Ok so the lovely guys n girls at STA TravelBuzz…well girl…the endearing Camilla…have asked me to review my experiences with STA Travel.
I’d like to point out that despite my travel writings for STA TravelBuzz I have no connection with the company, and I have no reason not to criticise them if I feel criticism is needed.
My blogs are generally unedited (bar a few spelling mistakes and the occasional bit of punctuation!) so you can rest assured that this review of their services is based solely on my personal experience, with the occasional bit of input from my fellow travellers.
I will also point out that unless stated all my dealings with STA have been face to face in store at the Exeter branch.
I’ve decided to break it down nicely so you can flick through and easily pick out the bits you want to read…so here goes!
Generally the first thing you look at booking with STA, the flight in my mind is probably the most important part of your dealings with them, because without it you aint going anywhere!
I booked a singular flight with STA (I only needed one) from Heathrow to Cairns [via Hong Kong] and returning Sydney to Heathrow [again via Hong Kong]. The process was simple, all I needed was a leaving date (which I actually decided on the spot with the help of my STA rep!) and we searched through times and dates to get the right one for my budget and arrival time needs.
I’d done A LOT of screen scraping internet searches to find a better deal prior to going in….but STA was by far the best price.
The staff I dealt with were patient, despite me changing it twice before confirming, and recommended airlines and flight routes.
Since being in Australia I have also changed my return flight (I had booked a flexible return, which has to be used within a year but is changeable). I reconfirmed my departure date and added on a stopover for Hong Kong. This was partially done through my parents at their English end, and all they required was a confirmation email from me stating that this was acceptable. My parents have said that they had no problems and everyone was very helpful.
My fellow campervaner Becky booked and around the world flight with 11 stops…she has so far used 5 stops and has had no issues and was very pleased with the price she paid.
The only issue we’ve had flight wise is confusion over baggage transfers on the long haul trips, a few of us were unsure if we needed to recheck bags when in transit – but I think this is probably and issue with the airline rather than STA.
So all in all outstanding feedback on the flight side of things….
Easily the second most important thing to book when planning your travels. Although insurance anywhere for a long period of time is pricey and may seem like a waste of time I went into the insurance buying part of my planning with the mindset that to a certain degree you get what you pay for with insurance.
Sure STA isn’t the cheapest insurance available (I did a lot of shopping around on this part) it does however offer reduced excesses and a lot of cover with regards to delays, cancellations and baggage loss. Also a good point to note is the extras it includes – like the amount of skydives you can do, cover for diving and air sea rescue (I surf so I thought that may be helpful *touch wood I don’t need it though*). But that’s exactly it – insurance is preparing for the worst. Don’t think about the cost so much. 99% of the time you wont need to claim and it may feel like wasted money…but you’ll sure be glad of it if you do, especially with hospital bills in Oz. My friend Craig had an unfortunate incident in Cairns which resulted in an ambulance being called to take him to hospital…a bill for $900 turned up at his house in England, something he was glad his insurance covered!
When booking my insurance I didn’t feel pressured into upgrading or buying something I didn’t need – it was explained to me simply and I was allowed to make an informed decision.
Also be aware of STA’s price match…campervanner Rob had a quote matched – saving him over £90!
A few of my fellow travellers have said they didn’t book through STA due to the price though. Insurance is very personal depending on your needs – shop around and make sure your completely covered. If like me you have a lot of camera equipment or an expensive laptop you may find yourself only partially covered with STA. I opted to cover my kit separately with photoguard.co.uk as they are one of the few companies who will cover cameras abroad for a year long period.
TAX/OZ BANK ACCOUNT:
Because of the fact I’m on a working visa I decided to get my tax and oz bank account sorted before travelling.
Tax I would say is a definite – without sorting it you can find yourself on emergency tax of nearly 60%! Bad times!
The bank account is easily setup in Oz (like 15mins!) however I liked the easy option of money transfer and the set transfer rate of £10 per transaction. Compared with English – Oz bank transfers this is a lot cheaper and quicker.
Although not directly done through STA (its through a third party) it was initiated through them – a quick and easy process and in my opinion worth it for £50. Especially landing in Oz knowing you already have funds available.
Although I didn’t end up doing this through STA, they do offer the service for obtaining a VIP card. This card is well worth it simply for the 500km of free Greyhound miles you get at the moment! Also included is an Optus sim card so you can set up your Aussie mobile number before you leave, another handy thing to do.
It can easily be arranged through STA or directly through the VIP card website.
I would warn you that Aussie pay as you go tariffs are odd though, make sure you research it all beforehand, it can easily become confusing!
The only trip I booked though STA was my Open water and Advanced dive course. The main reason for this was simply the fact I had no idea where to start searching through the immense amount of dive schools in Cairns and I trusted that STA would only recommend the best.
I was not disappointed and my dive course with Deep Sea Divers Den (I did the liveaboard on OceanQuest) was a great experience at a price I was happy with.
I wanted maximum flexibility with my travelling so that was the only trip I got through STA – the rest I’ve done off my own back, it depends how you travel though, but I wouldn’t hesitate to book anymore trips through STA if I wanted to plan ahead.
Becky booked a 3 week tour of China (the Essential China trip) and a 10 Thailand trip (the Sojourn Trip) – both of which included mini trips and accommodation, she cant rate them highly enough, she loved it!
Again to offer maximum flexibility I only booked 2 blocks of accommodation through STA. The first was a budget hotel for my first night – a great way to relax and make sure you avoid jetlag. The price was perfect and I have no issues with the accommodation itself.
Secondly was my first week of hostel accommodation before my dive course, booked simply to save the hassle of lugging my bags around a place I didn’t know!
My STA rep searched around for a good price and was more than happy to find a location close to the action and where I needed to be for my dive course. The accommodation itself (Nomads Esplanade, Cairns) was what could be expected for the price, the staff were friendly but the kitchen and facilities weren’t too amazing – but again less to do with STA and more the hostel itself.
Overall everyone I’ve spoken to thinks highly of STA. My experience has been one of friendly staff, good prices and the knowledge that I have easily accessible advice – both through their website (which could do with being a bit clearer in layout), via email and in any of their numerous branches – both home and in Oz.
The staff clearly know what their doing and most of the time I was pointed in the direction of someone who’d actually visited where I was going, which is very comforting. They’re also fine with answering stupid question…believe me I’ve fired a few at them! They are also capable of dealing with people who like myself pretty much wandered in off the street with a credit card and a country to visit!
Lets face it as a worldwide company specialising in under 26 travel and with decades of experience it would be foolish to think that STA have survived this long by simply ‘winging it’. They know how to book and organise travel to almost anywhere in the world, and their prepared to put their hands up and admit if you find better prices.
I’d recommend them as a backpacker and so would everyone I know that’s dealt with them. No advertising or back rubbing here, just the honest truth from a bunch of tanned, chilled out, adventure seeking travellers who are currently residing on the West coast of Australia…which all started in an STA branch in Exeter, Devon.
Do you really need any more of a reference than that?!
Take it easy and enjoy your travels – just remember that the planning is as much of an adventure as actually travelling!
For more info check out their site: www.statravel.co.uk