Johannesburg - South Africans are being ripped off by traditional travel agencies which do not provide the best available flight prices for customers, according to research commissioned by online travel agency Travelstart.
Synovate, a multinational consumer research company appointed by Travelstart, contacted 50 different branches of six traditional travel agency groups to explore flight pricing, pricing consistency and the level of service offered.
The researchers asked for the cheapest available prices for return economy class flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to 10 international destinations popular with South African travellers.
Of the 10 destinations surveyed, the prices for flights to Amsterdam, on the same dates, were the most alarming, with the quotes ranging from R6 000 up to R14 300 from Cape Town, and from R7 429 up to R12 426 from Johannesburg.
Even more alarming was the fact that six different outlets of one particular traditional travel agency group offered quotes that varied by up to R5 300 on the Cape Town to Amsterdam route.
The prices quoted to London from Johannesburg on the same dates ranged from R8 628 up to R16 155 - a huge variance of R7 527, which equates to of 87% - for a family of four travelling to London. This would mean an overcharge of more than R30 000.
Flights to Frankfurt on the same dates were no better, with one agency quoting R6 115 from Johannesburg and R6 369 from Cape Town.
This was great if you were lucky enough to call that particular agency to book those flights. But if you were unlucky enough to call a different agency, you could have been hit with a fare of R11 400 from Johannesburg and R8 213 from Cape Town - a whopping 86% more expensive in the case of the Johannesburg price.
Travelstart CEO Stephan Ekbergh said: "We were expecting different prices when we commissioned this research to compare our online service with traditional offerings, but we were shocked at the huge price variations from the traditional travel agency groups.
"We were even more surprised at how different branches of the same travel agency group were quoting such different fares. This research shows that South African travellers simply cannot trust that the traditional travel agencies will get them the best available flight deal first time round."
Ekbergh explained that every travel agency (whether online or traditional) had access to the same fares distributed by the airlines, worldwide. "So pricing discrepancies, like we have seen in these results, occur when travel agencies load fares with exorbitant and inconsistent service fees."