Five Travel Agent Myths........
1. Travel agencies are going away-51% of all travel sales in the US are made through travel professionals.
2. Travel agencies charge all sorts of fees-In most cases the only idfference between a travel agent & your favorite website or package dealer (ie. Costco, American Express, Expedia, Travelocity) is that your neighborhood agency is upfront with you about their fees. Online agencies hide them in markups & fine print.
3. Using the Internet is just easier-Sure you can book a trip @ 1pm in your jammies-but what happends if after you click "book it" you change your mind, you have NO recourse, or when you arrive on your trip to find that your flight/room/rental car has been oversold & a mistake has been made-who do you call?
4. This trip is too small to use a travel agent- NO trip is too small for a travel agent to handle- we are here to service YOU!
5. A travel agent will pressure me into buying-successful agents depend on your business & referrals from a close relationship with their clients-why would there be any pressure?
Are Travel Agents Making a Comeback?
Online travel sites flooded with overwhelming options, all claiming the best deals. Extra fees nestled into the fine print amid blaring advertisements. Pounding 16 digits into the telephone after you've booked the wrong flight before finally getting a human voice.
A few weeks ago, Darin Kaplan, a tech-savvy 27-year-old California restaurant manager, clicked his mouse hundreds of times, surfing the vast choices offered by online travel booking Web sites like Expedia.com and Orbitz.com to plan his 28th birthday cruise to Mexico before he gave up in frustration.
"It's a cut-and-paste experience when you're booking online. None of these sites are going to tell me what I can do with different options," said Kaplan, who uses the Internet for many purchases, including his basketball shorts and music tickets. "Travel agents know what they are talking about. It's more comforting to hand my money to someone who has the knowledge and experience."
Some travelers like Kaplan are finding themselves defecting from travel booking sites like Travelocity.com or airline sites like Delta.com. They are going back the travel agent, an industry that many industry experts once thought to be passé with the advent of online booking.
Fewer travelers are enjoying using the Web to plan and buy trips, according to a study last week by Forrester Research, a market research company. About 46 percent of U.S. leisure travelers enjoyed using the Internet to book travel this year, down from 53 percent in 2007.
Difficult site navigation and presentation on travel company sites and hotel and airline sites are causing a growing number of travelers to shift away from the Web and consider using alternative methods of booking travel.
"People are saying 'I don't understand my options, and I would like to talk to someone who can do all the searching and tell me what's available,' " said Henry Hartevelt, the analyst who wrote the Forrester study. "Major travel agencies have absolutely failed in their responsibility to innovate and think of creative new ways to help their customers shop."
In the brick-and-mortar travel agent model, a trained agent meets with the traveler in person or establishes a relationship over the phone. For a fee, they discuss the travel options they have researched.
These travel agencies began losing their monopoly on the industry during the late 1990s, when airlines began to sell tickets online and travel giants like Expedia.com exploded onto the scene, quickly gobbling market share by introducing the quick, do-it- yourself model.
In 1995, there were 37,000 brick-and-mortar travel agencies, according to the American Society of Travel Agents. Now, only 18,000 exist after many merged or folded.
"What the Internet has done is given us a nation that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing," said Bill Maloney, CEO of the American Society of Travel Agents. "How do you know if a hotel is actually a good value or if it's overpriced? You have these online generalists and these individual specialists."
Travel agent Nancy Cutter of Court Travel Ltd. in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a half-dozen other agencies across the country say they have experienced a surge in returning clients, who said travel Web sites were confusing and unhelpful.
In several instances, brick-and-mortar agents say they were able to offer deals at the same price as, and even undercut, the travel agent models, dispelling the belief that the cheapest rate is online.
Travel agents have deals with suppliers that can sometimes enable them to offer lower prices than on the Web. They also have time to cancel tickets for free, compared with some non-refundable tickets sold on the Web. Expedia.com said it recently waived the fee for travelers changing certain flights.
"Just because you can go out and buy Turbo Tax doesn't mean it's the best answer for everyone," Cutter said. "Some people will still go to an accountant. Booking travel can get complicated, and it's just not as easy as it looks."
Travel agents don't discount the value of online travel agencies, which can be useful for booking simple, short trips, but they say complex itineraries require more expertise from a professional. Many online travel companies agree that an agent may be valuable in planning a detailed honeymoon that includes a tour of vineyards in France or a family excursion to top snorkeling and kangaroo-watching destinations in Australia.
"If you're the type of traveler who needs hand-holding up front, then sure, a travel agent would be great, but you can usually find that same information on the Web," said Brian Ek, a spokesman for Priceline.com, a travel company famous for letting bidders set their own price. He said the agents available by phone at his company can help facilitate a sale and customize cruises for travelers.
Online travel companies say they have made functionality improvements on their sites in recent years. For example, Expedia.com, the world's largest online travel agency, offers a tool that can let customers compare seats on an airplane, with ratings on how comfortable a seat is and how much leg room is available. They also have hotel reviews and even Web tours of rooms to help travelers decide.
