Archive for February, 2010

To use a travel agent, or not to use one

February 23, 2010

Recently I have come under some fire because I asked the Board of Trustees of John Wood Community College if it was a good idea that they sell tour packages. Let me give some background here, because this story is too long to put into a blog entry on someone else’s blog.

I saw in the JWCC recent Spring catalog that they are offering tours – not only short bus trips to the theater or a quilt show, but longer trips, including to Europe. I will share here one recent experience with that same tour company. It will show why travel professionals HAVE to be in the mix in these days of constant change…

A very good client of mine – he often books last minute, always as a single  – booked a tour from XYZ tour company, to go to Costa Rica. He booked within 3 weeks of departure. When I looked at booking air separately from the tour company’s air, it was higher than what the tour company offered. So we booked the whole trip through the tour provider. (We normally look at trying to save a client money – as well as providing them perhaps with a better schedule than offered from tour operators or cruise lines. After all, it is becoming more and more difficult to find good connections to go anywhere from St. Louis). He was supposed to leave on Monday morning, 15 February, at 6 AM from St. Louis. I received a call on my cell phone (yes, all my clients  have my cell phone number, so they can ALWAYS reach me in case of problems) on Sunday, 14 February, after 9:30 PM. He was very agitated, because he could not seem to check in online for the flight the next morning. He told me he had turned the computer off a couple of times, but it still showed that his flight was cancelled. I asked him if he had already called the 800 number for the tour company, and he said that their answering service had informed him that they were closed. I told him not to worry, I would see what we could do.

I called the 800 number for the tour company, listened to a lengthy infomercial telling me all about their hours of operation before prompting me to punch a number for emergency help. I was routed to a nice person in the United Kingdom who told me I had to call the next day. My next call was to the airline, to see what was going on there. I found out that the plane had not left the East Coast because of weather, and thus was cancelled for the next morning’s flight. I worked with the airline to protect my client on the very next available flight to his destination. He was re-booked on the same flight, next day. When I finally got through to the tour company on Monday, I asked them to make a note in his file that he would arrive same time, same flight number, just one day later. However, when I called back that afternoon – I am getting paranoid about these things, and I want the provider to read back the messages just to make sure the client is taken care of – there was nothing in the record. I was told that if my client would not arrive at the destination airport to start the land tour, he would be considered a no-show. For those of you, who don’t know what that means, when you are a no-show, you have absolutely no recourse. Your trip is cancelled, you won’t get any money back, even if you have insurance….. I discussed the implications of this with the tour company’s agent for a little while, even talking to a supervisor, and finally had the necessary notes in his record that he would arrive the next day. I also filed a claim – he did have insurance through the tour company – to get him a portion of his money back for the part of the trip he was going to miss.

My question to JWCC was this – what would you have done, what could you have done?

I have been in the travel business off and on since 1969, and full time since 1991! Because of my experience and industry knowledge, I was able to get this problem resolved for my client. The tour company was not able or did not care to help him at the time he needed something done! By the way, this is a good tour company – we sell it here in our office, and the other travel agencies in town do as well. So I believe that this was a personell problem – nevertheless, it would have been a huge problem for my client, had I not been able to get it worked out.

Yes, you can often purchase airline tickets cheaper online than through a travel consultant. That is simply because the airlines don’t pay us anything! NOTHING! Should I do business by giving airline tickets away?Tour companies and cruise lines, on the other hand, still pay commission to travel consultants because we provide a valuable service to our clients as well as to the providers. We make sure that the traveler is truly prepared for the trip – has documentation necessary, has answers to questions about all sorts of issues, in other words, is truly prepared for the trip. Normally tour companies and cruise lines sell the trips to the general public for the same price as they sell them through us. So a client will not pay anything more for such a trip. However, even if the price should be a little different from the online price, the peace of mind a traveler gets when he knows he has someone he can call if he encounters a problem, and even more so that this someone he calls knows them, and knows how to take care of the problem at hand, is worth more than getting a trip for the cheapest price! After all, when you pay good money for something in the future, you want to make sure you get a return for your investment!

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