!
The staff were always on hand and were very friendly, but we took Travelcares advice and booked a car in Rhodes town, it was delivered at 8am the next morning to our apartments and was 50% cheaper than the local tour rep recommended. It had air-conditioning and a sunroof for a very modest price.
The worst part was going home, it took two hours to get on the plane, again British Airways. We had a lovely holiday despite the aircraft noise; it was our choice after all. We got home exhausted, but with loads of lovely memories and a picture of our low-flying aircraft!
Within two weeks of arriving home, we had a customer satisfaction questionnaire from Travelcare; they use this to keep updating their resort details. Weeks later I got some feedback, the accommodation was clean and the maid came every day to clean up, but was puzzled why I had left a bottle of perfume behind, did I forget it? No, I left it for the maid who worked hard for little pay and as perfume is a luxury to the poorer Greek women, I had left it in place of a tip.
Since then I have used Travelcare a lot, visiting Corfu, Zante and Malta. Every apartment I have stayed in has been spotless and I have never had cause to complain.
Zante was a real treat; the hotel apartments had recently been upgraded and could put many an English hotel to shame. I have always taken the advise of the Travelcare staff and got many bargains on car-hire and local trips.
I have yet to find another company that sends out a satisfaction survey and any compliant leads to an addition in their Gazetteer. On my trip to Zante, I went from Bristol Airport, about forty-five minutes drive from where I live. The Travelcare staff has a list of local firms that will drive you to the airport, drop you outside the terminus and pick you up on the way home. They take your flight details and turn up dead on time, using their knowledge to know if a flight is delayed. To a weary traveller arriving home from a warm country to the usual chill of a British summer and laden down with suitcases this is the way to travel home. Our return journey cost us just £60, the airport parking fee was £72 for the fortnight, but even if it had been cheaper I would still recommend the taxi service.
The staff at my local branch of Travelcare are very friendly and nothing is too much for them to do. I had made friends with the staff and they always remembered my first name. How many companies can do that?
So they get the full five stars from me, this is one company that really does put the customer first.
For further information, visit them at www. Travelcare.co.uk.
They also appreciated the postcards I sent to them.
Being a seasoned traveller, I tend to use the travel agents who give me most choice. It used to be Callers Pegasus that got most of my custom, but then they became part of the Thomson Group. COMPANY DETAILS These days I head off to Travelcare as a matter of routine. The company claim to be the largest independent travel agents and have no direct link to any tour operator. They have a policy called the Traveller's Right To Know which gives you an unbiased view of the resorts and properties. They are one of the few agents who will offer you to the travel agents bible to look at. This will tell you things that the brochures won't admit. SERVICE As well as the wide range of brochures - from the major tour operators such as JMC, Airtours and Thomson - you will also find companies such as Intersky, Libra, Transun, Golden Sun, and Balkan given equal importance when you want to select your trip. When you go to look for a holiday here allow plenty of time. You will not be offered the Thomson options (as will be the case on a trip to Lunn Poly), Airtours only (Going Places). The staff member will instead visit lots of different companies in their quest to find you the most sutiable options. STAFF The staff in the three branches that I have visited all seem to be knowledgeable though I have to admit to having a particular favourite staff member. In Stockton, she will give you the same attention be you 30 or 65. WHY THEY EXCEL 1. The staff have the experience to choose somewhere that is ideal for particular needs. 2. They will try every operator imaginable to find the best flights and accomodation for you. 3. You will be advised of specific items such as nearby building work, roadworks in the resort, etc. 4. The travel agents bible will be made available to you to read truly independent comments about your hotel choice and the resort. PRICES Obviously they are
dependent on what the tour opertors make available and may be less than the travel agent owning the company offers. Usually they will throw in something extra such as insurance to match any other quotes that you have been given. Discounts seem to change from week to week. Sometimes it is better to wait another week before booking. EXTRAS My local branches have a water machine in case you are thirsty and a small play area for children. This is something other travel agents seem to overlook. SUMMARY One of the few places these days where you have independent advice and choose from numerous operators. The customer is offered a high quality of service regardless of age. They also offer good deals for flight only.
