Travel Agents are dieing out, we're told this is because of the internet making it easy for people to book themselves, that's almost certainly true, but there are still a large range of tickets that you simply can't book online - the Round The World Ticket, or anything more complicated than a straight return.
I'm off on a trip to Jamaica, and Washington DC in March, most online travel sites can't even attempt to price a round trip fare of this nature, but Opodo would give £445 for LON-KIN and £260 for LON-WAS, so if I was willing to go back via London I could do it for 705 quid. British Airways does allow you to specify the route, but they come to a total of £910 and route KIN-WAS via LGW and LHR, including having to get the Bus between the two at your own expense, and taking over 24 hours. Continental airlines offer the ability to specify such a journey too, but they come back with no routes at all. Virgin Airlines fare rules would allow you to have a stopover on the £445 LON-KIN above at Miami, and a MIA-WAS return could be got for £130. So that's not bad with a bit of knowledge I could get to £575 and still use websites to book my ticket.
ITA Software have a nice little search engine for published fares which searches airlines published fares, and can deal with these kind of multi-legged round-trip fares, and can check airports within a set number of miles - with the city codes like WAS and LON there's no problem, but checking MBJ and KIN makes you check twice on other sites.
This site comes back with lots of options at around the £450 mark, they don't involve backtracking to the UK, but the cheap ones all involve long trips through NYC taking 15 or more hours to get to KIN, no worries I think I've got the time, I'll have a stopover in NYC and see the city, never having visited before. Re-priced it with the stopover, and it came to £405, excellent I thought, I'm willing to pay that and £170 cheaper than I could've got online. So I print out the itinerary and go off looking for a travel agent to book it for me.
This proved to be a problem, none of the travel agents in Exmouth had a sabre connection to actually book the fare, I let them try their airline deals, either on the computer or on the phone to their “consolidator”. All these travel agents just laughed at the fare saying it was impossible, and ended up coming back with £750 minimum.
So off I went to Exeter, and tried a few more places, eventually STA Travel had Sabre access, and a knowledgeable South African to actually drive it, and he produced the fare no problem - charged me £15 for doing so, the only problem was the waiting whilst they'd dealt with lots of people asking for RTW advice.
The problem with travel agents here is not the internet, it's that they simply do not have the tools to actual sell products better than the internet, if I was a simple buyer, I'd've found prices online £50 cheaper, yet with knowledge the fares were £350 cheaper, there surely must be plenty of margin there for a travel agent to survive?
Access to sabre appears to cost US$45 a month, I can't see why that's not a cost a travel agent would be willing to invest, it's hardly much. Of course if there was an online agent which allowed me to book the multi-leg tickets, then I wouldn't've had to leave home - maybe that's a business opportunity there.
So I ended up with a good price for the flight, and I didn't mind doing the work to find the route myself, it's just a shame too much time was spent actually booking the ticket. Still I'm all booked, and now I just need to find somewhere to stay in New York, Couch surfing maybe?