While we live in a world where we can quickly jet from one side of the planet to the other, there’s still something about vintage travel posters that inspires a sense of wanderlust. Reminiscent of a time when travel was more exotic, and often took much longer than today, these vintage posters seem to capture the essence of travel and adventure.Maybe it’s that essence that we’re always seeking when we set off to our next destination. Whatever it is, there’s no doubt that these posters, all pulled from an amazing collection at Boston Public Library, get us excited about making our way out into the world. From the mysterious landscapes of the National Parks of the West, to the winding railways of Europe, these posters capture travel at its very best. Consider your wanderlust fueled.
We have debated the notion of using a travel agent in a number of ways here over the years. The general consensus of opinion verifies some of the strategies you may very well use to book airline tickets, rental cars, hotel rooms and more. But a recent move by a major cruise line should drive home the notion that using a travel professional, be it an online source or an actual agent we have come to know personally, can maximize travel savings.
Internet Cruise Brokers, the used car salesmen of travel, are on the way out.
Recently, Norwegian Cruise Line put travel agencies trolling for clients through low-price website CruiseCompete on notice: shape up or ship out.
“Norwegian Cruise Line has severed ties with CruiseCompete, a website where travel agents bid for consumers’ cruise business. The cruise line has also warned its agent partners that participating in CruiseCompete is a breach of contract,” notes travel expert Fran Golden in a recent article on Travel Market Report.
For those unfamiliar with CruiseCompete, it’s a website where consumers can go, enter the ship and sailing date they have in mind, then wait for travel agents to bid for their business, often giving up a portion of their commission in order to offer the lowest bid.
“What’s wrong with that?” one might ask. Plenty.Buying Cruise Travel Is Not Like Buying Air
First, buying cruise travel is not like buying an airline ticket, flying from point A to point B. In that case, as long as the flight gets us there and brings us back, the lowest price is probably the best choice. An online service like Airfarewatchdog can help direct us to the best sources too.
But with cruise travel there are a great many other variables to consider. Take the passengers personal cruise history, for example. Carefully considered by a travel professional that has the passenger’s best interests in mind, that “low price” offered through bidding may not be the best option.
Paying a bit more might take advantage of a past-guest promotion that has an end value far greater than that “low price” bid, giving onboard credit, free drinks, free prepaid gratuities or other valuable benefits.
Down The Road Come The Benefits
A stronger reason for using a travel professional is what happens throughout the life of the booking. This goes for all types of travel, not just cruises. The Internet travel broker is busy bidding as many potential clients as possible to yield a net profit that will pay the bills. They have little, if any, time to consider promotions, deals and offers that come up after the initial booking.
A travel professional does.
In the case of cruises, even booking directly with the cruise line will not yield the potential benefits of booking with a travel professional that we have spent the time to develop a good business relationship with. No cruise line will notify you, “Hey, a new promotion has started that will lower your price by hundreds.” It just does not happen.
An alert travel pro considers the initial sale as just the start of the process, works your booking throughout its life and follows up after sailing. They are investing time in their clients and will gladly work with the cruise line to lower the fare when some new promotion comes up that applies.
And it’s not all about saving money. Do you need/have the right documentation to enter Russia? Which is the best choice for travel insurance? Is it safe to travel in Egypt? These are questions our travel professional will have the specific answers for and have time to be sure we have that information.
Same Song, Different Singer, New Lyrics
But the argument for using a travel agent is basically the same as we have been reporting for years. In 2011’s “Travel Agents: The Dinosaur You Might Just Need,” Gadling sang a similar song, noting, “A travel agent is ‘your friend’ in the travel business. They are your friend who knows what is going on in the travel industry.” That is still true now.
What is different now and builds a stronger case for using a travel agent is how cruise lines are operating. As they continue to differentiate themselves from one another, cruise line pricing has become more sophisticated, offering more fare codes that have more requirements and qualifiers than ever. Keeping up with pricing policies alone can be a full-time job, something click-to-buy options fail miserably at considering and consumers simply don’t have the time to do effectively.
Try It For Yourself
The idea of using a real travel agent as opposed to an Internet cruise broker is going to take an investment of time. Finding a good agent can be as simple as following the recommendation of a trusted friend or relative. But what if we don’t know anyone who uses a travel agent? Where can we find a good one?
A good start for finding a travel agent would be your local Better Business Bureau or even a local sourcing option like Angie’s List. Good search results for a travel agency would be ones with plenty of activity but very few, if any, complaints. Another option would be the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) website, which lists agencies and the agents associated with them along with their credentials. Their Cruise Expert Finder brings a list of local agencies.
To drive home the value of an agent, go to a price comparison website like CruiseCompete, pick a ship and sailing date at random, and begin the bidding process. At the same time, call a local agency, tell them you are trying to decide between using an agency to handle all your travel needs or simply using online booking sources to plan your travel. See what happens.
Odds are very high that the end result will be the beginning of a beneficial relationship yielding great savings over your lifetime and a richer travel experience too. Travel agents have a lot of “been there, done that” experience, helpful destination information and contacts of their own to share.
Not to discount online tools altogether in the travel buying equation – an online service similar to Airfarewatchdog called CruiseFish, which is independent of cruise lines or travel agencies, can help. CruiseFish is a price, stateroom and cruise monitoring system that does all the browsing for you and sends email alerts when prices change. The $.99 per listing fee may very well be worth the peace of mind buyers gain from knowing a third-party source is also looking out for them.
Yes, doing business with a live travel agent can yield the best results.
Yes too, stacking the deck in your favor can also be beneficial.
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 advocateChris 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.
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.
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.
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?
While the U.S. travel market as a whole is recovering, it’s the corporate travel folks who are leading the charge. “Corporate travel’s wild ride over the past two years has caused an unusual shift in trend, with online channels growing more slowly than the total U.S. travel market for the first time,” says Douglas Quinby, PhoCusWright senior director, research. The phenomenon reflects the peculiar dynamics of this recession, but the reversal will be short lived. “In 2011, the long-term arc of continued shift from offline to online channels will resume,” Quinby adds.
So, what can the travel business expect in 2011 and beyond? Take a look below to see four signs that the travel market is on the mend. 1. A big swing: in 2009, the U.S. travel market fell 15 percent, due largely to the effects of the financial crisis in 2008 and subsequent global recession. No business wants to spend money in those conditions. The economy may still be unpleasant, but companies are starting to put their capital to work again, and that includes investing in business travel to generate some revenue.
2. Half of the loss regained: the projected 2010 business travel market recovery means that half the spending lost from 2008 to 2009 is coming back. PhoCusWright forecasts a total U.S. travel market size of above $255 billion.
3. Growth trajectory: this year’s 10 percent overall growth rate isn’t going to get us back to 2006 levels this year, but the next two years will be positive. PhoCusWright says to look for record levels in 2012.
4. Online future: that sounds a bit obvious, right? Well, the numbers tell the whole story. Online travel agencies will beat the record levels they hit in 2008. The online leisure and unmanaged business travel sector fell only 5 percent last year, thanks to bargain-hunting. This year, the sector will remain stagnant, according to PhoCusWright, at 38 percent of the total U.S. travel market – I suspect this is because the small decline in 2009 sets a higher bar for recovery in 2010.