You and your spouse have decided to go on a vacation. You’ve always wanted to get really away, and a trip to the relatives just doesn’t cut it any more. How do you plan your trip?
You could go online and dig around for travel tips (which you’re doing right now, unless this article is in a physical magazine). You will find more information online than you can possibly use–and some will be contradictory. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Every place will say it’s the best place to visit. Everyone will claim to have the best discount. No one will tell you the gotchas. (Some places do have negative comments, but how do you know if the comments aren’t just sour grapes?) What if price X changes while you’re looking at price Y? What about hidden costs, problems you might not think of, secret discounts you don’t know about, and pitfalls in processing your documents? Many dangers lurk in planning travel beyond your usual haunts. And don’t forget–all that research takes time. What’s your time worth?
You might visit a travel agent. Travel agents have a reputation for being expensive. After all, they have offices and all those fancy travel books and posters. As it happens, those ads and brochures are supplied by the cruise lines and travel companies. They pay the agents, too, normally. If an agent needs to charge you for a service, they will tell you up front. if you’re in a travel club, you can expect the agent to reduce or eliminate the commission, and have a ready supply of club discounts, further reducing the price. Ask yourself: What’s a travel agent’s knowledge and experience worth? They know the ropes, the pitfalls, the tricks of the trade; they have access to all the discounts, and they’ll save you time and stress–after you get to know a travel agent, one phone call can take care of everything.
Of course, you have the same problem picking a travel agent as you do making travel decisions online: Who’s good? For that matter, what is good in a travel agent? And how can you tell?
Here are a few ways to take the measure of a travel agent.
Are you connected to the agent? (This rule is good when you consider hiring a realtor or a funeral director, too.) If you know someone in the travel industry, they are more likely to want to give you exceptional service. After all, they see you socially. Maybe you know where they live. Good travel agents can be relatives, acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends.
Is the person well traveled? If they have been to where you want to go, all the better, but travel experience of any sort seasons a person. A travel agent who has personally been around the block a few times is a font of wisdom and advice.
Is the person detail oriented? Not necessarily neat (that is a good thing), but notice whether they find your file immediately. They should know where everything is and not have to hunt for things. You don’t want an absent-minded professor for a travel agent. You never (okay, hardly ever) see a good travel agent surprised by something, and they keep their promises about when they’ll have something for you. They are ready when you show up after that first, introductory meeting.
Is the agent you’re working with responsive? Do they answer phone calls and emails promptly? This is a must. Even if all they can say is that they need more time, they don’t make you wait for a reply.
Are they cost efficient? You can tell this by the number of choices they present you with. A lazy travel agent won’t research multiple options, won’t hunt for the best price, won’t spend any more time than necessary working up your vacation. You see them look up one thing and give you a price. A good agent will hunt down good deals, think of options (a nearby nice location that costs less, for example) that you didn’t consider, check with several wholesalers. Good agents give you a lot to choose from.
A good travel agent can handle a lot of that before-vacation hassle, and make your next trip more enjoyable while it’s happening