I’m a huge advocate of affordable travel. I’ve been “doing it on the cheap” for years – taught well by Mum and Dad that seeing the world is important, but that it needn’t bankrupt you. As you might imagine, Travel Republic has been one of the biggest weapons (in every sense of the word) for securing affordable trips and I have used them several times in the past few years (and will continue to do so).
It’s because of how frequently I’ve given them my custom that I feel qualified to talk about how much of a gamble it can be to book with them – and hopefully educate travellers that TR can only support you so far if something goes wrong.
Travel Republic (from hereon in referred to as TR) are part of the Emirates group – and if you’ve ever travelled Emirates before you’ll assume like I did that the name is synonymous with quality and quality service. Which is kinda true, as long as everything works out. I’ve had dozens of awesome trips booked through them and no doubt will continue to do so in the years to come.
TR basically acts as an agent between the flight operators (kinda like Skyscanner but not as utterly gross), hotel owners (kinda like Trip Advisor but without the trusty reviews) and you – the beautiful wanderluster.
It’s not at all like booking with Thomson as a package, although it feels like it a little bit. It’s more no-frills, and requires you to be a little more savvy than the ole package holidayer.
First of all let me get all the other great things about TR out of the way, because there are some really good reasons to use them.
1. You’re ATOL protected on many of their “packages” (flight & hotel combos) & they’ll ALWAYS help confirm this for you before you book, if you need them to.
2. You don’t pay anything more than they say on the ad (except for city tax & card processing fees)
3. You can pay as low as £1 deposit for hotels when you book your flights up front
4. They have a 24-hour support team for customers who are travelling (and they actually answer the phone and call you back when they’re meant to)
5. You can pay by PayPal (with an +1.99% fee)
6. You can book an outbound flight and inbound flight with different operators in one smooth transaction
Now lets get on to the ways in which you take a gamble when you travel with them.
Firstly, their property review system for hotels isn’t well vetted. For example we stayed in a hotel on Santorini a few years ago which had been rated 8.9/10 excellent by previous visitors – and when we arrived it was basically a dirty shed that served stale bread as an excuse for the extra £4pppn supplement.
It’s easy for property owners to leave reviews of their own properties to skew the figures & reporting these discrepancies (with photographic proof) doesn’t result in TR making changes to the property profile. I was told by their CS team that “TR has no control over the images properties use to advertise”. Damn.
Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, they are just agents. But not like Thomas Cook. If you have a complaint against an airline or hotel, TR won’t resolve it for you – they just act as the messenger. You’re also reliant on them to confirm your booking appropriately with the airline and hotel – and human error in this respect leads to dozens of people (myself included) turning up to hotels who don’t know they’re even due to arrive.
In my case, this resulted in being presented with a 600 euro hotel bill in Vienna that I’d already paid for online. Fastforward 3 days of hardly spending any of our holiday spends, TR resolved the situation – just in time for our cab ride to the airport.
Of course we complained to TR on returning home, and they forwarded our complaint (after some cajoling) to the hotel, although it wasn’t the hotels fault, it was TRs fault for not confirming out booking. We were simply offered a discounted rate on the same hotel next time we visit Vienna. Not really an appropriate resolve, but also not worth the headache of chasing it up.
It’s also worth noting that the complaints procedure takes ages. After our stay in Danger Mansion, Santorini, I filed a complaint about a loose electrical outlet & showerhead that fell on my actual head, causing a bit of a bump. That complaint took 8 months to resolve, and only because I relentlessly tweeted them once a week until I got a response.
In terms of cost effectiveness, they don’t always come up top with fares either. Quite often the prices quoted for flights as a part of a package on TR can be sourced for a few quid cheaper if you book direct with the airline.
Here’s my booking formula.
I search the trip I want on TR and get a quote for flights – if the outbound & inbound flight are both the same operator, I check their own site & book the flights for as much as £11 cheaper (but sometimes the same price).
I don’t bother any more with the hotel booking through them, as it’s proven risky in the past. Instead I go to Booking.com and book a pay-at-location hotel so I know there’s a bill waiting for me when I arrive. Easy.
Of course, if you don’t like the drama of cobbling together your own holiday then TR can be a great tool. They can also be massive tools.