Remember early 2016, when we were already bored by talk of the EU referendum and looking forward to it being over? And when the thought of Donald Trump becoming president seemed as likely as that being his real hair?
Well this time last year, I published a report on how the best stag do operators in the UK compare in terms of price, customer service and knowledge about the destinations and activities they offer. You only need to look at the news to see how much things can change in 12 months, so I figured it was good idea to take a fresh look.
This year we’re heading to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic and also the capital of European Stag Do trips. Prague is known for its excellent nightlife, wide range of cultural activities and a stoic acceptance of Brit stag groups who descend on the city in their hundreds every year. So try and leave it in one piece, okay?
Why do you need a specialist stag company?
Before we start, a true story. A friend of mine was recently part of a stag group going to Munich. The group included a couple of City big-hitters, guys who had demanding jobs with precious little free time, some of it they had given up for this weekend. The plan as circulated over email beforehand was to catch a Bayern Munich game and then crawl the bars, but unfortunately the best man was not what you’d describe as organised. Already winging it, he planned to buy tickets for the match on arrival, but found out when he called that Bayern were playing away that weekend, so the football was out straightaway.
It didn’t end there. After stowing his bag away at the hotel, the stag came down to find his best man downstairs asking the receptionist where they should go out. She didn’t have a clue but made a few vague suggestions. They then spent several hours wandering the streets of Munich getting turned away at every bar they tried because they didn’t accept stag groups. The group ended up drinking in the hotel bar by around 10pm. There were rumblings of mutiny. Next day, while the rest of them explored Munich, the best man spent the entire morning on his phone organising that night’s entertainment. Luckily he was able to get it together and salvage the second-half of the weekend, but I think this story neatly shows the need for using a specialist provider if you’re not familiar with the place you’re going. They bring everything together, from your airport transfers to your activities, organising professional guides and offering an immediate contact if you have any problems.
I’ve had the honour of being a best man on three occasions now, and I would be very wary of taking a stag group to an unfamiliar city without having this kind of support behind me. That being the case I thought it would be useful for you to understand who are the best stag do operators so you can make a more informed decision about how to give your moolah.
Why go on a stag weekend to Prague?
You can the full low down on exactly where to go in Prague, self-guided bar crawls the lot, in my comprehensive Prague Stag Do Guide but if you want a shortened version allow me to summarise for you.
Just two hours from London and served by a number of budget airlines, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The historic centre is a World Heritage Site, with an astronomical clock and a huge well-preserved castle. During the daytime, you can take a boat cruise on the Vltava River, or check out the Lennon Wall. Yes that’s right I said it, stag weekends don’t always have to be drinking non-stop… oh all right whatever, mine’s a lager. .
In the evenings much of the action takes place around Wenceslas Square. You can go the time-honoured route of shots and crowded bars, or you can go for a more authentic experience if you do a bit of research on where to drink. The beer in Prague is excellent, and cheap too at around 30CSK a pint, which works out around £1. A cooked breakfast can often be had for less than a fiver. Now is definitely a good time to go because things are only going to get more pricey over the next few years as the ramifications of Brexit set in – not to mention we’ll need visas – cheers Nige, you dry lunch.
Trams run all night, but most stag providers put their groups up within walking distance of the main nightlife areas anyway. Note that outdoors-y activities such as rafting or paintball are usually within a 30-60 minute transfer, so if you’re getting an evening flight back there’s more than enough time to fit something in then have a few cheeky beers before heading to the airport – transfers from the city centre clock in at around 20-30 minutes.
One activity I highly recommend in Prague is taking a brewery tour. Their beer is world-renowned and in May a huge city-wide Czech Beer Festival takes place – a fantastic Prague Stag idea but do make sure to book early as hotels fill up rapidly. Incidentally, if you want to compare the price of Prague stag dos then follow the link and you can take your pick.
Best Prague Stag Do Providers 2017
So there’s your Prague stag guide – now, on to the report. In 2016 I looked at 8 providers, and this year I’ve added a few more. Clearcut don’t go into Europe, and based on previous experiences do not come recommended, so I’ve replaced them with Awesome Weekends. I’ve also added Weekend Dr into the mix, as well as PissUp.
As before, I asked each company for exactly the same quote, in this instance 2 nights in September, to include central 3* accommodation with breakfast, with airport transfers and three activities included.
If you read the 2016 report, some things remain the same – a deposit of between £25 and £50 is needed to secure the booking; most companies will offer to help the best man to collect deposits from the group with an online wallet system, and booking details can usually be viewed online in a members’ section with password.
How good are stag providers?
Before we get in to the individual suppliers, a word on industry standards as a whole. Last year, the average score across all suppliers was 74 out of 100. This year, it is…74 again. The conclusion being that whilst the standard is decent (as it should be for such a competitive industry) it has neither improved or declined as a collective in the last 12 months. This was slightly surprising as a number of suppliers have undergone rebranding excercises and so I was expecting a market level improvement.
