travelgirl magazine March 2007

Do You Really Need a Travel Agent?
Editorial Written by Stephanie Abrams

Do you cut your own hair or tune up your car yourself? Probably not, and for good reason! Chances are you‘ve found a great manicurist, too, because you appreciate the value of professional service. If you have bonded with professionals who understand your expectations, interests, style, tastes, preferences, and the level of your buying power, whom you trust to deliver good value for your dollars spent, then you'll understand why every trip you take should start and with a travel agent!

But why should I do that when I can on 0line and buy everything I need by myself, you may ask, Those who have not experience the magical value of a travel agent may ask. ‘And I answer, “How do I love travel agents? Let me count the ways!

1) Buying Power: You think you can get great buys on the internet. Surprise! Travel agents use the internet, too! Many have their own websites with booking engines for air, tours, cruises, hotels, resorts and car rentals as well giving you instant access for all your travel needs with the added advantage to having dedicated professionals focused on your particular trip! Agents are sent daily “insider deals” which are offered only to agents for their clients. Industry suppliers prefer to use the travel agency distribution system for this purpose to avoid the costs of expensive advertising which also causes delays in getting their message out to travelers. More importantly for the supplier, using travel agents to distribute good deals contains the news of the sales they run on their product by not making major public announcements of price cuts. Agents are offered deals in this way to avoid creating national price-slashing turmoil.

2) Resources for the best value: Agents buy from travel industry intermediaries known as “wholesalers” and “consolidators.” These are companies that specialize in travel products such as hotels, resorts, specific destinations, and airline ticket sales, in general. Since they buy mega-millions of dollars of travel product from the travel suppliers, they buy at “bulk rates” which allow them to resell the product to travel agents at who can pass savings along to their clients. One of the major consolidators which sells only to travel agents is SkyLink Travel, ( If you visit their website you'll note that it is clearly a site ‘For Travel Agents Only' and is password protected for bona fide agents. If you are planning a trip anywhere in the world, ask your agent to check airfares and hotel rates offered by SkyLink Travel. Buy yourself a great present on your next international trip and thank travelgirl for the savings you received from this great tip!

3) How much is your time worth? I laugh when people tell me it takes them “no time” to purchase their travel plans on line since I know what you really have to check to be sure you are getting the right deal! If you properly check your options, you will not only be checking flex-dates, but you'll also be checking what rates you can get from taking a short flight to connect to another city where 2-for-one companion fares may be offered or other specials that would make it worthwhile to be creative with your itinerary! Travel agents use specialized computers that tap into the inventory systems of airlines, hotels and car rental companies. Additionally, they have access to companies that are often excluded from websites that only offer a selection of those companies they represent. The best deal for you may be on Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines, Ryan Air or Easy Jet but if you don't remember to check them individually, you won't even know they exist when you check most sites! Now consider how much time it will take to check all the possibilities including the possibilities of which you may be completely unaware where the best situation for you may be lying in wait! Only an experienced travel agent is in the position to get you these answers and what a blessing to be using her time rather than yours!

4) Buy value: What shoe brand do you like best? Is there a brand of makeup you prefer? Is your answer, “I always buy the cheapest thing?” We've never met but I'll bet you didn't say that! And it's no different when it comes to travel. All brands are note created equal. When you throw a dart at hotels in a city based on price alone, you may find that your savings are eaten up by the cost of getting from the hotel to your appointments, shopping, theatre, or sightseeing. You'll note that you could have stayed somewhere better and more convenient for the same cost or less than the combined cost of the cheaper hotel and the taxi fares and inconvenience of being in a less desirable location. You may also be giving up amenities and quality of service that you prefer, making all the difference between a dream trip and nightmare. An experienced travel professional uses reference tools uniquely designed to cut to the chase on your behalf to be sure that all of your specifications are met from budget limitations to ideal location with the best possible service levels your budget can afford.

