Agent vs tour operator vs direct booking

On this page: Yacht suppliers | Tour operators | Agents

There are potentially up to four people in the food chain between you and your yacht:

  1. The yacht owner, which may or may not be the yacht supplier
  2. The yacht supplier or operator, often based overseas, who runs the yachts
  3. The tour operator (usually if you’re booking a package)
  4. The charter agent (if you choose to use one)

Logic says each of these needs to earn a crust so if you can cut some of them out of the  chain you’ll save money. And indeed you might, but you probably won’t. It can even work out cheapest to have all four, and you’ve a far better chance of getting the most suitable holiday too!

Firstly, forget booking with the yacht owner (unless he is also the yacht supplier). Yacht owners place their yachts with operators precisely because they don’t want to deal with charters themselves. This may be because they lack the skills and/or marketing clout and/or interest to run the boat or they simply may not have the time. You might be surprised how few yachts are actually owned by the yacht operators but even if you could track the owners down, they are unlikely to welcome your approach. So lets focus on other other three and examine the advantages and disadvantages of booking with each.

Yacht Suppliers

Most yacht suppliers sell mostly through agents and tour operators but will also sell to you direct. Many have their own websites. But they will only offer you their yachts, or those of partners in other locations. So unless you’re prepared to trawl the web it’s hard to compare prices (and you’ll probably not even find all the potential suppliers). It’s even harder to know which boats are good and which come complete with their own crew of coachroaches, worn out or broken gear etc.

You might expect that if you book direct with the yacht operator it will be cheaper as he won’t have to pay any commission to an agent or tour operator.  However, yacht suppliers need tour operators and agents who can deal with clients in their own language and sort out all the other bits and pieces that go to make a successful holiday, such as travel arrangements. Yacht suppliers are smart enough to know that if they sell their yachts cheaper than their agents, they soon won’t have any agents!  So booking direct is unlikely to save you money. In fact it could cost you more.

Yacht operators range from large national or international companies, for whom the yachts may be a core activity or a side line, to small family operations who may only have a couple of boats. The quality of the yachts is generally unrelated to the size of the business. A large company may rely on large numbers of seasonal staff who may not have the incentives to keep up maintenance standards the same way as a family who are reliant on the yachting income. However, the big players may be better able to afford spares than a small company. So there are good and bad big companies, and good and bad small ones. The problem is, how would you know which is which?

Tour Operators

Tour operators make their crust from putting together packages of flights, yachts and other elements you may want. They may also own or manage yachts, so act as the yacht operator. And the big boys also have their own airlines, Sunsail with Thomson, both owned by Tui, and Neilson with Thomas Cook.

Small tour operators often have a few yachts of their own (it enables them to say they own their own yachts, even if the majority aren’t theirs) but often work in partnership with overseas yacht suppliers. They use Charter flights from the large operators as well as Low Cost and Scheduled airlines.

Many small tour operators specialise in certain areas so they can buy flight seats in bulk and only deal with a selection of yacht suppliers.  This enables them to get higher commission rates from the yacht suppliers which helps offset the fact that margins on flights are small and the cost of being left with unsold seats or yachts can be significant, to say nothing of the cost of the ATOL license they need to sell flight inclusive packages.

Most of the  tour operators offer flotillas and so may be tempted to push you towards a flotilla holiday in preference to bareboat, or to at least sell you some flights with your bareboat if they can persuade you to take one from an area they operate in.  This can make the yacht price cheaper than if you book direct with the yacht operator and bought your own flights, as you benefit from their higher commission rates which may give them more scope to discount.

The joy for tour operators of flight inclusive packages is it’s harder for you to compare prices, especially as the content of different companies’ offerings may be different (eg some include yacht fuel, some don’t).  So on the plus side, you get a one stop shop and their purchasing power with the suppliers and airlines may mean a keen price.

On the down side, each company promotes it’s own products so don’t expect them to tell you about the competitor’s flotilla down the coast (or even from the same port)! And for bareboats, their tie ins with yacht suppliers means you may only be offered a selection of what’s actually available, especially if you’re looking to charter outside their usual areas.


There are two sorts of agents, tied and independent. The big tour operators have their own tied high street travel agents through whom you can book their sailing packages, though don’t expect too much advice from the staff. (In fact I tried to book with one of the big players a few years back and even their central sales team couldn’t produce anyone who knew the sailing area I was interested in, though they did kindly read me the brochure page)! The smaller tour operators may also act as agents for other suppliers, so may steer you more towards yachts from their partner suppliers.

So if you want to use a Charter Agent, I suggest you seek out an independent agent, of which I am one (so look no further)! Charter agents offer yachts from the yacht operators and may also offer packages from tour operators (I offer both).

In theory independent agents can offer just about any yacht suppliers’ boats. In reality many agents prefer to deal with a limited number of yacht suppliers, for the  same reason as tour operators – they get an increased commission for doing so.

I am different and will endeavour to offer you the pick from as many yachts as I can find, including those small suppliers that often slip below the radar. I will tell you those yachts I particularly rate but if you just want the cheapest price and are happy to gamble a bit on the quality, I’ll find you the cheapest I can.

I also offer packages including flight inclusive flotillas (though one or two of the flotilla operators chose not to sell through agents), but also flight inclusive bareboat, learn to sail, cabin charter and crewed yacht holidays. These packages can be tailored to your requirements and are provided by ATOL licensed UK tour operators, with ATOL protection.

So why deal with me rather than a tour operator or yacht supplier?  Because the price should certainly be no worse and will often be better, because I’ll find options others will miss and because I can sometimes offer discounts that are not generally available or publicised. You’ll get a choice of a far wider range than of you deal with a tour operator or  yacht supplier.  And because I’ve no axe to grind for one supplier or tour operator over another, the advice will be as close to impartial as I can get.

Have I seen all the yachts I offer.  No of course not.  But I’d be a bit cautious about other folks’ claims to carefully inspect and monitor their suppliers yachts (or even all their own) – it’s a pretty huge project. So just like the rest, I can’t guarantee any yacht I sell you won’t break down (because no one can), but after many years at the sharp end there are suppliers I trust to prepare a boat well, and respond quickly if  something goes wrong.

Finally, in case you’re worried about dealing with a new kid on the block, actually I’m a good few years off being a kid and I’ve been working in the travel and sailing industry for a fair few years too. Remember I act as an agent so your contract is with the tour operator or supplier and in most cases I can even arrange for you to pay them direct if you wish. I am also a member of the British Marine Federation, and the Marine Leisure Association, the leading trade association for Training, Charter & Holidays, UK & Worldwide.