Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A Dirty Little Secret About the Travel Industry - and 8 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent Instead of Booking Direct!

Recently, I was inspired to write a blog post regarding why I choose to charge a small, refundable Plan to Go Fee (you can check out that post here). It touches on a few things that many people don't know about the travel industry, like how airlines just plain hate everyone in equal measure.

But I think it's time to reveal a little more.

First, let's face it - we are an online society and love to do as much online as possible. That's cool, I totally get it (and not just because I fall into the "Milllenial" age range, though admittedly at the upper end of it). So where do a lot of people go to book vacations - Expedia? Orbitz? Travelocity? Directly with the resort/cruise line/hotel/etc?


Oh, because they say they have the lowest price? They GUARANTEE they have the lowest price? Huh. Well, that might be true - but it's not the whole truth. See, they do have the best price - but so does Operation Relax, any other booking engine, or any other travel agent.


True story, we all have access to the same prices 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time it might just be that we aren't comparing apples to apples (for example, you found a great hotel deal online and assumed air was included - it wasn't - so our quote looks higher but only because we included air) or because the hotel/cruise line/resort/whatever is being douche-y and trying to make travel agents look bad (and yes, that does happen sometimes. In that case, we usually are up front and honest with you about it). Why would they do that? Well, when you book direct, they pocket the commission that would normally go to us, so it's kinda like they get paid a little bit more for you doing all the work of booking yourself rather than having us do it for you.

Let's think about that a little more - they get paid for YOU doing the work? Wow. That's kind of like performing your own professional dental cleaning and then still paying the dental bill when it comes in the mail.

So what about booking with a travel agent? Well, that means WE do the work for you, and then THEY pay us. Not you. There is a little misunderstanding that by using a travel agent you are paying us directly. Most of the time, that's not true (the caveat being that sometimes there might be a refundable Plan to Go Fee like Operation Relax charges, or you might be booking something - like airfare only - that doesn't pay commission and thus we'd have to charge you if we wanted to get paid to work, which is perfectly reasonable right?). So by booking with a travel agent like me, you are paying someone to do the work, and helping to support a small business!

In case that's not enough of a reason for you, here are eight more reasons:

1)  When it comes to travel, I'm smarter than you. 

That might sound mean, but it's true. See, I actually take classes on travel. I think about travel every day. I spend hours reading travel magazines and books, watching travel webinars, and randomly surfing Pinterest for pictures of travel destinations that I think are something I should learn more about. I'm not alone in this - all good travel agents spend their time doing the same things! We also go to conferences, visit places on educational familiarization trips, and even do resort inspections where we often spend hours walking all over a resort and seeing EVERY TYPE OF ROOM in the resort along with all of the common areas just so we can specifically know whether or not a Beachfront Tiki Bombtastic Room is worth an upgrade from the Beachfront Tiki SortaCool Room.

Here's a great example - let's say you found a great deal for a trip to Jamaica in October. You're feeling pretty great about it, until I remind you that it's hurricane season and that Jamaica and the Dominican Republic are usually the worst hit by hurricanes. Then I can guide you to places that are usually less affected by hurricanes, like St. Lucia or Grenada.

Or let's say you want to go to the Cancun area for a vacation. So you head over to Expedia and you do a search for Cancun and... HOLY SMOKES! There are over 250 options. So you think - no problem, let me narrow it down to all-inclusive resorts. BOOM! That brings you to 55. That seems great,until you find yourself still elbow-deep in Trip Advisor reviews several hours later with no real idea as to which resort would give you the best spot to just hang in a hammock all day because that's not actually an option on Expedia for narrowing things down and no one on Trip Advisor has talked about it... argh!

Yeah, no worries, I got this. I've been to the area, can show you a picture of a spot where I've hung out in a hammock, I have a great relationship with the resort and just lined you up a free drink package, and I've just saved you hours of stress-eating. Just sayin'.

2)  Along that line - we get perks for our clients.

Part of the reason we spend so much of our time (and money) visiting resorts, taking their tours, and going to conferences is to build relationships with them. Not only that, but because of our volume, they are more likely to give us little luxuries that we can share with you. These aren't things that you can get when you book with Orbitz or Travelocity.

I don't want to mislead you - we can't ALWAYS get you goodies. But I can guarantee you that we always ask!

3)  There's a good chance I've been there.

Or there. Or there. Travel agents go a lot of places and see a lot of things. Often even when we "vacation," we line up multiple resort inspections to do "on the side" - for example, when I was in Negril I didn't just go to Sandals, I also checked out Beaches and Grand Pineapple. Resorts want agents to sell them, so they often invite us to come check them out. In 2015 so far, I have been to 3 countries with over 7 destination stops. In a previous year, I took 3 cruises - yep, in ONE YEAR. What can I say - not only do I love to sell travel, but I love to travel myself!

4) And if I haven't been there, I know someone that has.

