Europe Trip Costs: Planning Fees vs the Travel Agent Model

We recently traveled to the Mosel Valley in Germany. Where do you want to go?

We recently traveled to the Mosel Valley in Germany. Where do you want to go?

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when people are thinking about a trip to Europe is: “How much will it cost”? It’s a valid question! Even those with a generous budget have value in mind. We all want to get good value for our travel dollars. I know that’s true for me! Quality and value are what our clients should expect from us at Euro Travel Coach.

The answer to the question is of course “it depends.” It depends on where you want to travel and what you want to do while you are in Europe. It depends on each individual client and their unique desires for their trip.

Because our trips are completely custom built, we work within your budget. In addition, our costs are transparent. You will decide where you want to allocate your vacation funds. We talk with each client about their ideas and discuss different options and recommendations when we are planning the trip. That is part of the service. For our service, we charge planning fees, and you will want to factor those into the cost of your trip. Comparing costs is always important.

Let’s compare costs: a package trip vs a fee-based trip

When we design a trip for our clients, we are able to offer flexibility, transparency and customization. The reason we are able to do this while creating our clients’ dream vacations is because the planning fees are completely separate.

Some of our ETC clients enjoying a trip to London

Some of our ETC clients enjoying a trip to London

Our business model is different than that of a travel agent’s. If travelers are not familiar with the fee-based model, it is reasonable to assume that it is more expensive compared to the travel agent model, which is based on one-price for most of the elements of the trip.

I thought it would be a valuable exercise to take a package trip that I found online, and break down all the costs so that it is easy to see what the same trip would cost when booked with Euro Travel Coach.

Guess what?

The Euro Travel Coach trip is less expensive than the package trip!

Let’s dig into the details.

Comparing Europe Trip Costs of a Packaged Trip and a Euro Travel Coach Trip

For this exercise, I found a fairly standard 6-night London itinerary online that we can use for comparison:

I broke out the costs of the trip into the table below the packaged trip itinerary, as if I were booking this itinerary for a Euro Travel Coach client, using the same travel dates, and one of the same hotels they use on their tours.

Dates: May 10 – May 16, 2020

Price: $2395 per person

This tour is for a “small group of 24-28 people – half the size of most tour groups”

Day 1: Welcome to London

The Globe Theater on the Thames

The Globe Theater on the Thames

We’ll meet at our hotel in central London at 3 p.m. this afternoon to get acquainted. Then we’ll set off on a neighborhood walk, before stepping aboard our very own vintage double-decker bus for a panoramic tour of “The Old Smoke” (London). We’ll finish the evening with a “Welcome to London” dinner together. Sleep in London (6 nights). Walking: moderate.

Day 2: Westminster and Whitehall

After an Underground/Tube orientation, we’ll wander through the City of Westminster. Our walk will take us past Buckingham Palace — punctuated by the smartly dressed, stony-faced Queen’s Guard — and through St. James Park, a favorite for its resident pelicans, on our way to the majestic Westminster Abbey. We’ll enjoy a guided tour of the abbey, where England’s kings and queens have been crowned and buried since 1066, and continue with a history-laced walking tour along Whitehall. After a busy morning, we’ll rest our feet while enjoying that quintessentially English experience: afternoon tea. Then you’ll be ready to explore the treasure-packed British Museum. Walking: strenuous.

Day 3: The Tower, The City, and St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s from Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s from Millennium Bridge

This morning we’ll head out early to witness the opening ceremony at the medieval Tower of London. Our early arrival will leave us first in line to join a Yeoman Warder “Beefeater” for an entertaining tour and a close-up look at the UK’s magnificent collection of Crown Jewels. This afternoon, we’ll take a walking tour of The City, the oldest part of London and today one of the world’s key financial centers. Then we’ll continue on to England’s national church — Christopher Wren’s majestically domed St. Paul’s Cathedral — and hear how local “fire watcher” volunteers saved this symbol of British resolve during the bombing raids of World War II. Your evening is free — consider staying near St. Paul’s to hear the evensong. Walking: strenuous.

