“Martin Lewis turns down travel agents’ invitation” – Is that news?

Over the last month the trade publication the Travel Trades Gazette has been running one of its periodic ‘travel agents think Martin Lewis has satan’s horns’ pieces, because of our guide to haggling down package holiday prices. Yet the latest news story really takes the biscuit…

The following appeared in our press cuttings:

Martin Lewis turns down agent invite

An online "expert" criticised by the trade for encouraging customers to haggle for discounts of up to 15% has declined an invitation to join an agency for a day.

Martin Lewis of Moneysavingexpert.com said he was a "fan" of travel agents after he was criticised for pushing customers to ask for discounts that were unlikely to be available (TTG September 3).

His comments provoked a furore on ttglive.com and an invitation from Jane Peacock of the Co-operative Travel to go and work with her and her colleagues in Lincoln for a day.

TTG passed the request on to Lewis. However a spokesman for Lewis said the idea was "interesting" but he did not have time to do it as he was in his busiest period of the year and had too many filming and television commitments.”

Is it really newsworthy?

Is it really newsworthy?

I can’t believe it was deemed newsworthy that I rejected the offer to spend a day, which came via its forums. If I’m honest it’s just not that high on my agenda (what I actually said was my prime campaigning work was on financial education, and I was giving all my spare time to that).

Sadly, I could list scores of charity events, TV programmes, political meetings, conference and interview requests I have to say no to because there aren’t enough hours in the week; yet I doubt any would see it worthy of a news story.

Never mind the fact we actually offered to have a member of the team go along in my place.

I agree some travel agents have it tough.

The aim seems to be to persuade me that travel agents have it tough. I don’t really need persuading; I’m pretty sure in the current climate some agents – like those in many other industries – are having difficulties, and I wish them all the best.

Yet that isn’t enough of a reason for us to hide the fact that haggling with travel agents results in consumers paying less; this is a site for consumers after all! What next, stop talking about PPI reclaiming because it may cost the banks cash, or don’t mention top savings deals because of the impact on the poor payers?

If travel agents stop undercutting each other when people haggle, we’ll stop telling people about it, but while the technique works we’ll continue. A few have said 15% is too high, as their margins aren’t that big and they can’t cut that much, and I accept that may be true in some situations. Yet serious discounts are possible and happen to people all the time if they ask; we quote it as an ‘up to’ figure, as at some points that level has been reported.

Funnily enough, many of the independent agents out there who put together bespoke deals don’t face this, as haggle down holiday prices is focused on big tour operator deals, where the same operator’s package is sold in many agents. Hence we suggest first locating a package, then finding out which agent will sell it you for less.

I’m not anti-travel agent

As I published when they first asked me about this…

“I am a fan of travel agents. I have robustly defended them over the past five or six years as the DIY internet brokers have come to the fore.

“Whenever I’m asked by people if they should avoid the travel agent and do it themselves, I resolutely say no — if you are going away for seven, 10 or 14 days to an established resort you are likely to get a better deal with a travel agent.

“However, specifically in the lates market, haggling does work, and it would be remiss of Moneysavingexpert.com not to tell consumers that fact. If it didn’t, I’d be lynched by my visitors.

“I do listen to travel agents and I did make some changes to my advice following the TTG article five years ago (ML EDIT – as well as some technical changes – we also suggested people be courteous, don’t unnecessarily waste agents’ time, and if you spent a lot of time finding the holidays it’s worth giving the original agent a chance to match prices). There is also a specific section on the website where travel agents can offer deals for customers.

“But if the travel industry continues to work in this way, I will tell people about it. This is an issue for the travel industry and how it sells its products. I’m not setting out to hurt travel agents, just to help consumers get the best deals.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve been through this issue – five years ago it was the same and 88% of site users disagreed with travel agents (see travel agents anti-haggling).

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