I won't lie and say I've been everywhere - there's only so much travel time I can do (and only so much money I can spend on it). But I know people - LOTS of people. And a lot of the people I know are other travel agents! So maybe I won't know the best place to get lunch in Paris since Europe isn't really my "thing" right now, but I can guarantee that I know someone that not only knows the best place but also what time to get there and who to ask for. I'm part of a network of over 2,100 travel agents all over the world. If we all average sending out clients on about 14 trips per month, that means so far this year we've booked 176,400 trips. So yeah, that's a lot!

Not to mention, I keep tabs on my clients' travel experiences. I check in with them after travel and ask them to share their experiences, and I keep those in mind for future clients. I have clients that are braver than me - for example, the one that went skydiving in Vegas - or have different interests than me - for example, the one that went deep sea fishing and caught a SHARK - and I use those experiences to help me create a more comprehensive look at each destination.

5) My reviews are always honest.

If you follow my Facebook page or watch my YouTube tours, you'll see that I leave nothing out. If it smells, I tell you. If the beach isn't really up to par, I'll tell you that too. I'll also let you know when I place is so indescribably beautiful that you really have to go see it yourself (like here).

Have you looked at Trip Advisor reviews before? Some of them aren't even legitimately decent - for example, one couple who DIDN'T EVEN GO TO A RESORT was complaining about a resort and gave them a bad review. Seriously. Or sometimes people write glowing reviews for a resort because they are given a free upgrade if they do it.

Unless you know the person writing the review, and think they are an honest reviewer, you probably won't get much off of third party review sites. While it is true that sometimes resorts ask me to come stay for free, they are always told that I'm going to be honest with my clients when it comes to reviewing the resort.

6) I actually AM glad to get your call, or email!

It's not just something forced upon me by a telemarketing script. Honestly, hearing from prospective travelers and helping them plan trips often causes me to break out in my happy dance and subsequently terrify my cats (true story).

I LOVE working in the travel industry. This isn't just a "job" for me, but a way of life. I feel amazing getting to send travelers out into the world and see all of their pictures and experiences.

Similarly, when things go bad, I care and I feel sadness and anger on your behalf, and I fight for you. It's not something I "have" to do, but something I want to do. Recently, I had a client come back from a stay at a resort with a terrible experience. She was honest with me and showed me pictures of the problems. I took those pictures and her complaints and brought them directly to the top of the hierarchy and made the company aware of the problems. She didn't ask me to get anything for her, and probably didn't expect me to do more than listen to her complain. But my work on her behalf, and some additional followup, granted me the opportunity to obtain for her a formal apology plus a future travel credit! It made me feel like a fat white Oprah. ;) Does that always happen? No. Sometimes I bring forth the complaints and nothing happens, but you better believe I am always in your corner.

7) And as seen above, when it comes to resorts we are VIPs. 

This kind of ties back in with the perks things - resorts realize how much power travel agents have, and they often make sure to keep us happy. They want me to sell them, and I won't sell them if I think they have mistreated a client. So if I call or email a resort, they listen and usually answer. Can you say that about BookIt?

Here's a personal story - before I was a travel agent, I went to visit my sis in Chicago and booked a hotel. I chose one that had a kitchen so I could cook my own food (having food allergies makes you aware of things like that) and chose a nonsmoking room. It's a bit of a drive from Omaha to Chicago - 8 hours - so we arrived at check in later in the evening, around 7pm. They gave us a room key and sent us on our way. We got in the room, and I was immediately wheezing from the smoke! So we turned right back around and went to the front desk and explained the problem, even showing them where we had booked a nonsmoking room (through an online booking engine that rhymes with "sex media"). Their response? "Sorry, we don't have any nonsmoking rooms available. We can check again tomorrow but you'll have to stay there tonight." Um, NO. I couldn't breathe, so there was no way that was going to work. So we tried calling that super special online booking site. After being transferred a few times, we found someone that could "help" us - they said they'd book us a room elsewhere and we'd still have to pay for it, and then in 10 business days we'd have our refund from the other room. WHAT?!? You want me to pay for ANOTHER hotel without even having the money back from this one yet? By the way, it was almost 10pm by then. Long story short - we ended up crashing at my sister's for the night, then having to pay out of pocket for a different room while we waited 10 business days for a refund for the first room. At no time did anyone apologize or think it was unusual - see, apparently if you book via an online booking engine you are a "non priority" client (it's in their fine print) so you aren't actually guaranteed what you booked.

Now that I'm a travel agent, things tend to go a little better than that. ;)

8) I work for YOU.

So if all of these examples haven't made it clear enough: I work for YOU. Why go it alone and hope everything works out when you can work with someone who knows what they are doing and can make it easier? One of Operation Relax's primary goals is making travel as stress-free as possible for our clients. It doesn't cost you anything extra to work with me, and I can help you nab the vacation that makes all of your friends drool over your pictures and stories.

Ready to get going? Stop by www.operationrelax.com or contact Jess at 402-590-2012 to start your booking.

This post was inspired by my fellow travel agent at Vacationisms Worldwide Travel. You can find her post here .

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