3 great ways to make your travel agent hate you

Having a good travel agent in your pocket can gain you real advantages from booking to sailing on a cruise vacation. If you are lucky enough to have found and established a relationship with a Cruise Expert, an agent who specializes in cruises only, all the better. It’s an ongoing process to be sure, one that aims at building a long-term business relationship that will benefit you for years to come.

A good agent, with your best interests in mind, can gain you lower pricing and greater value down the line. Your click-to-book agency or even the cruise lines themselves will not even come close to talking about something like that. Complementary upgrades, bonus onboard amenities and quick access to good information are just some of the benefits you can gain.Finding one of those great agents is one thing. Keeping them interested in you like they might be interested in the travel plans of a close family member is another. Here are some great ways to make your travel agent hate you. Avoid these

  1. Ask “I want to go on a cruise. Whatcha got?” Do a little homework. At any given time there are zillions of possiblities for sailings all over the world. Try to narrow it down to a hemisphere.
  2. Start a conversation with “I heard on CruiseCritic that…” CruiseCritic.com is the premiere website for all things cruising. Message boards there have a lot of useful information. God does not write what you read on the message boards though so don’t place wagers based on information you get from member IKnowEverythingAboutCruises
  3. Start a conversation with “Here are the prices my online cruise broker gave me, can you beat these?” You might as well holler “If somebody else comes along that’s $20 cheaper I will drop you like a hot potato so don’t invest a lot of time in me”

A good cruise expert is an invaluable resource but one that takes a little time to get the most out of. It’s an ongoing process built on trust, loyalty and courtesy. If you feed your travel agent dirt odds are you won’t get diamonds in return.

You want this person to love you.

You want them to think of you as their brother, sister, mom or dad and have a personal commitment to you right along those lines. That does not mean you should accept anything less than flawless arangements and excellent value. All things considered, your travel agent should afford you easy to see advantages over booking any other way. There should be no doubt about it. If there is, you have either unrealistic expectations or the wrong “expert” in your pocket.

Flickr photo by Jorge Quinteros

4 reasons why you need a Travel Expert in your pocket

This is the person you want to have on your side when planning travel. Not a Travel Agent, many of them are order takers who fill in the blanks on computer screens. Others try to be everything to everyone and that is just not possible.

Your Travel Expert specializes in one particular area of travel. It might be cruise vacations. They will know what cruise line will work best for you, keep on top of commodity-like cruise pricing and add a great deal of value to your vacation experience. It might be trips to Russia your Travel Expert specialized in. That person will know all there is to know, have been there a bunch of times (if not lived there) and probably speak a good amount of Russian. That’s the person I want helping me plan my vacation. Here are five reasons you need one of those people.

They know what to do in an emergency. You can bet that travelers on the ground in Egypt who have a Travel Expert on their side that knows the lay of the land are glad they do. Any travel agent with the right credentials can book a trip to Egypt. Someone who has visited there a lot or lived there will know specifically what you should do. You will be one of the people that made it out of the country while others lagged behind.

They will be honest with you. Any Travel Expert will tell you without hesitation if what you are looking for is not realistic. The last thing you want is a journey planned by a “yes” man who will say anything to get a sale. If you ever feel you are getting anywhere close to that situation you are not dealing with a Travel Expert. Look for your Travel Expert to speak at functions, teach classes, be involved with travel organizations and be easy to find publicly, like via Facebook, Twitter or a simple Google search.

They will insure a rich experience for you. That same knowledge that can give you an advantage if you had to evacuate a travel destination much more commonly works to enrich your travels. A Travel Expert knows people on the ground where you are going. Regardless of how you get there and what you want or need to see, its the people that will make the difference. A Travel Expert’s recommendation will get you in the door of places you might not ever see without his or her thumbs up.

They will encourage education. Everybody wants to talk about the fabulous places you will visit and things you will see. A Travel Expert will want to give you the knowledge over time that will allow you to appreciate what you will see and experience when you travel. In the olden days they would have given you a travel guide to read, maybe one printed by AAA, a leader in those sort of things. Today they will point you to sources like specific blogs, travel guide sites, and maybe send you a copy of the book they wrote.

You may end up paying one of these people for their expert advice. Be sure that advice comes gift-wrapped with that is called an Errors and Omissions insurance policy backing. That is insurance against loss if something goes horribly wrong directly due to advice you may have received from pretty much anyone in the travel business. Travel agents have it, so do Travel Experts who make a living selling their advice.

