Travelstart worst service

Why I will not use online “travel” agents like Travelstart ever again

THE END TO THIS STORY: On arrival home, Travelstart offered to reimburse me R4000 for taxi fare during my time in Germany. They apologised for the mess up and assured me they’d investigate internally. A few weeks later I queried with British Airways Executive Club why my earned Avios weren’t reflecting (I flew 6 flights long haul and needed the points to move to silver tier and unlock a host of benefits). British Airways informed me that while Travelstart booked me on Air Berlin, the flights I was on were with Etihad – as they aren’t a partner airline I don’t earn any points. I’ve now lost the ability to upgrade my Executive Club Membership because of Travelstart’s incompetence.

On querying with Travelstart they cited their terms and conditions – which I was never sent or made aware of because I DID NOT book online but rather through email with their agent. In fact, I received banking details only when I made payment and the invoice only after I sent proof of payment.

When I pointed out that I had not accepted nor been sent their Ts & Cs (and supplied mail proof) and asked them to prove otherwise they simply stopped replying to me. They ignored all correspondence and my requests for proof of their statements as per the consumer protection act. Since this post I’ve heard numerous (close on 40 and counting) horror stories about this organisation’s conduct and procedures. Suffice to say: do not book anything with them, you’ll be sorry. 

UPDATE: I have three flights home. The first has been delayed. It takes off 20 minutes before I’m meant to start boarding the other. Shall we keep a score and see if I actually get home? Travelstart continues to ignore me and be unhelpful. I just want to go home!

Last year I headed to Bali. I booked through an online “travel” agent. You know the ones – you primarily deal in email and they tend to have a comparison tool linked to their website to try grab bookings. They’d sent an email with a too good to be true deal and I fell for it hook line and sinker. The experience was less than ideal but we made the most of it. I still mentioned it in my blog post about top tech travel tips for Bali.

I didn’t learn my lesson

I needed to book flights and accommodation for Gamescom 2017. I had a budget I needed to stick to. I’m also a British Airways Executive Club member with a considerable amount of air miles so I wanted to ensure I received the benefit of this by booking with a One World Alliance partner. For most of my stay I’d need to arrange my own transport to the expo – as I only had a shuttle on days I was working – as such I wanted to be as close as possible to ensure it wasn’t too expensive but also to make sure I didn’t have to worry to much about travel time as I knew I’d have early long days ahead.

Travelstart worst service

I decided to contact Travelstart as I’d been in touch with a gent there who seemed to be really easy to deal with and helpful regarding some other stuff. We’d also worked with them on a Game of Thrones post for the blog and they’d been great to work with. He put me in touch with an agent and we had a considerable backward and forward for a few weeks as I ironed out the details of the trip. I finally got confirmations, mailed off to the agent and within 24 hours I’d paid in full for flights to and from Cologne, a hotel stay and transfers to and from the airport.

I’d contacted another travel agent as well. The old school type who you deal with over the phone. You know the type I’m taking about. They’re slowly falling away and being destroyed by corporates and online booking sites. This particular travel agent supplied me with a quote for great flights (one stop over only) and a hotel within walking distance of Gamescom which was amazing. BUT, it was R7000 over my budget. Travelstart’s quote was bang on what I could spend so I went with it.

I realise now that I should have researched harder. I should have read online reviews. I should have been smarter. Instead I trusted a company with my trip.

Big mistake

Travelstart worst service

For starters I decided to bite the bullet and just handle the two stop overs on the way. I’d fly to Abu Dhabi then on to Berlin before a one hour flight to Cologne. I figured I could handle it. I landed in Abu Dhabi with my second ticket but couldn’t find my flight number on the boards at the airport. I went to one of the desks and was informed the flight had been cancelled and I should have been moved to a flight leaving two hours later but somehow I’d been kicked off the system.


Thank goodness for helpful Etihad Staff (who Air Berlin partners with), they began to make plans and got me on the flight. But it meant I’d land with 30 minutes to get through Berlin airport and on to my Cologne flight before it took off (it was scheduled to take off at that 30 min mark). The Air Berlin staff were horrific to deal with on landing in Berlin. Usually when this happens the airline assists in getting you through transit. Air Berlin was possibly the worst airline I’ve ever dealt with. No help and on requesting assistance from the ground staff to get off the flight and through security quicker their response was “no, just run.” So I did. Not that it mattered because on arrival at the gate, hot and sweaty, no one was boarding. 30 minutes later no one was boarding. The information signs didn’t reflect anything and I was confused. Finally I asked an air hostess what was going on?

“I don’t know.

Oh, do you know when we’re taking off? I need to change my hotel transfer.

I don’t know.

Do you not have any indication?


A few hours later we took off. I’d emailed Travelstart to request they change the transfer. As it was working hours the agent I had been dealing with jumped on it and got it done. To be honest, she has tried her hardest through all of this but I believe the tools at her disposal are fatally flawed and she has to deal with the brunt of unhappy customers. It actually isn’t fair. I digress. I arrived in Cologne much later than planned and my bag never came off the conveyor belt. Back to information. They don’t know where it is. I pointed out that, for starters, because of my one world alliance frequent flyer miles my bag gets a priority tag to ensure it comes off the plane first. All my flights were delayed, so it couldn’t have been a timing issue. Still no one could help or apparently even track my bag.