When booking a holiday, my loyalty lies solely with Thomson and its' subsidiaries, but in respect of Agents, it is things such as price and any freebie add-ons that do it for me. As some of you may already know, I have an addiction for travel, and relish nothing more than stepping back out onto the Tarmac at Cardiff Wales Airport with something already booked to look forward to. My partner has told me no uncertain terms, that when we move, the travel brochures will not be coming with us, so it was book for next year or go without. CO-OP TRAVELCARE With the exception of any small local travel agencies, Travelcare claim to be the only remaining independent travel agent on the High Street, and sell holidays from all the major tour operators and many smaller ones. You may have noticed, that when you visit Going Places it is unlikely you will get a good deal on a Thomson/Skytour Holiday, or that when you visit Lunn Poly likewise for an Airtours Holiday, thats if you can find any brochures for the eithere. My local GP claim they re no longer allowed to sell Thomson holidays. In addition, Thomas Cook belong to JMC and World Choice to First Choice. I cannot vouch for these agency, as I tend to give them a wide berth owing to a lack of suitable low deposit schemes and other incentives on offer. PRICE PROMISE Travelcare promise in their advertising to “match any price….”, or at least they did until I visited with my quote from Portland Direct, whereby after turning some interesting shades of green, they quickly changed this to “....match the price of any other High Street Agent….”, oh well, not one to be perturbed, we gave the poor tour operator a long list of holidays on which to check price and availability. My partner made a mental note of the feedback and calmly stated “of course, you are going to offer us free insurance and transport to our local
airport with that, aren’t you?”, at which the poor girls eyes lit up with ££ signs as she agreed to provide us with fully comprehensive insurance for £8 each. (NB: it is worth paying this small extra amount as we discovered when we had to cancel a much needed holiday to Tunisia early this year, as it removes any excesses you would otherwise have to forego). After the poor girl agreeing to the above, we left the shop without making any decisions, as the price of all the holidays were way over our budget. On returning home, I again scoured the brochures until I chanced upon something that looked reasonable. Another call to the pour young woman at Travelcare who confirmed my beliefs and again, off I went to discuss this with the worse half, who wasn't really in the least bit interested, but at least wasn't trying to stop me booking. After discussion, I again rang the girl at Travelcare (I still don’t know her name), where after a few more queries, we decided to book. Not at any time in the process did she offer to check the apartments in the Gazeteer (a.k.a. The Travel Agents Bible - and always to be found under the counter of any reputable agent), but fortunately we knew the apartments from a previous visit to the hotel next door. LOW-DEPOSIT SCHEME Bookings with Travelcare require a £58 deposit per person (£50 if you don’t take advantage of the fully comprehensive insurance). The deposit balance of £55 per person (£65 for long haul) is due on or before the 27th September, but if your moneys making interest for you, why pay it earlier? The remainder of the balance, like most package holidays, is due 10 weeks before departure. WHAT NEXT? The next stage in the booking process is actually doing it, well securing the flights and accommodation through an exchange of information and money. All was well until we got to the names; whereby mine is pretty straight forward, my
other halves is reminiscent of one of the most mis-spelt words in the English Language, even before accommodation. She took the details and spelt it back to me, so far so good. NOTE: Did you know if you have to correct details on travel bookings at any stage, even for a misspelling, you will be charged £15 per change, and you need to do this, as if the details do not coincide exactly with those on your passport you will not be allowed to travel. Booking secure, she promised to send me out the details in the post, although I did have to remind her to take a note of my Clubcard number for my 1400 points, nice little earner in vouchers on my next mailing. TUESDAY MORNING The details arrived first post. Remember my quip about my partners’ name being one of the most mis-spelt words in the English language, well I have seen it spelt many ways, but never like this. The man himself returned to the shop to get the details amended, and was advised that there would be a charge, one glare sorted that out, and Travelcare confirmed that they would willingly pay the charges, as it was their mistake. INSURANCE The company provided fully comprehensive insurance for £8 per person, but have as yet failed to come back to me with details of what extra cover we will need to deal with his skin cancer; thank goodness we are not travelling for nearly a year, would be interesting to find out what happens though if they don’t cover him, as we raised the issue before booking. SUMMARY All in all, a good service. Travelcare however, do offer better discounts on JMC holidays than Thomson, for us it was a combination of the cheap insurance, free airport travel and Tesco Clubcard points that did it. All in all a good service, although I would be concerned if I was travelling sooner with regards to the name errors on the travel documents, and the lack of response with regards to the travel insurance. If I have any problems sort
ing it, will update accordingly. Swansea branch: 01792 641471 Check out their web-site for last minute deals and for your nearest branch at http://www.co-op-travelcare.co.uk/
We tend to book our holidays a different way each time we go away. But I do find that whenever I'm in the local Co-op Travelcare office I seem to get excellent service - and REAL personal attention. The last couple of times we've been in there we were looking for advice on a late booking. We'd wandered around three of our local towns in the previous few days looking in each of the Agents' windows. The first time we;d almost given up - it was only a fortnight till we had a 'window of opportunity', as my hubby calls it, to go away. We'd got the best price, right destination, but wrong dates. Then we'd got the right place, right date, right airport - but far too much. We'd even spent over an hour in Thomas Cook being told that "No way will you get a holiday for less that £XXX on that date". Anyway more in hope, we went into the Travelcare oddice at around 4-55pm. We'd used the branch before to get currency, pick up brochures, book an overnight Airport hotel stay, car parking etc as well as a regular holiday well in advance. It would have been easy for them to have shown little interest as it wa quite late in the day, like I said. But we sat down and began a search. Within 10 minutes, we'd booked our 7 night break in a good Hotel in Majorca (nothing too classy, sorry) for around £175 HALF BOARD in early June (this was last year - did I say?). Great service, really helpful - what more could we ask?
Thank you Travel Care! From the moment I stepped in the shop I felt that I was actually valued as a customer. All the staff were polite and friendly, offering advice for certain locations and disadvantages for booking holidays out of season etc. The shop was clean and tidy, and I was acknowledged as soon as I walked in. I had chosen my holiday from the Thomson internet site and was shopping around for discounts. The price on the internet was £360 each for two weeks half board in Crete excluding insurance, taxis and flight supplements. the price I paid was £720 incusive of everything bar spending money. The insurance alone was £45 each, the flight supplements £50 and the transfers £25 each for each way. So you can see how much I saved booking through Travel Care. All I had to do on the day was pay my deposit of £150 and then I ahd 6 months in which to pay the balance. Every time I went in the shop, the staff knew me by name and I felt important and that I was valued by them. I would definitely book my holiday through Travel Care again as they are an independent travel agents who are not biased as to which Tour Operator they give discounts to.