Travel 2/4 is to scrap its 0870 phone number in favour of a freephone 0800 number costing the trade-only operator £200,000.

Managing director Maria Whiteman said next month the operator will no longer use premium-rate numbers that cost eight pence a minute.

She added the change has only been possible thanks to an increase in the value of bookings made by agents who she hopes will back the move by doing more business with Travel 2/4. Calls are 10% down so far this year.

Whiteman said: “Six months ago we couldn’t have done this because most of the bookings we were getting were flight-only, but thanks to the increase in hotel and package bookings we now have a better mix of product being sold with better returns.

“It is quite a bold move, we obviously need to ensure we get more business off the back of this but it should now be a very straightforward decision for agents as to which operator to use for long-haul bookings.”

Advantage commercial director Julia Lo Bue-Said expected the move to be popular with members.  She said: “It could set a precedent and certainly we’d like to see that.”

A recent survey by the consortium to find out which operators were the most agent friendly revealed 9% charge premium rates, 44.5% national rates and 46.5% local rates.

Premium-rate telephone numbers have long been a source of irritation for agents and, after the recent controversy surrounding TV game shows, Island Cruises last week said it was ditching them in favour of local numbers.

Stowaway Travel boss Paul Stowe, who fought back by setting up his own 0870 number for operators to call his agency, said: “It’ll be interesting to see what other operators do.”