Thursday, August 1, 2013

Travel Agents…The How & Why

In this world of internet-everything, the question of “why use a travel agent” may come up.  This blog will deal with why travelers should consider using a travel agent, how to interview prospective travel agents, and how travel agents are compensated.

“How are travel agents compensated, and won’t it cost me more to use a travel agent?”

Most travel agents are free to their clients!  While there are some exceptions (there may be service fees for things like air only assistance), as a general rule you pay nothing to use a travel agent.  Travel agents are compensated by the travel companies they use.  In addition, most travel agents can meet or beat any price.  What that means for you is that you may pay LESS than  you see advertised, but at minimum the same, plus you get an expert on your side for free!

“How do I choose a travel agent?”

You need to be choosy when you pick a travel agent.  Find a good one, and you have the benefit of an expert on your side for life!  Find a bad one, and that trip you spent your hard earned money on may be at risk.  Things to look for:
1.      Experience.  Nothing beats hands on experience. 
Want to take a cruise?  Ask these questions:
·       Ask about embarkation and debarkation processes
·       Ask their opinions on dining times and cabin location

Want to go to Disney?  Ask:
·       How many times have they stayed onsite?
·       How does Fast Pass work, and how much does it cost? (and yes, that is a trick question)
·       What is their favorite restaurant?

Want to go somewhere exotic, like Italy or Egypt?  It is VITAL you find someone that knows the destination.

If the travel agent hesitates, or has to look it up and get back to you, find another agent.  You want to choose someone comfortable with the type of trip you are planning.  

2.      Credentials.  Ask what certifications an agent may hold, and/or what accreditation's their agency holds.  IATAN is an important accreditation because it is difficult to obtain.  

3.      Find someone you like. Make it a policy to work with people you like!  It makes planning trips much more enjoyable, and it can enhance a client experience.

“Why use a travel agent?”

First, let me start by defining people that may be happier without a travel agent:
·       Do you micromanage your trips?
·       Do you do exhaustive research?
·       Do you re-price things often and change reservations accordingly?

If you answered yes to most of those, a travel agent might not be for you, unless they are a perfect fit with your personality.However helping a fellow Mom or Dad who works from home doing this might be a great help and a chance for you to sit back and relax.

Benefits of using a travel agent:
·       Matched pricing or better pricing
·       Knowledge of destinations, and contacts such as hotel managers and tour guides
·       No need to search dozens of sites, a good travel agent knows exactly where to go!
·       Special perks like itinerary planning, restaurant assistance, gifts or upgrades
·       Even if you enjoy planning, having a travel agent on your team can make sure your trip is as magical as possible!
·       Help if you experience a problem during your vacation

Don’t pick a travel agent based on onboard credit only, or rebates.  Many suppliers don’t allow those things or they limit them, and if a travel agent is offering a “too good to be true” offer, that smacks of desperation…they are willing to undercut prices even if that is against supplier policy to get business.  They key is SERVICE…don’t sacrifice that for a few dollars.  You are spending a lot on your vacation, but you get what you pay you really want to sacrifice your hard earned trip by nickel and diming everything? There is spending your money wisely, and there is cheap.  There is a huge difference between the two.

Finally, don’t contact a travel agent, use them to price out dozens of vacations, and then book on your own.  Travel agents are compensated only when you book through them.  If it is a matter of price, ask them to match.  If it is a “just because” matter and you decide to book on your own, that is the equivalent of you getting paid zero at your job.  Do you enjoy going to work, doing your job and doing it well, and then being told "we decided you aren't going to get paid even though you did the work".  Most travel agents do not charge fees for their time, and earn their living only when people actually go through them to book their trips.  No one likes to work for free!

A good travel agent/client relationship can be extremely beneficial.  Vacations are an investment…protect them!