Photo: Wiki Commons

3 tips to catch the best cruise price

Wave Season has begun. It’s the time of the year when many travelers book cruises and usually runs through about tax time. Here are 3 simple but critical rules of the road to get your best value.

  1. Don’t wait, Book right now– Prices are predicted to go up early in the year. You could wait until they go down later, and they will, but availability of cabins will never be as good as it is right now. That’s important so you don’t get one of the lousy cabins located right under the fitness center that translate to no sleeping in for you.
  2. Use a Travel Agent– Never before has there been more reason to use a good travel agent. With all sorts of changes coming up in the way cruise lines do business, you need a pro on your side. Click around on line to get an idea of what you want, but contact your travel agent. The golden rule of cruise reservations: The Internet is for looking, Travel Agents are for booking. Don’t have a travel agent? We have tips on how to get one ranging from testing a potential agent to qualities you should look for in one. See the video below for more.
  3. Keep looking– as the cruise industry rapidly evolves, other ships, sailings and choices will become available. A cruise booking should be a fluid work in progress all the way up to final payment as far as planning goes and all the way until it’s over and beyond as far as your travel agent is concerned. Down the road, that budget-busting balcony you wanted might come down in price, special offers not available when you booked might pop up or an entirely different ship and sailing might interest you more.

Could a return of the travel agent be the key to stress free travel?

The always excellent Joe Sharkey of the New York times has a fascinating article on how a travel agent could be your best friend when you are stranded.

Obviously, the nasty snow storms in December are what triggered his article, and in it, he describes how a travel agent can perform miracles most of us have to wait in line for at the airport.

Now, I can clearly remember the last time I used a travel agent – it was the year I got my first cellphone (1992). After that, I always took care of myself. First using a dumb terminal, then with primitive Internet based booking tools, and then moving on to the current generation booking sites.

And to be honest, I thought I’d never look back. In my opinion, the travel agent only did things I could already do myself. When I booked my honeymoon cruise, I tried walking into a local agency, but ended up finding a much better deal online.

So, why the sudden interest in the services of a travel agent? When people found out that the airlines don’t have the resources to deal with a large crisis, they got angry. And rightfully so – some passengers spent five hours on hold, only to be told that their next flight out would have to call back the next day.

[Photo from Flickr/adrian.acediscovery]

Of course, there is a price to pay when you hand over your booking requests to someone else – fees of around $37.50 per ticket. Add that to your baggage fee, fuel surcharges and other charges, and the price may simply be too high.

Additionally, business travelers are usually already protected by their corporate travel booking service – which means the vast majority of customers for a travel agency would be consumers – a group most likely not too eager to fork over extra cash. And of course, there are also top-tier elite members of the airline that have direct access to their own service desk – usually bypassing any long hold times.

Gadling spoke with several travel agents for their views on why booking with them isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Luxury travel consultant John Clifford (@LuxTravel), President of
InternationalTravelManagement.com shares his expert tips:

The “internet information overload” has reached critical mass, and now aside from this overload, we have “crowd sourcing” to take into consideration such as recommendations from friends on Facebook, colleagues on Twitter, anonymous Yelp reviews and the like?

How in the world does anyone cut through the noise and make sense of it all? Sure they may espouse the greatest upgrade they got at a luxury chain hotel but that was because of all their loyalty points. It would not pertain to your stay, so how does that help you?

But trained, travel professionals, or “travel consultants” of today do. They/we’ve made it through the internet boom of the 90’s and redefined ourselves to be “lifestyle guides” that really take the time to listen & learn about each individual, and like a skilled artisan, carefully craft suggestions that are ONLY pertinent to travelers’ needs & wants.

If you consider only the facts of world developments, wars, strikes, natural disasters, storms, etc — that alone is proof enough for many to realize the old saying rings true, “without a travel agent, you’re on your own”.

Self booking is just that – it’s just the BOOKING or the very first step of a trip.

The entire travel cycle of experiences starts that moment and making wrong or uneducated decisions can reverberate through your entire travel experience and if you booked online, you have only yourself to get you out of a jam, out of a hotel room that looked cool on the web but in fact is a dump, or having accidentally booked yourself into Bucharest (Romania) instead of Budapest (Hungary) which a former client actually did and called me to help get him out of it.