And then the cracker: Air Berlin filed for bankruptcy on 15 August 2017

Travelstart worst service

The staff at Berlin airport informed me that I’d probably not see my bag again because the airline was notoriously terrible with this because of the bankruptcy issue. They also suggested moving my flights to another airline if “you want to get home with your stuff”. At no time did Travelstart notify me between the 15th and my flight that I was getting on an airline that was basically falling apart. Truth is, I do not believe they cared, the flights were probably super cheap for them. After having a small break down at the airport and filling in lost baggage forms I walked outside for my transfer. I was greeted by a lovely lady who could not speak a word of English. I figured it was fine, until an hour later, when we discovered she had no clue where my hotel was. She was just randomly driving around. I used Google Maps and 30 minutes later we arrived. Again, I tried to remain positive. This happens right? Airport transfers to hotels get lost all the time… right?

Some incredible folks at the hotel saw my distress and took over the bag hunt. They dealt with some other incredible humans I know on the other side of the world and my bag arrived the next day. Which is about the time that I found out my hotel was actually nowhere near Gamescom. In fact, it was 8km away from Gamescom and the traffic in the mornings meant I’d need to leave an hour earlier than planned every day. A one way trip in a taxi cost 23 Euros.

By now I’m a little frustrated with Travelstart. I’d trusted them with this booking and spent in excess of 30k. I was starting to feel like I was being scammed. More so when the hotel staff explained to me that they actually just use Experia to book everything and this organisation is notoriously “bad, cheap and unreliable”. Deep breaths. I mailed my Travelstart agent and conveyed my concerns. I was worried that I wasn’t going to get home on Sunday and miss important meetings on Monday. Because of this I asked her to try find me earlier flights to Berlin in the hope this would help.

Travelstart worst service

I was then informed she couldn’t because the airline now dealt direct with my flight after the cancellation/removal debacle so I’d need to phone them to try change it or “get to the airport early and ask”. I still don’t understand that. Remind me why I’m using Travelstart again? Keep in mind I’m WORKING at Gamescom with little to no time to sit on a phone sorting this out. I asked her if we could move my airport transfer earlier to try accommodate this. She said yes and asked me to confirm. I never replied as I was working on a stage and couldn’t – I finished on stage at 8pm on Friday night.

So the morning arrives and it is time for me to say bye to Germany.

At 10am I ask my hotel to ring the transfer company and request they collect me an hour earlier as I’m still concerned. No answer on any of the local lines. By 12 noon, still no answer. I start emailing the urgent mail that Travelstart claims gets responses 24 hours. I can prove you it doesn’t. I’d been emailing it all week with no luck. I then resorted to harassing individual employees on Facebook trying to get someone to help me.

I finally received a response.

“No. You need to change it 24 hours before. We can’t change it.”

I’m trying to move a transfer earlier to get to an airport sooner to try make another plan to get home if Air Berlin messes me around. But I can’t. I’ll have to pay for another transfer rather. After chatting to many German staff at the hotel I’m at, the chances of me returning to South Africa on Sunday are slim to none.

I’m sitting in a hotel bar right now with tears streaming down my face. Travelstart have once again just stopped communicating. They never offer solutions. The helpful agent has said they’ll reimburse me when I’m back in South Africa as I’ll need to cover the transfer cost now but… I don’t even know when that will be. This has been the worst travel experience of my life and what should have been an incredible experience for me – being in Germany, experiencing Gamescom and doing my first international Esports job – has been nothing but horrific courtesy of Travelstart, their horrible customer service and their very cheap suppliers they’re using (I can say this confidently now because the hotel staff showed me as much).

Travelstart worst service

The excess costs of this trip in data bills, phone bills, airport costs waiting for delays and now the transfer to the airport are now sitting close to the R7000 I didn’t want to pay the other travel agent (AND I HAVEN’T EVEN JOURNEYED HOME YET) – who would have had me on my way home happy and celebrating rather than stressed, tired and teary. I feel bad for the one agent I dealt with who tried desperately to help. She tried, but unfortunately just couldn’t do anything.

So that’s why I’m now going to avoid online travel agents from here on out. Self service or the traditional small businesses who actually care about clients. I’m posting this BLOG now because the truth is, I don’t know if I’ll be back by Monday morning to share it.

Avoid them at all costs.

  1. I’ve had similar issues with travelstart, they then took 2 months to refund me. You need follow up with them daily to actually get them to process your refund because if you don’t they NEVER send you any type of feedback or status update. The. Worst!!

    1. Oh no. That sounds horrific. I’m going to lose my head at them if they don’t refund me next week for the transfer to the airport. They’ve been the absolute worst with all of this 🙁 Not one think they handled has gone smoothly.

  2. Awful, couldnt imagine being stuck somewhere with no indication of when you’re gonna go home.

    As someone who has travelled extensively, its easier and less expensive to book everything yourself. To travel to Asia booked through an Agent was going to cost R20k+. We booked everything ourselves and cost around R13k for flights and hotel. I use Agoda.com for hotels, and cheapflights to book my flights.

