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December 14, 2021

How a Travel Agent Frees Up 23 Hours of Your Time

Article written by lauren@bigcreektravel.com
  How many of you like to spend hours researching things on the internet? Ok, I know some of you are raising your hands or […]

 

How many of you like to spend hours researching things on the internet? Ok, I know some of you are raising your hands or nodding your heads “yes”.  I bet you do your own taxes, too, don’t you? But for the average person, 23 hours is a lot of time that you could be spending doing something else. Did you know that’s how long most DIYers spend researching their next trip? And that’s AFTER they’ve figured out where they want to go. 53% of people aren’t even sure of that when they first start thinking about vacation.  What if I told you that there was a way for you to save time AND money when planning your next vacation? Sound too good to be true? Check out four common myths about travel agents below, and then see what you think. When you’re done reading, I might even have you convinced that doing your taxes isn’t fun either.

Check MarkMyth #1: I can get better travel deals online.


Years ago, when online travel agencies (we call them OTAs in the industry) first became “a thing”, the deals you could get online really were fantastic. In fact, the internet blew the top off the travel industry back in the late 90s and early 2000s because people didn’t need a travel agent to book travel anymore. In fact, that was about the time my mom said “Lauren, go get a college degree and find something else to do!”  I always was stubborn.  I got the degree, but I never really did leave travel…

Fast forward 20 years later… the deals that the OTAs used to get? They don’t have access to them anymore. In fact, some major airlines refuse to even contract with them.  And here’s another secret. The hotels, resorts, cruise lines, etc.? They place an extremely low priority on customers who book through an online travel agency. You may think this is a self-serving comment, but like me share a real-world example.  Several months ago, my son and I traveled to an all-inclusive resort.  We ran into a snag with our transfer back to the airport.  We discovered that another guest had run into the same snag.  The difference, though? I booked my own trip and had the connections and expertise to get the problem solved.  As I was waiting to speak to the concierge, I heard her say to him, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’re going to need to contact (insert name of OTA).  I can’t help you.”  Quite frustrated, he yelled, “I already have, and they don’t want to help me!”  I ended up helping him when I solved the issue for myself (and gained a new client).

Check MarkMyth #2: It’s going to cost me more if I use a travel agent.


It shouldn’t.  Studies have shown that using a travel agent will save you an average of $465 per booking.  Now, to be fair, you may save money if you decide to book yourself a flight on a discount carrier that leaves at 6:00am, stops in two destinations, and arrives at midnight. We probably won’t propose a trip like that because our goal is to make travel as stress-free as possible for you, but if you’re the adventurous type, we’re happy to do a price comparison for you.

Here’s another advantage: When you book online, typically you’ll have to pay in full at the time of booking and your rates will be non-refundable. Change your mind? Can’t travel anymore? Need to make changes? Be prepared to pay a premium for changes and be told “no refunds” if you need to cancel.  When you book with a travel agent, we have agreements with our suppliers that will allow you to pay a deposit and then pay the balance closer to your travel date – sometimes only 30 days before your scheduled departure.  There are some exceptions to this rule, but in most cases, you won’t have to pay in full at the time of booking.  We’re also able to place a hold on a booking for 24-36 hours and lock in pricing for you. Have you ever priced a flight only to have the price change a couple hours later, or sometimes even before you check out? Some people believe this is because of cookies on your computer (not true).  What actually happens is that the airlines have a complicated system of fare codes, and they assign a certain number of seats to each code.  If someone buys the last seat in a certain fare code, the next fare code will get assigned – and often this is a higher priced ticket.

Oh, and my client who saved $800 last month on a river cruise because of an exclusive deal my agency had access to (that wasn’t offered online)? He’s glad he didn’t pay attention to this myth.

Check MarkMyth #3: My friend told me that it’s better to book travel on my own.


