The right travel agent can take your next business trip or family vacation to the next level. Thanks to their connections, contacts and insider knowledge, quality agents can help navigate even the most challenging trips for the most discerning clients, and ensure everything from greater efficiency to better pricing to exclusive upgrades and offers. And for many well-traveled clients, those add-ons can be the difference between a good trip and a great one.
So the big question: how do you find and engage the right travel agent? Start by research and networking a bit—search for highly-rated travel agents online who specialize in your desired trip, then ask friends, family and colleagues for recommendations. By starting with a more curated list, you’ll waste less time on so-so travel agents and be able to dive right in with a meaningful shortlist. And with that list in hand, you’ll want to…
#1. Understand your needs
It’s hard for a travel agent to help you if you don’t know what you want. Before interviewing agents, talk to any friends or family accompanying you on the trip and decide how involved you want to be and what areas you can—or would like to—handle yourself. For example, if you’re fine booking airfare or buying show tickets, say so. If you’d rather a true full-service experience, it’s fine to say that, too. By laying out the parameters from day one, you’ll be better able to identify the right agent and, equally importantly, will avoid lots of missteps and miscommunications down the road.
#2. Vet all agent candidates
Before deciding on who to work, be sure to interview and vet every candidate from your shortlist. Walk through your needs—everything you pulled together in step one—and see how the agent reacts.
If everything seems in-step, ask them about their certifications and affiliations. Most quality travel agents are members of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which is anchored in a code of ethics that helps ensure you’re working with a good provider. Many are also certified by the Travel Institute, which provides training and coursework on specific destinations and niche areas of the industry.
#3. Ask meaningful questions
While it’s tempting to move forward with the first agent candidate who seems in-sync, don’t. Be sure to interview at least a few so you can compare and contrast, then choose the travel agent who seems most qualified to craft the perfect all-around travel experience. To do that, have a list of questions and run each candidate through on your initial call. Some good questions to start with?
Pay particular attention to the payment question. Some agents are paid by the resorts, hotels and airlines directly, while others charge booking fees to their clients. Don’t walk away simply because it’s the latter—often these fees are fairly low-cost, ranging from about $50 to a few hundred dollars depending on your plans. Instead, understand what fees are involved and how this impacts your travel—how it impacts the options they’ll present and, beyond that, how it impacts what you can afford.
#4. Make sure you’re covered
During this step, it’s also important to ask what happens if something goes wrong while you’re traveling—and, specifically, what happens if something goes wrong outside of normal business hours. Make sure you’re covered and that you have a way to reach your travel agent or agency 24/7.
The reality? Flights get cancelled, inclement weather throws off plans and countless other headaches can pop up, from missed reservations to itinerary mishaps. A good travel agent has systems in place to avoid these problems but, also, to help clients quickly and efficiently work through them if anything does go wrong.
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