A few weeks ago, I spent cooped up in a travel trailer watching the rain come tumbling down for two days straight. I was trapped in the trailer with my daughter, her friend and her friend’s parents, who had invited us to go to camping with them. While sitting around waiting for a break in the weather we talked about a wide range of topics, including employment and travel.
He is in the military and she is a nurse and apparently they travel a couple of times a year, generally within the US. When they learned that I worked for a travel agency, he asked me the usual questions about all the places I’ve been and isn’t wonderful how I get all these great deals on travel (the only advantage I have is that I see the specials when they first come out allowing me to be one of the first people to purchase the ticket, rather than one of the last) and then he asked me why people should use a travel agent.
I took a moment to compose my thoughts and then I explained why I would say that people should use a travel agent rather than doing it yourself. I started with service. Travel agents are service providers, you call and tell us what you want and we do the work to get you that service. We are there to take care of you throughout the entire process of booking, traveling and even after you get home. If you have a problem with an airline or a hotel or a car rental and you booked it yourself, do you know what your rights are and do you where to start? Your travel agent does. Not only does your travel agent have lots of contacts in the business, your travel agent has a relationship with the vendors that allows your agent to get special treatment for you at no additional cost or at a reduced cost.
The next reason is knowledge and that is a big one. Most professional agents have traveled extensively and have access to news about vendors, resorts, hotels, etc., that the general public may not be aware of or they may not be aware of the importance of the news. For example, a co-worker of mine had a client that was setting up a trip to fly between two cities in Southeast Asia. There were two airlines flying the route, the customer asked for one and my co-worker had just read where that carrier had been banned from flying to/from the EU and the USA due to safety concerns. My co-worker told the customer about the ban and talked the customer into flying on the other carrier. It turns out that the original flight that the customer requested crashed, killing all on board. Needless to say, the customer was very thankful that he had listened to his agent.
Additionally agents get feedback from their customers which allows the agent to remain current about new situations that arise. Sometimes this may be something as minor as having a customer tell you that a hotel is changing brands or that the visa both in the Istanbul airport has moved from the right side of the hall to the left side and is now a little further away from the stairs. Or it could be something important like a construction project is starting next to a hotel and therefore the agent knows to steer people to other hotels or to request rooms on the opposite side of the hotel from the construction.
Then comes the biggest one, value. Yes, you pay a service fee to use a travel agent however over time a professional travel agent will save you money and ensure that you get the greatest value for the money spent. How does this happen? It is a variety of things, ranging from insuring that you frequent flyer number is transmitted to all the partner airlines and car companies, to using connections to get you an upgrade on a cruise or a room at a resort to dealing with preferred vendors who offer amenities at no extra cost to the customer to just being diligent and checking repeatedly to see if the price has dropped. Sometimes it simply knowing that an option exists. Many people say there isn’t a good reason to use a travel agent on domestic travel because it is so simple, I disagree that a travel agent can’t bring value to a trip, even if it is so simple to book. Let me give you a couple of examples, a traveler is flying from Salt Lake City to Atlanta on Delta. The traveler is departing on Monday morning and returning Wednesday night, the airfare is $1259.71. If you book your own travel, you may think that this is the only option since that seems to be the lowest fare no matter which combination of flights you pick for those dates. A professional travel agent can take a look at the fares and quickly determine that if you were to either fly into Atlanta on Sunday or return Thursday, you can drop the fare by as much as 50%! That will cover the costs of a decent hotel and extra meals and still save you money.
The other example would be if you are traveling to Orlando or other resort destination, your professional travel agent can easily compare the cost of doing everything ala carte or getting a package. Packages may include a car rental and a hotel stay, admission to attractions, in addition to the airfare. The nice thing about packages is that you know the total cost, including taxes and fees, which may not sound like much until you get the bill. Hotel room taxes in many resort areas are in excess of 10%, so on a six night stay at room rate of $150.00 per night, that’s an extra $90.00.
I have a friend in the entertainment business who travels extensively. Much of her travel is international and for several years I tried to get her to do her travel through me, instead she opted to do it herself. A couple of years ago she visited the United Kingdom to attend a wedding of a good friend where she was going to perform a couple of songs. She had listed the date on her website as a private performance, which is was, however when she arrived in the UK, she told Customs and Immigration that she was there as a tourist. About 9 months later, she was returning to the UK, this time to be the opening act on European tour. She landed in Heathrow, got to Customs and Immigration and was detained when she declared that she was a tourist. Apparently, the authorities had discovered that she had visited the UK several times before and worked without the proper visa and this time they weren’t going to let her into the country. They put her in a small room, where they kept her for 8 hours, then they handcuffed her and escorted her onto a flight out of the country. She later told me that she hadn’t thought that she needed a work visa because she wasn’t taking a job in the UK, she was just passing through. She no longer can visit the UK because of her error. Now she calls me to set up her travel overseas and I make sure that she gets the appropriate documents so that she doesn’t have any additional issues.
Last one, about a month ago a friend of mine told me that she wanted to go to Bali this summer and that the best airfare that she could find was about $1500.00 from Los Angeles. That was more then she wanted to spend. I spent less than 30 minutes working on her itinerary and got her tickets, for the dates she wanted for $859.00. Not only is she saving over $600.00, even adding in my fee, she’s flying on one of the ten best airlines in the world. She has been advised of the passport and visa requirements, reminded of baggage limitations, had seats assigned, told how much time she needs to allow to check in and has been given access to a 24 hour, toll free number to call if she encounters any problems, just to name a few of the additional services that she received by booking through a travel agent.
So the simple answer to my friend was simply that without a travel agent, you’re on your own.