Having said that, and at the risk of sounding like some jumped up City Boy, the ‘like-for-like’ score has increased. What do I mean by like-for-like? If I compare the eight suppliers who feature in both 2016 & 2017, as opposed to mudding the waters with new entrants, then the score increases to 78. So amongst the established, well known players in the market, standards have indeed improved.
Below is an overview and then we get in to the detail with each individual supplier.
I found the PissUp quote procedure to be a little convoluted. I had to enter my dates, numbers and destination 3 times in total – twice on the website and once by email, before I received a price. They’re a Swiss company but a London phone number is provided, and getting through on it that number proved frustrating unfortunately.
I did receive a call back after requesting one by email, and the quote when it arrived was decent – the agent who called me to follow up was very up to speed on Prague, and what could be done there. Pissup have ground agents in every destination they offer, price match against competitors (as do most stag providers of course) and generally came across very friendly and knowledgeable. But I am slightly concerned that their offices are tricky to contact by phone so I suggest email is the best way. (Also, the very name of the company means that some email providers may automatically send their messages to your junk folder, so do be sure to check that). Their website makes much of their high level of customer satisfaction, and judging by the knowledge that the agent displayed, this seems realistic.
On a more subliminal level, the PissUp brand is quite lad orientated. 90’s favourite’s FHM and Loaded are featured on the homepage and is perhaps best suited for a younger audience looking for the traditional elements of weekend abroad – lots of cheap booze and scantily clad women.
Last Night of Freedom
Based in Newcastle, which if you were somehow unaware, is pretty much Stag-central in the UK, it makes sense that Last Night of Freedom were another high-scorer last year, racking up 75 out of a possible 100 points. This time around I was similarly impressed, the agent was familiar with Prague and the various different aspects of the quote he’d sent over. Communication was excellent, and whatever questions I asked he was able to answer clear and precisely. They, like pretty much all the other companies I expect, offer 24 support 7 days a week from the office, as well as support in-resort. Plus, a local Czech girl to meet you at the airport and accompany you on every activity, which is a big plus.
I came away with pretty much the same thoughts as I did last year about Last Night of Freedom – they fill you with confidence that your stag arrangements are in a safe pair of hands, and the price is very reasonable too. I wouldn’t have any worries about booking with them.
Part of the Groupia chain of companies, Stagweb offers a very easy quote procedure, selecting from a series of dropdown boxes. I also liked how they gathered a few bits of feedback from me as I went along – it shows they’re interested in continually improving their service. The agent I spoke with was very impressive. He clearly knew Prague quite well, was not at all pushy, and was flexible and honest with the pricing. Stagweb sent over a good quality quote, correct first time, and with all the necessary information. I’ve always got the underlying impression with these guys that they’re well managed and based on my experience with them over the last two years I would consider them a very good bet for organising your stag.
Last year Designaventure ranked second to bottom, losing several points for the quality of their very basic quote. Has that improved? Slightly, but not enough to benchmark favourably against competitors I’m afraid. Compared to the jazzy, engaging and highly detailed quotes sent by all the other providers, DesignaVenture’s offering is a little more basic. All the details were correct, and it certainly contained enough information to help me start my planning, but I think there’s room for improvement there to reach the standards of the best in class competitors on email correspondence.
Of course, an email won’t make or break your stag do, so putting that to one side, I was interested to get the measure of the advice they could give me in arranging my Prague stag do. The agent was very nice, but it was apparent that they had never been to Prague and as such was unable to offer advice about it over the phone without checking with a colleague first.
Whilst it must be expensive to send employees here there and everywhere, there is little doubt that local knowledge plays a big part in the selling process. Most of the other agents I spoke to had either visited Prague to experience it for themselves, or had done plenty of research, and I felt that this was also something DesignaVenture might want to look at.
Maximise came second last year, and I was interested to see how they would perform with Prague. Having provided my phone number and details of what I was after, I was disappointed that the onus was placed on me to ring their office to discuss things – maybe I’m being unreasonable but I kind of expect when asking for a quote for someone to call me back. The quote, on display in their online booking centre, was again comprehensive, packed with lots of valuable destination information.
Here’s something I wanted to talk about – several companies included a strip club during their pub crawl and Maximise was one of them. Now it shouldn’t come as any shock to hear that many men enjoy spending their last weekend of freedom drinking vodka shots from between a stranger’s cleavage. Nothing wrong with that, unless we’re talking about Fat John’s arse cleavage. But at the same time, I know that a lot of guys do feel a little uncomfortable about strip joints, so in my opinion at least, it should be an optional extra rather than automatically included. To be fair, I should point out that this is a trend across the industry I’ve come to realise, and one that’s been going on for a while, so I guess my beef is more to do with stag providers as a whole rather than one particular provider. Okay, rant over! Let’s get back to Maximise…
The agent didn’t sound overly enthusiastic on the phone to be honest. She seemed pretty knowledgeable about Prague, but not so interested in really selling it as a destination. I suspect I caught her on a bad day. The price was far and away the lowest I got, so if you’re looking for value, then Maximise are the best in the industry at giving what retailers call ‘right price first time’ and they deserve credit of their integrity in this regard.