Is your friend Dr. Google? I bet they do their own taxes, too, don’t they? In all seriousness, though, why? Remember my story about the man at the all-inclusive resort? If he had booked through me, all he would have had to do was call my preferred partner’s emergency number or text or call my cell phone number, and we would have had his problem solved within minutes. Instead, he had been standing there for almost an hour arguing with the online travel agency and the hotel concierge. And even though he wasn’t my client, I still had his issue solved within minutes.

Think of a good customer service experience you had recently.  It’s likely that you were greeted quickly and the person you were talking to was friendly and seemed happy to help. And if you were contacting a support center due to an issue, you probably walked away from this interaction feeling like the representative cared and that the company was interested in helping you. If you ever get bored, check out some of the reviews for online travel agencies or big box travel retailers.  Here are some actual Facebook reviews from the last six months:

“I’ve been trying to call for 2 days to book a cruise… Error message when I attempt on line.”

“I am unable to contact you via phone.  I waited on hold for 2 ½ hours yesterday.  Your travel agent told me to call them back… Today, your phone wasn’t even allowing people to wait on hold.”

“I have called multiple times and sat on hold for over 2 hours to be hung up on.”

“For any of you traveling on Royal Caribbean, I just discovered that [online travel agency] has “opted out” of the royal up program”.  The OTA’s response? “Due to the way this program operates, it is very difficult for us to participate in and ensure our booking systems remain updated with accurate information.”

“[Online travel agency] should spend less time promoting new getaways until you have enough agents to help your existing customers resolve ongoing issues.”

While these people were waiting on hold, getting hung up on, and trying to book travel, guess what our clients were doing? Not worrying about travel because they knew we had it handled for them.

Check MarkMyth #4: You should book vacations direct.


If you know EXACTLY where you want to go and what you want to book, maybe this is a reasonable option for you. I like to compare this to someone who files their taxes with a simple W2 using a 1040EZ form.  My son falls into this category.  He’s held a single job during the year, he doesn’t have any dependents, he doesn’t own a home, and he can’t claim any deductions. But wait… what if he has questions?  Who does he call? The IRS? They’re not going to help him figure out how to save money.

Imagine this… you’ve decided to go on a river cruise, and you keep seeing the same one over and over again on TV, so you go online and pick an itinerary.  You have some questions, though, so you give them a call. The agent who answers the phone convinces you that you’ve picked a great cruise, talks you into upgrading to a higher category cabin, and has you booked and under deposit in less than 10 minutes. What was the agent’s goal? Get you booked on one of the company’s cruises and off the phone as quickly as possible.  What he or she didn’t share with you was this: there are several other reputable cruise lines that offer similar itineraries and one of them was having a sale that would have saved you $1200 over what you paid for a similar cabin. Oh, and they were offering free airfare to Europe. On top of that, because this other cruise line has fewer rooms on the ship, the cabins are larger, and the number of passengers is smaller. When you book direct, the agent has ONE goal. When you book through a travel agent, the agent works for YOU, not the suppliers. Think of a travel agent as a travel broker – we will work to find you the best fit for you based on your preferences, interests, budget, using our experience and expertise. My agency has a code of ethics that includes a statement that we do not tolerate any conflicts of interest. This means that we will put our clients’ interests above any relationships with preferred suppliers.

I said at the beginning of this article that my goal was to convince you that there are better ways to spend your time than planning your own travel and doing your own taxes. Convinced yet? A lot of people who contact us tell us that they have never used a travel agent and so they aren’t sure how it works. Sometimes it sounds like they’re getting ready for a root canal, and I want to say, “I promise, it’s not a painful process.” If you’re a newbie, here’s how it works. Pick up the phone or send us an email and let us use our experience and expertise to help you plan a memorable vacation. In my next blog I’ll talk about how travel agents aren’t another source to use when price shopping, but the goal is building a relationship with someone you can trust so that you can use your 23 hours of vacation planning time on something much more fun – like choosing your next vacation destination!

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