5) You'll travel well-informed! One of the services your travel agent will provide for you is comprehensive information in with your travel documents. You'll know what the currency rate of exchange is, the kind of electrical current used at your destination, the climate/weather conditions you can expect, and the recommendation that you buy travel insurance to protect yourself from loss of money spent on your trip before departure as well as to protect you from unforeseen events that may create additional travel expenses while you are en route. And your agent will check on items you may not know you had need to check, such as making sure that your hotel room has air-conditioning! While we expect that in the US, the fact is that many very good hotels in Europe and elsewhere do not have air conditioning! All too frequently, travelers planning their own trips and making that very assumption are in for the big surprise when they check into their hotel.
6) Know where you are going: Are you a Destination Specialist? Unless you have been to a destination many times and really studied the place, you probably have a superficial understanding of the destination. Travel agents take courses and refresher courses on an ongoing basis which are offered by worldwide destinations to train agents in the fine points of what they have to offer. Agents take pride in being Destination Specialists, a designation they earn from hours of study and passing exams. Courses include everything from how to get there, the history of the destination, its sights, shopping, restaurants, accommodations, golfing, spas, water sports, historic sites, and yearly events. When you deal with an agent who is a specialist for the destinations of interest to you, you are dealing with a person with all of the answers. It is doubtful that you'll want to put in 100 or more hours of study into learning about each place you want to visit but you can count on that kind of expert knowledge when dealing with a Destination Specialist. The good news is that, when you deal with a travel agency, you'll probably find a world of specialists under one roof since the combined knowledge of the agents often completes the pieces of
a global puzzle.

7) Hand-Holding Service Globally: You've got a friend when you have a travel agent! If you buy from an impersonal website, even one that boasts that they have a customer call center, do you really expect to get someone to go to bat for you when you are standing at the airport ticket counter having a debate over your flight plans? It happens all the time! How many different people are you going to have to explain your story to in order to get anybody to help you sort out a situation that is not going the way you'd like it to? Strong client-agent relationships include clear lines of communication. It's not unusual for agents to have 24-hour toll-free calling for emergency assistance for their clients. It's also not unusual for clients to have the cell phone number of their agent with an open invitation to call ‘anytime' they are needed! Your agent is your lifeline when you are traveling and the ‘great equalizer' to assist you in dealing with front-desk clerks, airline personnel, and others en route who may not be seeing things your way! Your agent already knows your itinerary and can pick up your silk scarf and carry it into battle on your behalf. There is no value in getting a problem resolved when you return from your trip! Being put into a hotel room where you are facing a parking lot instead of the ocean can only be rectified while you are there and having your own personal advocate to straighten things out while you are at the beach or shopping is the sensible route to take. That's the road agents travel every day!

8) You're never traveling alone: When you are out somewhere in the world, who really knows where you are? You may be in transit and unaware of a storm or other circumstances that will delay your travels. If you've ‘done it yourself,' you'll be thrashing about trying to get flights, hotel and car reservations to continue your interrupted trip. And you'll be in the company of thousands of others in the same situation which complicates the problems you incur. Your travel agent knows exactly where you are and what time you'll be arriving to meet the frustrations created by a foggy night or cancelled flights. It's part of a day's work for a travel agent to learn about bad weather or other conditions somewhere in the world, generating the need to pull the records on all clients in the affected area, resulting in ‘crisis management' on behalf of those clients by securing hotel rooms, other flights, train or car rental reservations, rescheduled flights for another day, to be sure that their clients have the least possible inconvenience under bad circumstances. You'll know at once when you arrive at an airport in distress who is out there on their own and who has a travel agent! While others are frantically calling about to put their immediate future in order, those with agents can be seen making the one call that does it all, and often finding out that their back-up plans are already confirmed! Ah, life in the easy lane!

9) Your personal shopper: Do you enjoy having a personal shopper? If you shop in the same place often enough, you may have a relationship with a salesperson who knows what size you wear, what styles flatter you, and what is in your price range, even for a splurge. You probably get a phone call now and then telling you that an outfit or pair of boots is being held with your name on it! And you appreciate that kind of service. Travel agents do the same thing! When a good deal to a place you love to go to comes into the agency, you'll get a phone call or email telling you there's a trip begging for you to take it at a price you just can't afford to refuse! Long before email alerts to destinations sent by airlines to those who register for such services, travel agents have been on the lookout for their clients. It's like having your own travel shopper with a very personal touch. Additionally, your agent will make sure that you have all the proper documentation for travel so that there'll be no surprises that interfere with your trip!

10) Pamper yourself: Do you really need to do everything for yourself? Couldn't you use a little pampering? You can get it! Go hug a travel agent today. Nobody should leave home without one!

• Be sure to visit my award-winning website, and for travel tips, travel news and information and scheduled guests on my radio shows! • March 2007

Gotta Fly Now! sm
Stephanie Abrams

Other TravelGirl Editorials by Stephanie Abrams:
March 2006, Spring Time Travel
May 2006, (coming soon)
September 2006, Castle Hopping


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Stephanie Abrams, recognized as a leading radio travel expert and as one of the "100 Most Powerful Women in /travel," is host of the weekly Travel WITH Stephanie Abrams, heard coast-to-coast on the Business Talk Radio Network and appears weekly on radio's nationally syndicated, "Traveling Feet!" Visit Abrams' award-winning website and welcomes travelgirls' travel questions at