Travel agents on the rebound with insider information

Travel agents, once being run out of business by Internet travel buying options, are making a comeback. Experts agree that using one as part of an overall travel buying strategy is a good idea, if for no other reason than to verify that what we did on our own makes sense. But the ongoing big problem with travel agents is finding a good one that actually does add value to the equation.

“A competent travel adviser can be your greatest asset when you’re planning a trip,” says consumer advocate Chris Elliott. “Good travel agents have an edge over almost any other seller of travel. They know what you want. They speak your language.”

A good, neutral source of information for helping sort out travel agents might also be your local Better Business Bureau who will have a score on any travel agency that has been in business long enough. The Better Business Bureau received more than 7,000 complaints nationally last year against travel agencies and bureaus.

Most complaints relate to consumers being misled by travel offers that failed to deliver or had paid money for travel arrangements that were never made. The Better Business Bureau offers some tips on using travel agents:

  • Ask family and friends to recommend a company they’ve used.
  • Get all vacation details in writing.
  • Verify reservations.
  • Consider travel insurance.
  • Pay with a credit card.
  • Be on the alert for travel scams.

Looking for advice on how to find a good travel agent? Elliott recommends interviewing a certified local agent. “The only way to know for certain if your travel agent is a keeper is to see what happens when you run into trouble,” he says.
“If they leave you hanging or do nothing more than send you the company’s 800-number, they’re not your agent. Chances are, they’re just in it for the commission.”

Some good reasons to use a travel agent, once you find a good one, include:

  • They may have access to deals you can’t get– Travel agents are notified of the latest offers, bargains and discounts first. Connected agents know even more, including what travel options are likely to go up or down in pricing and/or availability, and what can be critical information in a buying decision.
  • They speak the language of the service provider– Anyone who has ever tried to work with airline fare codes, codeshare rules or other cryptic travel speak meant for behind-the-scenes travel pros knows having one in their back pocket can bring huge advantages.
  • They almost always result in a better value- They may not be able to get a ticket to paradise for less than Discount Joe’s Travel Barn but they’ll probably be able to match it and throw in a perk or two that Joe knows nothing about.

Flickr photo by PinkMoose

Obese passenger forces neighbor on US Airways flight to stand for 7 hours

Arthur Berkowitz, a passenger on US Airways Flight 901 from Anchorage to Philadelphia, had no other choice but to stand up during his seven hour flight. It seems the next seat over was occupied by a passenger so overweight that it was impossible for Berkowitz to stay in his seat. Now, Berkowitz is speaking out about the ordeal.

“I didn’t fly from Alaska to Philadelphia on Flight 901,” Berkowitz told consumer advocate Chris Elliott, “I stood.”

The neighboring 400-pound man’s body spilled over into Berkowitz’s personal space so much that he was forced to stand for most of the 7 hour flight, and he couldn’t use his seat belt during takeoff and landing.

“His size required both armrests to be raised up and allowed for his body to cover half of my seat.” said Berkowitz.

US Airways apologized for the incident and said in a statement “Our intention is to offer the best travel experience possible. The details you have provided indicate that we have failed to meet our intentions.” US Air offered Berkowitz a $200 voucher in compensation.

In a poll on Elliott’s consumer watchdog site, 96% (over 17,000 votes) thought that US Airways did not offer Berkowitz enough compensation. We agree.

[Image credit: AP]

How to find a good cruise travel agent

There are basically three ways to book a cruise. Do it yourself online, call the cruise line or use a travel agent. There are pros and cons to any of those methods but in the long-run, using a good travel agent reaps the greatest rewards. The big trick is finding a good one.

“A competent travel adviser can be your greatest asset when you’re planning a trip” says consumer advocate Chris Elliott. “Good travel agents have an edge over almost any other seller of travel. They know what you want. They speak your language.”

But how to go about finding one of these good agents is the trick. Consider these suggestions to help with the hunt:

Attitude check
Start by getting your head in the right place. To get the most out of a travel agent, you and that agent need to be working on a long-term business relationship that will benefit you far into the future. If you think along those critical lines, you already eliminate a whole lot of travel agents who are just in it for the commission.

Make a list and check it twice
Asking friends and family, maybe business associates, who they use is a great way to find a potential candidate. If you work for a large company that has a travel desk or uses one exclusive agency, that might be a good place to start also.

Start by asking questions of potential agents. “Are you certified?”, “How long have you been selling cruises? and other revealing questions are a must.

Test the waters
One of the big advantages of using a travel agent is saving time but a spending a little time up front locating that good agent is worth it.

At some point, you have to take the leap to using a travel agent. Try it on a simple booking you might have done online by yourself in the past. See first-hand if that agent comes through with a better value and overall better travel experience.

If they do, you have found your agent. If not, keep looking. The benefits of finding an agent right for you that produces good results is worth the investment of your time.

Flickr photo by jonworth

Yet another video from Dave Carroll of United Breaks Guitars, Chris Elliotts excellent travel blog, posted the third United Airline’s bashing video from Dave Carroll, the man behind United Breaks Guitars. That’s right, a third song and video. Did you even know that there had been a second? Look, we get it, United broke this dude’s guitar. And the airline has a pretty dodgy customer service record. Most American legacy carriers do. And people love ripping on airlines, the TSA, airports, airplanes, airplane food, rolling luggage, the weather and virtually anything else that you can think of that may or may not be travel related. There are a lot of easy (and often deserving) targets for scorn, mockery and bitterness out there. But at what point does a campaign become less about the cause and more about shameless self-promotion?

Dave Carroll may have wandered away from advocacy and towards fame-grabbing somewhere along the way. His second video garnered nearly 1/8 the viewers of the original. Could he be desperate to remain in the limelight? You probably didn’t even know who Dave Carroll was until you read the first sentence of this post. We know the song but not the person. Why? Probably because we don’t care that much.

So, while his songs are catchy and his message is still accurate, we’re left wondering what the endgame is here. United has responded to both of his previous videos. So, at this point, it all seems kind of selfish. But maybe we’re just cynical.

What do you think of Dave Carroll’s motivations for producing a third United Airlines-related song and video? Vote below and share in the comments.


Gadlinks for Tuesday, 1.12.2010

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Don’t let the midweek slump get you down. Check out these other sources for travel inspiration.

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