Travel is becoming less transactional and more experiential. Even the harrowing experience of this last week where tens of thousands were stranded in NY during Christmas weekend were left without help, gate agents at airports reduced, call centers understaffed due to growth of online booking, web sites overloaded and not functioning and airline agents on twitter posing as customer service angels, when in reality only directing consumers to “be patient”, “wait it out”, and commiserate with those stranded.

I saved numerous clients from the recent storms, even my CPA who has never used me before as his wife likes to “play travel agent”

He was flying NYC-San Diego on an American Airlines flight (and a connection as well) and after holding for hours on the phone, American advised his wife it would be days before he could get home and he could sleep at the airport without any free stays, as “acts of God” are not covered.

After hours, he called and requested my help and getting his message on my iPhone,I immediately sprung to action and snagged him a low cost seat on the non stop JetBlue flight from JFK-San Diego, knowing they’re a smaller airline that is more creative & reliable in a pinch, and one that didn’t have to rely on a hub-and-spoke network to get him home like American did.

He did get home the next day instead of 4 days later.

And Deborah Peniuk, Owner & Travel Writer of AYA Life added:

The internet can be a great place to purchase certain travel products. I consult with clients on their best options for free; help them discover savings that don’t have hidden restrictions. There is a huge difference, so don’t confuse “transportation” with “vacation.” They are generally not interchangeable.

As your travel agent, I can work to immediately reschedule or cancel your trip in the event of a natural disaster (or Mother Nature not playing nice). Less worries for you! I help my clients to avoid online scams and “false” advertisements that are rampant online. I also take considerable time to explain to my clients the logic of travel insurance and recommend it every time!

Good luck trying to get the flight that you are late for changed if you’re in transit. If the WiFi in your airport goes down you’ll need serendipity to successfully maneuver the online morass. I strongly suggest checking the FAQ section; cancellation penalties and restrictions are usually hidden in the fine print. I’ve had clients who have called in a panic with huge apologies, wishing they’d booked with me (for my minimal service fee) instead of the huge dollars they end up paying to change their online booking.

We are consumer advocates: if you have a problem during your trip, as your travel agent I can act on your behalf to see that proper restitutions are made. You have a real person who is a phone call away to go back and complain to. As your travel agent, I will work hard to rectify issues and fulfill the trust you put in me. I add a “personal touch” to your travel planning experience and I offer help and advice that no website can provide. Wouldn’t you rather have a travel expert plan your trip? My Blackberry is never far from my ear!

In other words – you need to determine how much your time is worth – there is no denying that booking through a travel agent will cost a bit more, and it may not be as convenient as heading over to your favorite travel website and clicking “buy now”. The best way to think of the travel agent is as just another insurance – you may make 20 trips without actually needing their additional services, but once a blizzard hits during that 21st trip, you’ll be happy you paid a bit more once your travel agent gets you rebooked in minutes rather than hours.

What do you think? Could the additional services of a travel agent convince you to try them out instead of booking directly with an online travel site or airline booking engine?


2 easy steps to finding the best cruise price

In a matter of days, 2010 will be over and we’ll be welcoming 2011. Right after that a lot of travelers start thinking about cruise vacations. Maybe its cold Winter weather or maybe it’s having the holidays out of the way but January brings us what the cruise business calls “wave season”, a time when a whole lot of people buy cruise vacations. Here are two easy steps to consider before you make that buy.

  1. Hug the Internet– Start your search for the best of the best in cruise pricing online at the cruise line websites. Go directly to Carnival.com, Princess.com or almost any cruise line website. The point of this is to search the most accurate, up-to-date database of itineraries, ships, and ports of call available. Take note of the prices you find but don’t buy. This is an education process to narrow down your search for a sailing that is a good fit for you.
  2. Dump the Internet– Armed with the current information you just found online, email/call/tweet your travel agent for recommendations and pricing. Odds are high that the pricing may be exactly the same as booking through the cruise line if you did an accurate search, providing all the information they asked for. Where a travel agent most often comes in handy is down the road. Between now and when final payment is made, cruise lines may offer additional discounts, promotions or special offers that might apply to you and save money.

If you don’t have a good travel agent, see our tips on How to find a good travel agent too.

Flickr photo by Dave Dugdale