A frequent family traveler's six-step plan (with added detail) for using a travel agent to your best advantage.
Does Election Day make you wonder which resort the kids will vote for at Christmas? Does the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday trigger thoughts of skiing over President’s Day week? If you, like many travelers, are unable to plan family vacations months in advance, read on. You need all the help you can get.
We learned from FTF members early on that most parents are skeptical (to put it politely) about using travel agents. That’s why so many are surfing the ‘net to do their own research and travel bookings. Yet, after a September 2005 study to determine when it made sense to call a travel agent, the the Mercury News told its readers, “Online it’s cheaper, but it’s Buyer Beware. With an agent, you’ve got somebody on your side.”
My advice to those planning holiday travel: find a travel agent, listen carefully, and then book through them. Here’s the why and how according to Family Travel Forum:
- Know what a travel agent can do for you. Although research is still essential in planning a great family vacation, when it comes to peak season vacations, travel agents are the greatest underpaid and unsung resource around. Why? The whole travel and tour industry is built on anticipating consumer demand and pricing accordingly. While you may find appealing resorts and even potential vacancies in your research, you can’t possibly have the outreach a good agent will have to the wholesalers, discounters, and airline packagers (businesses not allowed to sell directly to the public) who’ve block-booked airline seats and rooms years in advance.
- How to find and work with a great family travel agent. To get personalized advice and custom family planning, visit our “Find A Travel Agent” page and select a few family-friendly travel agents to interview by phone or e-mail. You can also call ASTA, the American Society of Travel Agents or visit their website (800/965-2782; www.astanet.com/), for a list of member agents in your region, or visit another site, www.travelagencies.com. Next, tell the agent what your interests are, how old your children are, and what you’d like to spend on your vacation. Then sit back, wait for brochures to arrive, and make your selection. Be sure to have the agent make reservations for you, for which they may charge a nominal fee, so if there’s any trouble (lost tickets, wrong dates, etc.) you’ll have an ally to fix it.
- How to use a travel agent to get a good deal. If you don’t care about service and are interested only in a good deal at a resort, search the weekend travel section of your local newspaper for those huge ads run by the larger travel agencies in your region. Select three.
- Call each of them, and ask them if they handle land/air packages or any tours offered by Apple or Funjet Vacations (Caribbean and Bahamas), US Airways Vacations, or other large wholesalers. Once you get an idea of what’s available and what the prices are, select one or two resorts.
- Go online and check these resorts directly, or call them to see what’s available and at what price. Call back your local agencies and ask each to price the same resort, for the same time period. If you’re flexible (say, willing to fly on Dec. 25th), you may find a real bargain because a good travel agent will search separately for the best airfare and the best land rates, as well as look into what the wholesalers have packaged together.
- Closing the deal. Have all the details ready (passport numbers, dates of birth, etc.) and be prepared to pay now. The several-thousand-dollar-package you’ve just purchased is probably non-changeable and non-refundable!
- Plan for the worst. Don’t forget to buy trip-cancellation or trip-interruption travel insurance, because in these uncertain times, some tour operators or airlines or cruise lines may go out of business, or flights may be delayed or diverted for security reasons. Of course, a lot of kids also get sick just before school lets out. So be prepared to insure your investment.
- Before departure, anticipate delays and inconveniences in using charters, group-booked flights, or any peak season travel by packing extra snacks, toys, and a change of clothes in your hand luggage.
- Quid Pro Quo. Gratitude is the best tip — send a postcard, or call, to thank your travel agent for his or her hard work, and plan on being a repeat customer. Remind your trusted agent that the next time a great deal to Bermuda…or Aspen…or O’ahu comes up, you want to be the first to know!
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