Saturday, February 28, 2015

There Is No Reason To Go It Alone Even If You're a DIY Traveler

I have been beating the drum for travelers to use a Travel Professional (formerly called Travel Agent) when planning any trip and especially if it is one of significant complexity or cost. Now understand, this is what I do for a living so I may have a bit of a biased view on the subject. But because this is what I do I am also the one who gets the calls from the DIY (do it yourself) proponents when their best laid plans go astray and now they don't know what to do.  Maybe I should consider becoming a Travel trouble shooter and charge you like an attorney $300 an hour to get you out of your mess in the least painful way. Just kidding . . . . I don't want that job there are just too many DIYers who run into trouble. 

But just so you both the  DIY travelers and the smart travelers know I here to tell you there is no reason for you to go it alone. Remember the words of Forrest Gump, "Stupid is as stupid does."  Just because you like to do things yourself doesn't mean you have to be stupid about it. Even the DIY handyman learns from those who have been there and done that. In the case of Travel that would be your Travel Professional.  

My dad was an Independent Garage Owner and he had a sign in shop that read: There will be an additional charge of:
$25 an hour if you watch
$45 an hour if you offer suggestions
$65 and hour if you help.
The point being, the men working in the shop are professionals. The have he tools; they have the knowledge; and they have the experience to repair your automobile. Sit here in the lounge, enjoy your coffee and relax and allow the professional mechanics to do for you what they know how to do and you'll save a lot of money. Folks I don't care if your a DIY or totally dependent your using a Travel Professional is a smart choice.
There is a common misconception going around that travel agents have gone the way of the dinosaur and are not needed to book a cruise or any vacation for that matter. I wish I had a dollar for ever time I have heard that. It usually goes something like this, "now that we have access to the internet we can use our computer or even smart phone to go to some online travel agency like Travelocity or Expedia (actually one and the same) and book our own vacation and save money doing it.
Yep, some folks, including the President of the United States labor under the illusion that Travel Agents have gone the way of the dinosaur. Promise you he uses a travel professional of some kind to arrange his travel.  “Do travel agents still exist?”.  The answer is. "Yes!"  We now call them Travel Professionals and they are as important as ever when booking a vacation. 
By the way, they do not all work in store fronts either. Many of today's top producing Travel Professionals work from their homes or while they are on the go. I can service my Travel Clients from wherever I happen to be in the world. So they are having trouble in Mexico and I am in Germany . . . in most cases I can still help resolve their dilemma.  

Listen up all you DIY travelers. The single most important reason for using a Travel Professional when planning and booking a vacation or even a weekend getaway is that you know you have personal one on one customer service. Again, I wish I had a dollar for every call I have had over the years since people started booking their own trips online. 

I have had people offer to give me up to half the cost of their trip if I cold just get their money back from Expedia. They had been trying for six months and were still in the batter box. Expedia referred them to Barclay (overseas company) who referred them from one 800 number to another. Sorry, I can't help. 

A good Travel Professional is able to answer all of your travel related questions and guide you through important steps of arranging your travel. This is even more important when you travel is complicated by multiple flights, frequent hotel changes and there are special needs in your family. 

They will also be able to advise you on Travel Insurance. Not all travel insurance is created equal.  Some company's plans will better fit your needs than others and the Travel Professional can help you choose the company that is right for your needs.  By the way, you do need third party travel insurance. I have a friend who booked a $3K week long cruise and a few days before the fully paid cruise one of their parents died and they had to cancel their trip. Unfortunately, that close to sail date there is zero refund. Fortunately, for them we had explained the insurance options and they had bought the third party travel insurance and they were reimbursed through that insurance 100% of their vacation investment. 

Most travel agents today can be quickly reached through a phone call, email, or text message.  If you are looking for great customer service, using an Travel Professional is the only way to go. If you insist on being a DIY then you are on your own. 

Another reason for using a Travel Professional is that in most cases you get free access to years of knowledge and experience that can help you pick the right cruise, hotels, resort, flights etc.  We also know the latest information regarding government and general travel rules. Keep in mind these are constantly changing.

Your Travel Professional also keeps up on any rule changes that cruise lines make (smoking on balconies, gratuity costs, dinner and drink packages etc) so you won’t have any surprises when you embark on your cruise. They know what the "all-inclusive" resorts really include and what they do not.  They will know that beach accessibility seldom means on the beach. 

When it comes to cruises your Travel Professional Travel has the advantage. In most cases they have either inspected the ship you will be sailing or actually cruised aboard it.  These inspections and sailings allow them to gain insight into each ship. Trust me when I tell you that like people each cruise line has its own distinct personality as does each cruise ship.   

I know a older couple in my church who booked themselves on a cruise and simply had a miserable time. They came home from their four night cruise saying, "We will never take another cruise." If they had used a Travel Professional they would have known that the cruise they chose had much more a party atmosphere than the quiet, relaxing trip they were expecting.   

 As we spoke about their experience I told them that if they ever changed their minds give me a call and we'll get them on a cruise that they'll enjoy. As fate would have it a couple years later their son decided that he wanted to take them on a cruise for their 50th. wedding anniversary. They were insistent they wouldn't go. They had been once and it was a terrible experience. The son was insistent and so they agreed on the condition that I help them plan the trip. Long story short, the son called we all got together for a light lunch and discussed their likes and dislikes. We booked them on a cruise, this time a 7-night a more adult oriented cruise line but just enough activity to keep two grandchildren happy.  Well, they have been cruising that same cruise line ever since. It was a perfect match.  

I said all that to say that a good Travel Professional will always steer you towards the cruise that fits your expectations. After all we want you to have a great time on your vacation because we want to help you plan your next trip. If my client is unhappy then I am unhappy. 

Let me add that in most cases using a Travel Professional WILL NOT cost you more than a DIY booking.  In point of fact they will generally get you more bang for your buck   Travel Professionals have a variety of ways of saving you money or getting you more value for the money you spend. One way, is through booking you into a group they already have on a given sailing. This will get you the group rate without actually being a part of any particular interest group. We know about the latest sales and promotions. 

In most cases using a Travel Professional will not cost you any more than the DIY route and will certainly save you a lot of time and frustration. Nearly all travel be it cruises or resort packages have a built in commission rate for the Gravel Professional. That rate does not drop out of the price if you elect to book your own trip.  It stays in the price of the trip. In an odd way it is you paying a commission to the travel supplier for selling you your vacation. You see that money was only a part of the cost of the trip to you, not to the supplier but the supplier keeps it anyway. 

A few travel suppliers and hotels do not pay commissions and so there might be a small service  charge for arranging that travel. This is also true of airlines. 
I am all for your doing your due diligence. But why waste a lot of your valuable time squinting at the thousands of websites offering to sell you a trip.  Using a Travel Professional can save you a lot of research and time that you may not have.  Tell your agent exactly what you are looking for and let them get back to you with several different options.  They will use your interests, hobbies, and expectations to find the best fit for you.  A travel agent may also interest you in a cruise that you may not have even known about. 

Now I know that some of you DIY people are going to read this and say, "But I like doing it myself."  Common, be smart, don’t bi-pass an opportunity to take advantage of the years of experience and knowledge of your personal Travel Professional. If nothing else it will bring you a sense of security in the decisions you make.