Day 4: East London and the Churchill War Rooms

Today we’ll venture out to the culturally diverse East End of London, where we’ll find our lunch on a food tour. The tour will guide us through the history of the East End, tasting the influence of cultures along the way — from a traditional English bacon butty, to Indian curries to the beloved London takeaway, fish and chips. Once we have had our fill, we’ll visit the Churchill War Rooms, where we’ll get the inside story on the London Blitz and Britain’s leadership during World War II. This evening is free and perfect for the theater (book a popular show in advance online or pick up a ticket in London). Walking: strenuous.

Day 5: Historic Windsor Castle

Today we’ll catch a train and head out of town to Windsor Castle, the largest and oldest castle residence in the world. We’ll spend the morning touring the Royal Family’s castle, ornate St. George’s Chapel, and the surrounding park. The remainder of the day is yours for poking around the quaint town of Windsor or for more sightseeing back in London. Tonight, join your guide and fellow tour members for a pint at a local pub and share the stories of your day’s experience. This is another good night for the theater. Train: 2 hours. Walking: moderate.

Day 6: Borough Market and the South Bank

Borough Market in London

Borough Market in London

We’ll begin our morning with a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, the half-timbered and thatched-roofed replica of the original theater that was home to the playwright’s productions in the late 1500s. Then we’ll take a walking tour along the South Bank of the Thames. We’ll see the Tower Bridge and Southwark Cathedral, and learn how this side of the river has evolved since Roman times. We’ll end our tour at Borough Market, one of the oldest and largest food markets in London, with colorful produce and the wafting scents of grilled-cheese and duck-confit sandwiches. The afternoon is yours to enjoy lunch at the market, visit the Tate Modern, hop on a Thames River cruise, or take a ride on the London Eye. Tonight we’ll meet for our “last supper” and raise a toast to London and new friends. Cheers! Walking: moderate.

Day 7: Tour Over After Breakfast

Breakfast is provided, but there are no group activities today. Heathrow and Gatwick airports can be easily reached by Tube, train, or taxi from our London neighborhood. For those not ready to return home yet, London is a great jumping off point to Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam, and many other exciting destinations. Cheerio!

Itinerary specifics subject to change.

London (Europe) Trip Cost Comparison: Package vs Fee-Based

The following chart shows what this trip would cost for 2 people if Euro Travel Coach booked the same itinerary, including our fees:


London (Europe) Trip Costs

The “Total Trip Costs” line shows the real total costs of this trip if you booked everything yourself. So that means no markups, no middlemen, but also no one helping you make decisions and offering advice. No one doing the research and booking the trip for you – you would do all this yourself. For this trip, the costs add up to $3204 for two travelers.

When we add our Sapphire Planning fees ($175 per trip day) of $1050, the total cost of working with Euro Travel Coach for this exact itinerary is $4254 or $2127 per person for a 2-person trip. And, since our fees include up to 6 travelers, per-person costs go down if there are more travelers.

The tour operator is selling this trip for $2395 per person, or more than $500 per couple higher.

Are we comparing apples to apples?

It’s important to note that comparing a packaged trip to a custom Euro Travel Coach is not comparing apple to apples. As mentioned, the tour operator I am using for comparison states that participants will be traveling as a part of a group with 24-28 other people, half the size of most tour groups.

Many of the travelers we work with prefer not to travel with a group of this size. They are well-traveled or able to work well with with the preparation and advice Euro Travel Coach shares with them. They don’t want a group leader directing their time. They also value our custom itineraries and deep destination expertise.

Nonetheless, it is important for me to note here the differences between the package trip and our itineraries.

·       The packaged trip is a group trip where people buy a spot (or four) on an existing tour, scheduled to depart on a specific date. At Euro Travel Coach, we create only private trips, although we do lots of families, friends and private groups. You depart on the date that you choose yourself.

·       The packaged trip also includes a tour leader – someone who is with the group 24/7. People traveling on one of our custom itineraries do not have a tour leader with them. They do, however, have front desks, local guides and drivers to help, and we have given them a great deal of personal guidance in preparation for their trip.

