Travel Agent vs. Self Booking for Zambia

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Jan 26th, 2005, 09:32 AM
  #1
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Travel Agent vs. Self Booking for Zambia

Does anyone have experience with booking their itinerary, including internal flights, directly with the lodges in Zambia? If so, how did it go? And which lodges did you book with?

I had preferred to book through an agent, but I'm overwhelmed by how difficult and time consuming it has been to get a response and by, once I do receive pricing, how non-responsive to questions the agents are. And, I'm getting quotes back that are a good 30% higher than what I'm figuring. But when I send my breakdown and ask either what's different or what I'm overlooking - then they don't respond! URGGGHH.

I have just contacted a third agent today and again I have high hopes. But, I'm nervous about the lodges being full on my planned dates and I want to get it done!

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Jan 26th, 2005, 09:53 AM
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I am also in the intial stages of planning a Zambia trip. I priced everything out myself, including the internal flights and came up with a figure of about $6000-7000 for 6 or 7 nights. I emailed a travel agent/tour operator recommended by other fodorites, to see what they would come back with. She emailed back to ask if I could up my budget to $10,000 (not including international flights), saying that my budget was not enough. Now I know from reading all of Roccco's posts and seeing the lodge rates and flight prices that my budget would be sufficient! Very frustrating....will probably end up doing it myself, with the lodges assiting with the internal flight bookings.
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Jan 26th, 2005, 10:14 AM
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Cruisinred:

Same scenario... and I've also e-mailed the lodges and gotten their pricing quotes for both the lodge and the air transportation - which is what I'm using as my basis when I talk to the travel agents. I'm finding the lodges to be very responsive. But, I had really wanted that central point of contact and to be able to pay with a credit card.

I'm sorry to hear that you're having the same issue. But misery loves company and I'm glad to not be alone!
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Jan 26th, 2005, 10:34 AM
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Dreaming---I noticed in another Zambia post that you contacted Taga, which Roccco and others recommend. Were they of any help?
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Jan 26th, 2005, 11:30 AM
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Bottom line is that you are dreaming, no pun intended, if you think that there is anyway that you will get the same pricing that I did last time around. I cannot even get anywhere near that pricing for my 2005 trip!

Zambia has grown by leaps and bounds in popularity over the last few months, and with the continued decline of the US Dollar vs. the South African Rand it will only continue to grow in popularity.

Trust me, I tried to deal directly with the lodges for this year's trip but it was not at all worth it. There were no savings and I would have had to make costly wire transfers to each different lodge (around $50 each time and a real hassle). I would much rather just deal with Taga Safaris who takes American Express, which will give me total peace of mind and free travel insurance. Plus, the rates are still better than if I booked direct, as none of the lodges are discounting, at least not in high season.

Either lower your expectation on the lodges, lower your desired safari time or increase your budget...unfortunately, those are your only solutions.

Zambian prices are still very good compared to South African and Botswanan lodges.
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Jan 26th, 2005, 11:43 AM
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I am sure Roccco can offer his experience here with multiple lodges.

I did book directly with the Bushcamp Company and they did my internal flights from Lusaka to Mfuwe, but I did not stay at any other lodges or need additional flights.

I think it will be fairly standard operating procedure if you book directly with the Lodges that the transactions will involve wire tranfers instead of credit cards. I did the wire transfer directly to the Bushcamp Co. and they purchased the internal Airwaves flight tickets.
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Jan 26th, 2005, 12:02 PM
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In my case, I was not referring to the great prices you got last year, but the standard prices for lodges like Kasaka River ($285pppn) and Luangwa River ($350pppn) for this year. I also referenced the standard prices for the internal flights/transfers between Lusaka, Mfwue etc.

I thought I was in the ball park looking at $3500 per person for 7 nights???
(3 nights Kasaka River Lodge, 2 nights Luangwa River Lodge, 2 nights Matetsi at Vic Falls)
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Jan 26th, 2005, 12:14 PM
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Green Drake,

I think it is also important to point out that the Bushcamp Company has a set rate for their circuit of bush camps, and that your itinerary, if I remember correctly, did not include any costly transfers to other parks.

http://www.bushcampcompany.com/luangwa-encounter.htm

I think that people need to accept that there are also set rack rates for other Zambian lodges, from a very low price at a place like Flatdogs to a price of about $450 per person per night sharing at a place like Chichele Presidential Lodge or Tena Tena.

There are excellent alternatives such as $190 per person per night for Luamfwa Lodge and $350 per person per night for the luxurious Luangwa River Lodge. Also, in Lower Zambezi, Kasaka River Lodge is a tremendous bargain at around $300 per person per night and even the most expensive camps, Sausage Tree Camp and Chiawa Camp are only about $400 per night.

While these prices are by no mean inexpensive, they are if you compare them to many lodges throughout South Africa and Botswana.

By the time transfers are included, to stay at the best Zambian lodges, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect to pay nearly $500 per person per night.

Also, if anybody had any buying power, it would be me with my party of four. While this is entitling me to some minor discounts, they are NOWHERE near the previous prices I paid, but then again, I am going in the heart of high season, rather than at the beginning of June when there are still some roads that are not traversable and the bush is still thick enough to hide predators.

Trust me, even with my expertise, I am in the $25,000+ range for my upcoming trip, and that includes a 12 night Zambian safari plus a week in Cape Town at a luxury SELF-CATERING apartment. Otherwise, if I wanted to stay at the Cape Grace for a week, it would be closer to $30,000.

I think the one thing that potential visitors need to realize is that if they were to stay at a place like Singita for 3 nights combined with another place like the Royal Malewane for 3 nights, that by the time air transfers and road transfers were included, it would likely cost upwards of $12,000, which will buy at least double the time in Zambia.

