I spent over 20 years in the travel industry, including a few years working as an airline reservationist and as a freelance travel agent. Since this time, technology has made it easier for the average Joe to book their airline tickets and vacation without ever consulting a travel professional. But while people feel they are willing to jump hoops to get a cheaper airfare, travel agents look at the entire travel experience. They can quickly pick the lesser of two evils and save you money in the end.
The Total Is All That Matters
So you find a great airfare, but that 8-day car rental is twice the cost of a single week car rental. You groan about overspending on the car and ignore that you saved a tidy sum on the air. Your travel agent looks at the complete picture and knows that with 4 people traveling, the savings from the airline tickets is more than the increased cost of the car rental. Your agent may even figure that you do not need a car for half of your trip and have you pick up a car at your hotel and pay the super-great weekend rate.
Or, a travel agent may suggest you leave after September 15th for less expensive trip to Europe, instead of going in mid-August, when most of Europe is on vacation and the airfare is at the high peak fare.
Lastly don’t forget those piece of mind travel costs, such as repurchasing your seat assignments. Travel Agents care about the total sum-not the individual sums.
Lesson learned: You tally up the total, not the individual sum of the trip. You pick a hotel that does not charge to park your rental car. And that $50 savings on an airline ticket is only a great deal if more than two of you are flying-because you count every single expense.
City Pairs/Departing City
Travel agents look at the whole picture and at all of the options. A travel agent knows that the savings will be tremendous for a family a 4 to depart just a few hours away. In addition, they will know that it is cheaper to fly out of LAX instead of the many other airports in the Los Angeles area. There can be as much as 50% savings-which for a family of four, is tremendous savings and worth the luxury of a hotel stay near the airport the night before.
Lesson learned: Always check nearby cities before booking an airline ticket.
Make a Reservation Please
Many hotels, car companies and even tour operators allow you to hold a reservation for a few hours up to the day before departure. I just had a friend complain that she had to pay 5x the normal rate for her fav Vegas hotel for a conference she was speaking at. She knew about the conference for months and did not bother to even hold a reservation. Instead, attendees from the three other conferences in Vegas booked up the hotel rooms, leaving her with slim pickings.
Lesson learned: Book that hotel room the first day.
Package or Bundle
A travel agent knows that hotel rates are seriously reduced when booked alongside an airline ticket. Usually, hotel rates are less than half the normal rate when booked with an airline ticket. Last minute trips are an even better bargain: usually the hotel is free. The tour operator is stuck with the block of rooms and want to fill their block of seats on the airplane. Their loss is your gain!
Lesson learned: Bookmark all tour operators and make a price comparison.
Dates of Travel
Leaving a few days earlier or returning one day later can make the difference of hundreds of dollars. Yet, if there are kids in school, or an inflexible job, a Travel Agent will always advise that you book the ticket early. Those super, off-season deals are not for you. Instead, booking early is not going to result in the lowest possible price, but instead, in the best deal possible for the most popular days.
Lesson learned: Know your limitations: book early if you have firm dates and be spontaneous if your schedule is more flexible.
Frequent Flier Ticket or Buy
I am often surprised at how many people use their frequent flier miles to go to Vegas for the weekend or to LA or New York City. As a former travel agent I know that the best use of these frequent flier tickets are for trips to locations that are serviced by smaller planes and fly less frequently.
Lesson learned: Save the miles for that trip to Rapid City, Missoula or to Dodge City. Buy the Vegas airline ticket and rack up the miles.
Travel Agents know that if there is a weather delay, or volcano ash disrupting a flight schedule, the airlines are not obligated to do anything. Yet, with a small investment in insurance, you do not have to worry about that, or your luggage that was lost for a week or that emergency visit to the doctor. Most trips this is not necessary, but one emergency pays for all trips put together.
At the same time, many credit card companies offer some of the same benefits.
Lesson learned: Before you tick off the no insurance box, you price out trip insurance and read out what this service will offer you. Also, call your credit card and insurance company and know what will be covered.
Keep Track of those Frequent Flier and Rewards
Travel agents not only make sure you participate in frequent flier and hotel rewards programs, they also keep track of your numbers. I am amazed at how many people sign up for frequent flier programs, for the same airlines, over and over again.
Lesson learned: keep a file on your desktop with your frequent flier numbers. Keep track of those miles by using the online services. Use the miles for a flight, or points for a hotel room. Know which programs your credit cards participate in and use those particular cards.
Travel Agents Read
Travel agents know how to read an advertisement. That $199 round trip to Vegas, air and hotel from a well-known tour operator may not be available for your desired travel dates. Most people would just be mad and not look any further. But, as a travel agent knows how to read an ad, they will look for a package on the right days for a price that is nearly the same rate. Travel Agents don’t need to know a special code. They know that all ads show the lowest price point possible and have to include such details as hotel and dates of travel. Generally, the flights are red-eyes (overnight or middle of the night) and the hotel is their least expensive hotel. That same trip, taken during more desirable flight times and five-star hotel, can be 10 times that $199 price-per person.
FAA rules require that we read all of the rules out loud. Cancellation and change fees, staying over a Saturday night, flying out on a Tuesday or Wednesday, or flying after 11pm. As we Travel Agents are forced to read all of the rules, we know that we cannot change your outbound flight or that your return change will be $200 dollars. While the rules are not very exciting, they make you understand that every change you make will cost money. Travel Agents joke that they the harder they work, the less money you spend-and the less they make. But if you are a happy and returning customer, it is worth the extra effort.
Lesson learned: you read all of the rules and know what the penalty will be for any changes or last minute cancellation.