    Hope you get home soon.

  3. Let me know if you need a good travel agent ? we are a family business with my dad as the managing director/travel genius. He has been in the travel industry since he was 17 and I am bias but I think he is great. These days we understand how many people book online and obviously that means the old fashioned travel agents suffer but I truely think that people do not know the value of a good travel agent. Someone who can recommend restaurants in cities where you will travel to. Someone who can tell you which seats on different planes are the best. Someone you can call in the middle of the night if there is an ash cloud in Europe that is stranding you. A decent travel agent is an asset and that’s why we are still operating in this day and age… we offer a personalized service that our repeat clients value.

    1. Will definitely be in touch. The idea behind paying an agent is to get that individual attention and having someone else handle the admin. That is the point, if not we could just book ourselves on the airlines. I think that is why I’m so frustrated with this whole process. They basically added a fee to my trip but didn’t add any value at all 🙁

  4. Wow this sounds like a travel nightmare! Can’t even begin to imagine how you feel right now. I hope you manage to sort everything out and get back home ASAP!

  5. Dude. That sucks. I’m sorry it’s happened to you. Thanks for the warning. I’ve been eyeing the Travelstart deals and contemplating using them for ages, but this has given me pause.
    Hope you’re either safely at home by now, or en route, suitably plied with the poison of your choice. 😉

  6. I am a travel agent and an old school one you can reach telephonically, and come and see, and we have an emergency phone if you need to get hold of us. This is the one reason we stress to people the difference between booking online and booking with a travel agent. Yes we charge a service fee but we will offer you the service

  7. Your trip sounded awful from A to Z. I am also an old school travel agent with an office presence. We love seeing and meeting our clients. There is a misconception that we are more expensive, we are not. Yes we charge a nominal booking fee, so does Travelstart and every other agency out there. Were you sold any travel insurance of sorts?
    Hopefully you are home and whilst our memories are short, please book with a good old travel agent in future.

  8. Hi Sam. I’m so sorry you have had this terrible nightmare! I read your story with such interest, as I’m one of those “old school” type travel agents, and my clients are the most important people in the world to me! I also offer what they call a “concierge service”, and am available to my clients from start of booking till they arrive home….and many of my clients contact me throughout their trips, if any little thing goes wrong. I’m always available to them. Please keep my details handy – Allyson.ropertz@travelcounsellors.co.za. Tel – 072 6017010 (I’ve been in travel 35 years and have a lot of experience dealing with all types of travel. You can view my customer reviews on my website. Sometimes we can save you money instead of it costing you more!

  9. I am so sorry to hear about your horrific travel trip. I have been in travel for the last 20 years and reading your blog just make my blood boil. To leave you customer in the air and not getting back to him / her is unprofessional. Disgusting service like this is giving good travel agents a bad name. It does not allow us to show you or any other traveler what a great experience you can have. My wish for you is to have a much better experience for your next trip.

  10. This sounds like the nightmare of all nightmares. Very sorry you had to go through that, and furious at Travelstart for not handling it while still charging you money. Will be actively boycotting them. Hope you eventually got home safe & sound.

  11. I hope you have made it home Sam.. I have actually mailed you directly as your post is a “current, live” experience. I am also a retail travel agent and have been around for so long, based on referrals from one client to another. Unfortunately, booking online merely makes you a number, the personal interaction is either non-existent or limited, and then quite possibly with a different operator each time. Us “old school travel agents” may charge a fee, but the cost difference is never as vast as Deborah stating, especially if comparing apples with apples.
    Your experience is a perfect example of “what happens if something goes wrong”.. I still believe in the term “penny wise, pound foolish”. It is not in our interests, when it comes to retaining clients and maintaining relationships, to rip you off, and this kind of perception of our industry really saddens me.
    Anyway, hope you get home safely – stiff drink on the plane I say!

  12. Remind me to send you chocolates and sweeties when you home safe and sound 😉

    1 airline EMIRATES enough said …

  13. Hi Sam. I’m so sorry you had to go through this nightmare! It’s just all so unnecessary! I’m one of those “old school type travel agents” and my clients are the most important people to me! Personal service is of utmost importance….I’m there for them from the minute we make the booking, right up to when they arrive home! If anything should go wrong along the way, they know they can contact me, and I’ll sort it out. Please feel free to contact me. My details will be provided when I send this reply. (I did reply to this post before, but my reply never appeared!).

  14. Hi Please contact a owner run travel agency in Umhlanga,Uniquest Travel on info@uniquest.co.za or call us on 0315664961. We will be happy to assist with your queries with reliable, efficient and hassle free service. Well traveled and experience of 23 years and counting 🙂

  15. Sounds like a truly terrible experience. Just wondering:
    – who chose the flights, you or Travelstart,
    – who chose the hotel?

  16. Hence the reason I never book with fly by night agencies.. I always physically visit my travel agent to arrange my itenary. Travelstart are also notorious for charging excess amounts for car hire by dealing with other agents. Beware this Nigerian company !

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