·       The packaged trip cannot be customized. Our trips are all created based on the interests, pace, and budget of our travelers.

One of our favorite destinations, the Barolo Region in Piedmont, Italy

One of our favorite destinations, the Barolo Region in Piedmont, Italy

The Travel Agent Model vs. the Fee-Based Model

If you’ve read this far, it might now make sense to you that we’ve chosen to charge fees. The way travel agents make money and the way we make money at Euro Travel Coach are different approaches. We’re both businesses. We’re both providing valuable services, resulting in priceless memories and a stress-free holiday. One approach is not better or worse than the other, they are just different.

Advantages of the Fee-Based business model

·       Cost transparency

·       Trip flexibility and customization

·       Travelers work directly with a destination expert

·       No middlemen or mark-ups (this is why the packaged trip is more expensive – there are layers of mark-ups)

ETC clients in London for their anniversary

ETC clients in London for their anniversary

·       Support of small local businesses in the European destination where you travel

·       Ability to book any activity, hotel, driver, etc based on the traveler’s preferences, not based on a limited existing portfolio

·       Leverage of our experience and personal relationships in your destination

·       Choice of sustainable travel

 It comes down to this: I’m getting paid, so I don’t mark anything up. I can create a trip for you the way I’d create it for me. We’d love to help create your dream trip to Europe. Contact us to discuss the European destination where you most want to travel. 

Advantages of the Travel Agent package model

·       One price

·       No decisions

·       Work with the same travel agent every year, regardless of destination in the world

·       Travel agent’s use of trusted suppliers that they work with (but limited products)

·       Spots booked on a group trip, with a tour leader

Here is another example, this one is for a luxury 5-night London itinerary:  

Screen Shot 2019-11-29 at 8.23.06 AM.png

In this company’s itinerary, possible hotel choices include Claridge’s, The Berkeley London, the Ritz London or the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

Let’s compare this itinerary to costs for a Euro Travel Coach client, using our Diamond Level of services. Note the hotel room used for comparison is a Junior Suite, although the packaged itinerary did not include room type.

Screen Shot 2019-11-29 at 8.28.57 AM.png

The tour operator is selling this trip for $9875 per person with 2 travelers, or over $4500 per person higher:

Screen Shot 2019-11-29 at 8.29.18 AM.png

This would be for a more custom trip, without a trip leader, and the comparison is still valid. We are able to create a travel experience that is unique to you and your travel companions, with great value, all while charging planning fees rather than using a travel agent model.

Euro Travel Coach recently created a custom itinerary for clients traveling to London for their 20th anniversary. They had an amazing time on their budget of $3500, excluding airfare. Their budget did include a fabulous dinner at a 2 Michelin starred restaurant, West End theater tickets, afternoon tea at the Goring, a trip to Cambridge, a champagne toast on the London Eye, our fees, and more! Let me invite you to check out their custom London itinerary to get a feel for the trip plans we can create for you and your travel companions.

The village of Ribeauville in the Alsace region of France

The village of Ribeauville in the Alsace region of France

Although I have used London as an example, Euro Travel Coach prepares custom itineraries for destinations all over Europe. Where would you like to go? We would love to help you plan an amazing trip to the European destination of your choice! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!

I would like to give credit where credit is due. I am a graduate of the Travel Beyond the Obvious course created by Madeline Jhawar of Italy Beyond the Obvious. We talked a lot about planning fees vs the travel agent model in her course. She wrote a blog on this topic for her site using her own fee structure and Italy as an example. I have modified it for Euro Travel Coach here, using London as an example. Thank you to Madeline for much of this content that is not specific to the examples used here.


Betsy Ball – Betsy is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group trips to Europe. She is a passionate and culturally curious traveler who thoroughly enjoys sharing her love for exploring Europe with ETC clients. Prior to founding ETC, Betsy taught International Business at Tarleton State University in Texas (part of the A & M System) where she led study abroad trips to multiple European countries and other worldwide destinations. She retired from teaching two years ago and now travels 9 months of the year in Europe. She has a degree in hotel, restaurant management from Michigan State University and an MBA from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She also holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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