You're a busy mom and you're dying to get away… so what's next? Take your research and head straight to a professional travel counselor who can wrap up the details for you.
A family travel specialist goes to work each day hoping to help you plan the best family vacation possible. An experienced agent will ask about your expectations from the trip, your optimum itinerary and budget guidelines, and the ages and interests of family members traveling with you. This information will help him or her determine whether and how much of a supervised children’s program to recommend so everyone’s needs can be met.
This note from mom Ranee Kohner of Shoreview, Minnesota sums up the most common vacation booking problem:
“I am so upset at not finding ANYWHERE that we can get airfare for under $1200 per person, with no children’s fares. I truly wanted to go somewhere for the New Year but have found that everything is booked, airfares are worse, and I am now at the point where maybe it is best to go away before, and after, for the same price! This seems to happen around all the major holidays. If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them!”
Our best idea is to call a travel agent. Here are some common questions you may have, and answers about working with a travel agent:
Q. What does a travel agent do that I can’t?
A. The travel industry is built on the principles of “yield management” — anticipating consumer demand and pricing accordingly. While you may find vacancies at appealing resorts, consumers don’t have the outreach a good agent has to wholesalers, discounters, and airline packagers who may have block-booked airline seats and rooms years in advance. (Many of these businesses are not allowed to sell directly to the public.)
Q.How do I find a knowledgeable travel agent?
A. Visit Family Travel Forum’s Resources and select a few family-friendly agents to interview by phone or e-mail, or call the American Society of Travel Agents (703/739-2782) for a list of members in your region. Because their commissions have been cut by airlines and tour operators, many agents now charge a service fee, perhaps $10-$35 for booking an air ticket or other transaction.
Q.How do I know if I’m getting the best deal?
A. Compare prices. Search the travel classifieds of your newspaper for the larger travel agencies in your region. Select three to call, and ask if they handle air/land packages to the resorts you’re interested in. Once you get an idea of what’s available at what price, select a few resorts to call directly. You can compare the direct-to-consumer prices (known as rack rates) with what agencies offer. If you’re flexible (say, willing to fly on Dec. 25th or try a regional airline, book adjoining rooms rather than a suite, or consider a resort on a lesser known island,) an agent can find you a real bargain.
Q. Why is there so much pressure to make a quick decision?
A. Travel specialists rely on computer reservation systems; rates and availability change often and beyond their control. Once you’ve discussed resort choices with your family, have all the family details (passport numbers, dates of birth, etc.) and a credit card ready. The several thousand dollar package you’ll purchase is probably non-changeable and non-refundable, but if anything goes wrong (lost tickets, hurricane warnings, etc.) at least you’ll have a professional to fix it. Don’t forget to buy trip-cancellation insurance, because a lot of kids get sick just before school lets out each season!
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