Brief: Two friends are looking for a winter trip to one of the European Christmas markets, and are thinking Vienna would be nice. They would like to go for three days, so flying there would be best.

Budget: Up to £1,000 for both.

Verdict: Enthusiasm and efficiency scored points, but the winning agent took the lead by adding a thorough approach and detailed product knowledge to the mix.

Astral Travel, 31 Cricklade Road, Swindon Astral Travel

31 Cricklade Road

The outside of this shop was somewhat shabby, although the window displays were tidy and clear. I was the only customer, and a casually dressed agent greeted me.

She showed me a brochure, but said I couldn’t have it as it was her only copy. She quoted me a price of £364 per person to stay at the three-star Hotel Kartnerhof in Vienna, but when I asked how long a coach trip would take she didn’t know and didn’t offer to find out.

She took a personal call lasting a few minutes during my consultation and didn’t apologise, and though she was patient, she was very unenthusiastic. She didn’t take my details or offer to follow up my enquiry.

Travel Angels, 30 Havelock Street, SwindonTravel Angels

30 Havelock Street

The agent greeted me straight away with a smile, and I can’t fault her on friendliness, enthusiasm or patience – it was just a shame she knew nothing about Christmas markets.

However, she was happy to do some research, Googling the dates of the Vienna market and then trying to determine which hotels would be closest.

She gave me the Cresta Cities brochure with her business card, but kept mentioning the operator’s Christmas markets brochure that hadn’t yet been released.

She quoted me £306 per person with Cresta, staying at the Hotel Harmonie and flying with bmi. She assumed I wanted the cheapest hotel, but I would  have liked to have seen more options.

Thomas Cook, 39 The Parade, SwindonThomas Cook

39 The Parade

The agent who helped me was very professional and efficient, bringing up relevant information on her computer in seconds. She was clearly interested in my enquiry.

She immediately said that for a three-day trip I should fly, as coach travel times would leave me with only one day of holiday.

She quickly found hotels in the vicinity of the markets and offered four-star options with special offers. She clearly explained my airport transfer options, with costs highlighted. I was given a Cresta brochure with printouts including prices and a phone number to follow up.

This friendly agent knew what she was talking about, but she never questioned me about my budget.

Highworth Travel, 27 High Street, SwindonHighworth Travel

27 High Street

This agent displayed superb product knowledge on many European markets. She talked me through the methods of travel including coach, Eurostar, train and air, and recommended Cologne and Brussels. She gave me a large selection of brochures including Leger Holidays, Treyn Holidays, Cresta Cities and Austria Travel.

She didn’t assume anything, checking my budget and airport preference, and after I opted for Vienna, she was keen to show me more traditional properites such as K&K Hotels. She gave me details and prices, and informed me about a new procedure bmi has introduced.

Without being pushy she told me about deposits and payment options. After just 15 minutes in Highworth Travel I would have made a booking. I left the shop really looking forward to a holiday that I’m not actually going on.