“So why the heck should I use a Travel Agent anyway? I can call the supplier directly or I can use Costco – I love Costco you know. Sorry if I’m so blunt – but I just want to know.”
That’s the question I was asked the other night. This was a potential customer who’s friend had used me for several years and was asking about a river cruise. So what was my response?
So I asked a few questions:
- Why did you choose this particular itinerary?
- What are you trying to get out of this trip? (relaxation, see a specific event or location, explore, etc)
- Did you consider these other suppliers; do you know the differences between them?
- How about a different cabin category; do you understand the differences; do you understand how river cruises dock (hint: it’s not like an ocean cruise)?
Then I asked – if you called the supplier directly (or especially Costco) would they ask these questions? No. They are order takers. The suppliers are incentived to make sure you’re on the right vacation. Instead, they are interested in booking you on their ship using whatever promotion you called about. They certainly won’t compare their company with others objectively. Making sure the trip fits your personality and needs is as important as getting the best deal. Getting a great price on a trip that really doesn’t fit your needs does you no good. A good travel agent’s first job is to ensure good fit. A good travel agent is interested in your repeat business. Not just a one time purchase.
Value / best cost
Most people want a good deal. There’s a few aspects to this.
- Promotions: Travel Agents may offer you different dates or sailings if we see there’s a promotion being offered. Promotions may come from the supplier or directly through the travel agency so contacting a travel agent may be the only way to get certain promotions.
- The best price on the whole trip is what’s important, not just the cruise portion. So calling the travel supplier directly will focus only on their portion. But a good travel agent can look around and see if maybe shifting your dates slightly results in a better price – not only on the cruise but maybe on the airfare. Maybe there’s a big holiday or convention in your destination city that is causing prices to be elevated which can be avoided by moving your dates.
- Back to the best fit. We love selling Tauck as they offer a great product. But Tauck is not for everyone. You may get an amazing value from a Tauck tour but if all you want and need is a Globus tour, then that’s what we’ll sell you. And you’ll save a lot of money in the process.
- We can look at airfare from consolidators, from the airlines and from the cruise lines and compare to see what’s best for you (price, schedule, connections). Try asking Costco to do that.
- There may be an alternative supplier that you’ve never heard of that is offering a better deal. What’s an alternative supplier? This post explains.
- Sometimes the suppliers will offer a better deal after you book. But they are not always anxious to let you know about it. A good travel agent will advocate for you. Would you rather be represented by a consortium that books millions of dollars a year with a travel supplier or represent your self?
The whole enchilada
If you go directly to the supplier, will they make sure you have the best insurance or will they just sell you whatever the supplier offers? Will they offer you pre and post cruise extensions and suggest the best ones? Can the supplier work with you on airfare? (example: Recently we saved a client a ton of money by looking at an alternative city to fly out of). Will they make sure transfers from the airport to the cruise are included? There’s much more to making a vacation an incredible experience than booking just cruise or hotel.
A great travel agent will provide advice about what to book in the first place – part of which was described above under finding the best fit. And of course we can customized trips to suite your specific needs. But we also offer advice on the trip once booked. Like:
- What to do in each port or destination
- What to wear / how to pack
- How best to transfer to the airport or hotel when not purchased from the cruise line
- Local tour guides to use when traveling on your own
- What you should do if there’s an unexpected issue
- How to file an insurance claim if necessary
Help when on the road
Finally, a good travel agent is here to help you through the inevitable issues. A good travel agent will advocate for you:
- My plane won’t make my connection, what do I do?
- I checked into the hotel and it’s terrible. What do I do?
- The excursion I just took was a waste of time. What can I do?
- The rivers are very high and the cruise line advised us our departure is in jeopardy
- My mother just became ill, what does my insurance cover?
- I need to come home early, what should I do?
Ok you can stop talking now
Well the client didn’t really say that. But that’s how she must have felt since I was talking for a good 20 minutes. There’s so much to tell. Travel agents ensure the trip is a good fit, ensure the client gets the best deal possible, they look at the whole trip, not just a component, advocates for you, provides advice and makes sure you have someone to help you in case things go wrong.
Good to Great
Actually that’s not true. A GREAT travel agent does all these things. Not all travel agents are good or even great. Too many agents think of themselves as order takers or they are just looking for an inexpensive way to travel. But a great agent is looking for a long term relationship with a customer. A great agent is looking at maximizing the client’s long term value, not their own. And a great agent establishes deep relationships with the travel suppliers so that they not only have deep product knowledge but leverage (for you) when you need an advocate.
Want even more information?
Here’s some other links that may be of interest:
- How to pick a Travel Agent
- How to protect yourself against bad Travel Agents
- Why not book direct? Book with your Travel Agent instead (a case study)
- Can I trust my travel agent or supplier?
- Why should I use a travel agent? (comments from a Foxnews article)