While no Zambian lodges are going to compete anytime soon in terms of overall luxury with the Royal Malewane or Singita, overall, it will be every bit as memorable, if not MORE memorable to spend 12 nights in Zambia rather than a whirlwind 6 nights in the Sabi Sand.

With even 9 nights it possible to have a great itinerary such as the following:

Kaingo (3)
Luangwa River Lodge (3)
Kasaka River Lodge (3)

I apologize if my previous posts have set up unrealistic expectations. That was a one shot deal...I think I just was really desperate and knew how to beg really well last year! This year, however, it is NO DICE, and I am fully accepting of the fact that I will be very near to full price.

One thing that potential visitors need to keep in mind is that this money is needed to SUPPORT THE WILDLIFE OF ZAMBIA, and that the money is going to a very good cause. Trust me, Billionaire Richard Branson does not own any lodges in Zambia and you will not see Zambia splashed all over trashy reality shows anytime soon. ZAMBIA IS UNSPOILED AND WILD AFRICA (and worth every penny, even at full rack rate).

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Jan 26th, 2005, 12:30 PM
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Cruisinred,

First of all, I think it is a waste to go to South Luangwa for only two nights. We are talking about a place that is FOURTEEN times larger than the Sabi Sand Game Reserve in South Africa, where the minimum time that most people visit is for 3 nights.

Personally, I think it would be madness to jump around from Victoria Falls to Lower Zambezi to South Luangwa in only 7 nights. Your transfers alone will be as follows:

Joburg - Lusaka - Victoria Falls - Lusaka - Lower Zambezi - Lusaka - South Luangwa. I would imagine that, alone, would cost around $1,375 per person. You are already at $2,750 total.

3 nights at Matetsi = $875 per person by the time you throw in your road transfers (it is an hour away by mostly paved road). Now, you are up to $4,500.

2 nights at Kasaka River Lodge = $750 per person (you do not really expect lower rates when you are only staying 2 nights, do you?). Now, you are up to $6,000.

2 nights at Luangwa River Lodge = $875 per person (again, with a short stay, you will probably pay more). Now, you are up to $7,500. That is not much more than you had planned on, but I am not sure whether you also thought that your international air would also be included.

If coming from the USA, you can add in another $1,600 per person from the East Coast or $2,000 per person from the West Coast. Even from Europe, you are probably looking at an extra $1,100 per person.

If you are getting higher pricing than that, then there is something wrong. In any event, not to sound like a jerk, but your itinerary is horrible. Two nights in South Luangwa is terribly inadequate, and a third night in the Lower Zambezi, in my opinion, is vital.

Since you will have the chance for canoeing at Matetsi, I would suggest that you simply spend 4 nights at Luangwa River Lodge and save the Lower Zambezi for another time. This would save you on your flights and would definitely get you a better rate at Luangwa River Lodge.

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Jan 26th, 2005, 12:40 PM
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Thanks Roccco. I was thinking of flying into Lusaka direct on BA, so need to include the transfer from JBG. Thanks for your itinerary advice---I meant to write 3 or 4 nights in Luangwa.

But in terms of price, it sounds like I was in the ballpark at $7500 for accomodations and internal Zambia flights only, not including flights from the States. I'm a newbie here, but I thought that the TA saying she couldn't do it for under $10K seemed odd...I will keep looking...and reading these posts
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Jan 26th, 2005, 12:58 PM
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One warning about the flight directly into Lusaka...you are either going to need to spend your final night in Lusaka in order to make your flight home, OR you are going to need to CHARTER a plane to get to the airport in time, as if I am not mistaken it is like a flight back to London around 10:30AM or so. It would be a shame to give up a safari night to spend one night in Lusaka.

Good luck and I am sure that it will all come together.
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Jan 26th, 2005, 02:51 PM
  #12
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Many thanks to all of your for your insights, feedback and guidance. I'm constantly impressed by the willingness of others to assist on this forum.

I feel the need to chime in and say that for my pricing estimates I was using 2005 busy season Rack Rate pricing directly from the lodges. I am also using estimates from the lodges for the internal airfare.

There is most likely a good reason why the quotes are coming back higher from the agents - perhaps one leg requires a charter, perhaps the lodging only has the honeymoon suite availabe, or something else. But, I haven't been able to discuss this as yet with the TAs, since I seem to be the lucky winner of the bad timing award - i.e., my itinerary hits their desk just after a blizzard of other requests, they are unexpectedly out of the office for several days, etc.

My inability to pin down the discrepancy and anxiety around availability is what drove my question about direct booking.
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Jan 26th, 2005, 04:17 PM
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Like I said on an earlier thread, it would benefit the traveler to have all your dates and times available to send out to the charter air companies that I listed in an earlier thread.

You can directly hire the air charter company, as long as you make a wire transfer. That should take a lot of the guessing out of it once you get a price from the charter air companies.

Again, the company I most recommend for Zambia is Airwaves Airlink, but in all fairness the only other Zambian company I have used is Zambian Airways. While it was a very nice flight on ZA, they did cause me to miss a game drive by being four hours late for one flight.

STEP ONE - MAKE A FIRM ITINERARY
STEP TWO - CONTACT THE AIR CHARTER COMPANIES
STEP THREE - CONTACT THE TOUR OPERATOR, GIVE THEM THE EXACT ITINERARY THAT YOU WANT ALONG WITH THE PRICE YOU RECEIVED FROM THE AIR CHARTER COMPANY. EITHER THE TOUR OPERATOR CAN MATCH OR BETTER THE PRICE OR YOU DEAL DIRECT WITH THE AIR CHARTER COMPANY

Bottom line, you have to make things as simple as possible for the tour operator, or else they rightfully must mark up the prices to justify all the extra work that is required.
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