And, research shows that online travel model is poised to grow. Even in a recession, when companies and individuals are scaling back on travel, Expedia.com saw a 22 percent air transaction growth rate in the last quarter.
But Susan D. Tanzman of Martin's Travel and Tours in California, who has worked as an agent for 35 years, points out that agents follow up with travelers before and after the trip. If the traveler needs help, the agency can offer assistance. They often work 24 hours a day.
JoAnne Kochneff, owner of midsize agency Travel by Gagnon in Michigan, said agents can give the personal attention a site cannot. Kochneff's office provides a homey feel, with agents offering freshly baked cookies for clients who stop by to chat about their trips.
"They have personal experience traveling in the area, so they can give you a personal recommendation," said Frances Mosser, 67, of Kentucky, on her reason why she switched to the travel agent model this summer.
Mosser and her husband booked a trip to St. Melo in France with a travel agent. The agent helped them devise a way to reduce travel time by taking Ryan Air between countries.
"I don't think we could have planned the trip without her," Mosser said.
How your travel agents can save you $ & time vs travel search engines!
A few weeks ago a client spent two hours slashing through a jungle of search results on several travel sites and tried in vain to find the lowest cost flight for a vacation trip. A travel agent did it faster -- and saved the client about $150.
The client gave his best shot. He tried Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia, as well as travel search engine aggregators IgoUgo and Trip.com. He came away totally frustrated, his screen littered with dozens of results windows. Then his wife took over. She spent less than an hour at it before throwing up her hands and calling a travel agent. About 45 minutes later they had three tickets to Baton Rouge for $50 less per ticket than the best deal we could find online -- and that's after accounting for the agent's $25 per ticket fee.
"Usually a human can outwit a search engine," his travel agent says. She knows what days are better for departures and returns on which airlines and the quirks of each airline's pricing. A classic maneuver: If you leave on a Tuesday or Wednesday and stay over a Saturday you get better rates on some airlines. There are other tricks too -- the stuff she knows that probably can't be quantified and integrated into those search algorithms.
A travel agent can't always beat the search engines. Southwest for example, may have special fares available on the Web only.
So what happened in this situation? While search engines are good at very simple bookings, they're not good at all with more complicated ones.
The search engines can find a hotel for you in Mahattan for May 6th or a reasonably priced flight from JFK to Reagan International departing on May 6 and returning on May 7.
You'll get a better deal if you can be flexible. But if you're willing to flex a bit on your arrival or departure airports or your travel dates -- or all of the above -- you'll end up doing lots of separate queries. A good travel agent can save you a lot of time and aggravation here. That's counterintuitive -- you'd think that online search engines would be ideally suited to handling multi-variable problems like this. They take a stab at it in some cases. But they're not really designed to do that well.
Getting to the bottom line
Online travel sites used to be the way to go -- no one wanted to use a travel agent. Things were simpler then. Today it's all different. It seems to be a waste of too much precious time finding the best flight and identifying the best bottom-line price.
All of the hidden fees and surcharges complicate matters - and each travel site deals with them differently.
Different search engines have access to different blocks of seats at different prices. To get the best price you have to shop around.
Price the same ticket on three different search engines and you're likely to get three different prices -- and perhaps a fourth if you go to the airline's own Web site. Fees and surcharges vary, and may be added into your price on the initial search results screen -- or you may have to select specific flights and burrow down a screen or two before the bottom-line price is revealed. In the clients situation, those fees added anywhere between $40 and $50 to the final price. In some cases he had to repeat that drill-down step to see the final price for each flight option.
Then there's the whole luggage fiasco. A $250 ticket on Southwest is cheaper than a $200 ticket on Delta if you're checking two bags. Southwest doesn't charge for bags; Delta charges $25 for the first and $35 for the second. This factored into our travel agent's thinking when she booked us on Southwest. With the online search engines, figuring that out is your problem.
Of course, none of this factors in the wide variations in surcharges you'll be hit with for a pillow, blanket, advance seat assignment, food, snacks, headphones, Wi-Fi and all of the other garbage airlines try to sell you while you choke on stale air in that cramped little seat.
In the client's case, here's what the customer wanted, as described to the travel agent:
"We need three tickets to Baton Rouge for a 10-day vacation starting on or about [date]. We can be flexible on the dates by a week or so, as long as the trip doesn't exceed our 7 vacation day budget (7 weekdays max). We can depart from any of three airports: Hartford, Boston or Manchester, NH. We're okay flying into either Baton Rouge or New Orleans. Find us the cheapest flight -- taking into account taxes, fees, your agency fee and any applicable baggage surcharges."
Then the Pièce de résistance:
"Oh, and one more thing. Two of us are going for ten days. But we need a third ticket with the same departure date but returning one month later. We'd like everyone to be together on the flight out."
Can a search engine do any of that? Not without doing many, many different queries. Time is money. The client who paid the $75 fee to his travel agent, agreed it was money well spent.