The brief: A young couple want to book a two-week fly-drive in California and Nevada next year and can be flexible with dates to get the best price.

The budget: £2,500.

The verdict: The top three agencies did well but efficiency and attention to detail gave Flight Centre the edge.

Thomas Cook, 9 High Street, Canterbury Thomas Cook

9 High Street
Score:
29%

I wasn’t acknowledged when I entered the agency and customers who came in after me were served first. When I approached an agent she asked if I wanted to take a brochure home; I had to ask for a consultation. I was told an expert agent was busy and that she would call me when she was free.

After about an hour I had not received a call, so I returned and spoke to the agent. She took brief details of my request but was unwelcoming, and said she was going home in five minutes because she’d already had a long day.

I was promised a call within two days with a quote but I didn’t hear a thing.

First Choice, 42 High Street, Canterbury First Choice

42 High Street
Score:
72%

This friendly, helpful agent initially seemed to lack confidence in her knowledge and abilities when I explained my request. But she found her feet after taking notes of my details and flicking through a Virgin Holidays brochure.

She selected a good driving route and obtained a quote from Hayes & Jarvis although, at £3,700, this was way over budget. She decided to put something together herself instead using Beds Online, and got the price down to £2,500, including British Airways flights, car hire and insurance.

Once the agent gained confidence, she did really well. But it was a shame that the shop was dirty and badly maintained.

Trailfinders, 29 Burgate, Canterbury Trailfinders

29 Burgate
Score:
77%

This polite agent was great at finding out what type of holiday I wanted, asking what we wanted to see, how long we were willing to drive for and what type of hotels we wanted to stay in.

She also had excellent knowledge of the area and made lots of useful suggestions. She was focused on making sure we saw everything we wanted and worked hard over
a long period to construct a trip fitting everything in.

However, the result was a 16-night trip costing £3,100, so I felt she should perhaps have tried to manage our expectations and tailor something better suited to our timescale and budget.

Flight Centre, 8-9 The Parade, CanterburyFlight Centre

8-9 The Parade
Score:
78%

This agent was talkative and friendly, making me feel welcome. She had plenty of knowledge and drew on her experiences of visiting Las Vegas to make suggestions.

After calling suppliers she offered more help and advice, planning a simple, comprehensive route. She edged ahead of the competition by establishing that our dates were flexible and checking what time of year would be cheapest to fly, which enabled her to bring in a quote of £2,746, which included flights, car hire and 14 nights’ accommodation.

She worked quickly so I didn’t feel like I was waiting. I loved the personal recommendations and tailor-made trip, but I felt the branch was short-staffed, which resulted in interruptions as the agent had to answer the phone during our consultation.

Top tips: Selling California

  1. Fly-drives in the southwest of the US are popular because of the stunning scenery along California’s coast and inland in the deserts and mountain ranges of Nevada’s national parks.
  2. Itineraries tend to visit San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and national parks including Yosemite, Death Valley and the Grand Canyon.
  3. Clients are likely to overestimate how far they can drive in a day. Remind them they will want sightseeing time out of the car and recommend two or three-night stops for recuperation so they don’t return home exhausted.
  4. The best times of year for this trip would be late spring or early autumn when the weather is warm and dry. San Francisco’s weather is unpredictable, so advise they take a jacket.
  5. For more information on the US and fly-drive itineraries, visit Gazetteers.com