Awesome Weekends, not so awesome service. Man alive, I was seriously unimpressed with this outfit. Even the companies that cocked up the quote, or had agents who were clueless about Prague, at least bothered to get in touch. Most contacted me inside of an hour just to tell me they were working on the quote. These guys remind me of ClearCut – nothing for over a week. I chased them by phone and still nothing. Apparently they were waiting on prices from their Prague agent but surely they all use pretty much the same people? Couldn’t they just send a best estimate at least? I didn’t bother following up a second time – there’s plenty of choice – 10 other companies I knew would be happy for my business.
Anyway, a quote arrived, eventually, and when I spoke to the agent, more disappointment. He said he’d been to Prague but seemingly had no clue about what went on there. Unable to pronounce the name of the main square, he couldn’t say where the rafting took place or when was the best season to go, and when asked about the hotel breakfast was very disparaging about it, which made me think A) why bother including it then and B) why don’t you ask the hotel to make it better?
I like to give everyone a fair go, but from this experience I would not trust Awesome Weekends to flog me a wet weekend in Hull. Will be interested to see if they improve in 2018.
A solid performer in last year’s report, the quote I got through initially from Off Limits was not clear as to whether certain elements were included, so that was the first thing I wanted to discuss with them on the phone. It was also one of the most expensive quotes I received.
But the agent I spoke to was fantastic. She was extremely friendly and helpful, knew Prague well, was very positive and not at all pushy. She sounded determined to ensure I was happy with the accommodation and all the arrangements, and was also happy to send over a full itinerary including details of local transport.
Guys, I am giving Off Limits first place. They weren’t the cheapest by any means, and they don’t really offer anything that other companies don’t. But for me, when I’m arranging a massive send-off for my brother or best friend, I want to see enthusiasm and competence perhaps more than anything else. I usually make a point of not naming names so as to avoid embarrassing anyone, but in this case I will – Peyton, your manager should give you a raise.
Another very impressive provider, I noticed in particular that Weekend Dr were highly knowledgeable about Prague and the various activities available, as well as suitable alternatives when asked. This flexibility and eagerness to offer alternatives when asked is something I like to award points for – every company offers a range of different activities in each resort, and stress that they are happy to rearrange things as necessary, but I felt the Weekend Dr agent was very clear on exactly what was involved with each activity, such as distance to travel, cost etc.
Something else that I consider it important to flag up: he also pointed out that it’s sometimes not a good idea to include an activity on the Sunday morning, as after a couple of nights’ heavy drinking, many groups will not feel like rolling out of bed early to go paintballing or bobsledding, and will pay for something they just end up sleeping through, much like buying a Coldplay album. A good bet.
The Stag Company
The quote from The Stag Company arrived speedily but perhaps because of this, not quite enough attention to detail had been paid, and there were a couple of mistakes. Of course these can be, and were, ironed out very quickly, but when you’re requesting a very simple package as I was, it should be easy enough to get it right first time. What I would say in their defence though, and one of the main reasons that their score is still as high as it is, is that when I asked for changes and suggestions to the quote, as many stag organisers will prior to departure, these came through quickly and in plenty of detail – customer service is good here.
The price point was around the middle of the others I received, and like several other providers, The Stag Company were keen to emphasise that they can price match against like-for-like competitor quotes if necessary, which can save you a few quid. As last year, I am satisfied that they are good all-rounders, and another safe bet for organising a stag-do abroad.
One of the market leaders, I expected Chilisauce to rise to the challenge and they delivered. The response was quick, the first email was clear, detailed and showcased the company’s positive customer feedback and key selling points – they know how to make a good first impression alright.
The Chilisauce member section is easily navigable and comprehensive, and like a bunch of other companies they always include a few nice little extras like a beer after a hard morning on the shooting range. The agent had been to Prague recently, knew the lie of the land there and seemed very confident when talking over the hotels, breakfasts and activities. A safe pair of hands.
Last year’s winner by some margin, Red 7 continue to impress. 30 years of experience in the stag do industry means this is a name people trust. A solid performance yielded by a friendly and helpful agent who got the quote out quickly and correctly – they, like most of the other companies here, work weekends too which means if you have a busy Monday – Friday job you can get together with them on Saturday.
The price, at £265, was the second-highest of the bunch, but I personally would be prepared to pay that for the reassurance of going with such a well-established outfit.
The results have been counted, and independently verified…[cue tension building silence]…
Aaaand….. I can now reveal, the winner of Best Stag Do Operators of 2017 is……….Off Limits, who took the crown with the cheeriness and dedication to customer service of their agent. Then, it’s a three-way tie for second place was between Chillisauce, Stagweb and Weekend Dr, all of whom I felt were excellent.
One final thing. I want to point out that I work with a number of these companies, but this research is based on an independent review of the experiences I had. I’ve tried to make the assessments constructive, because whether you’re a stag provider or, like me, someone providing impartial advice to best men, we’re all looking to do the same thing, which is give the groom the most amazing send-off imaginable.
See you all in 2018!
P.S. If you want my help in getting you the best deal then please get in touch using the form below. I’d be happy to help.