How to Tell a Good Travel Agent When You See One

You and your spouse have decided to go on a vacation. You’ve always wanted to get really away, and a trip to the relatives just doesn’t cut it any more. How do you plan your trip?

You could go online and dig around for travel tips (which you’re doing right now, unless this article is in a physical magazine). You will find more information online than you can possibly use–and some will be contradictory. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? Every place will say it’s the best place to visit. Everyone will claim to have the best discount. No one will tell you the gotchas. (Some places do have negative comments, but how do you know if the comments aren’t just sour grapes?) What if price X changes while you’re looking at price Y? What about hidden costs, problems you might not think of, secret discounts you don’t know about, and pitfalls in processing your documents? Many dangers lurk in planning travel beyond your usual haunts. And don’t forget–all that research takes time. What’s your time worth?

You might visit a travel agent. Travel agents have a reputation for being expensive. After all, they have offices and all those fancy travel books and posters. As it happens, those ads and brochures are supplied by the cruise lines and travel companies. They pay the agents, too, normally. If an agent needs to charge you for a service, they will tell you up front. if you’re in a travel club, you can expect the agent to reduce or eliminate the commission, and have a ready supply of club discounts, further reducing the price. Ask yourself: What’s a travel agent’s knowledge and experience worth? They know the ropes, the pitfalls, the tricks of the trade; they have access to all the discounts, and they’ll save you time and stress–after you get to know a travel agent, one phone call can take care of everything.

Of course, you have the same problem picking a travel agent as you do making travel decisions online: Who’s good? For that matter, what is good in a travel agent? And how can you tell?

Here are a few ways to take the measure of a travel agent.

Are you connected to the agent? (This rule is good when you consider hiring a realtor or a funeral director, too.) If you know someone in the travel industry, they are more likely to want to give you exceptional service. After all, they see you socially. Maybe you know where they live. Good travel agents can be relatives, acquaintances, friends, and friends of friends.

Is the person well traveled? If they have been to where you want to go, all the better, but travel experience of any sort seasons a person. A travel agent who has personally been around the block a few times is a font of wisdom and advice.

Is the person detail oriented? Not necessarily neat (that is a good thing), but notice whether they find your file immediately. They should know where everything is and not have to hunt for things. You don’t want an absent-minded professor for a travel agent. You never (okay, hardly ever) see a good travel agent surprised by something, and they keep their promises about when they’ll have something for you. They are ready when you show up after that first, introductory meeting.

Is the agent you’re working with responsive? Do they answer phone calls and emails promptly? This is a must. Even if all they can say is that they need more time, they don’t make you wait for a reply.

Are they cost efficient? You can tell this by the number of choices they present you with. A lazy travel agent won’t research multiple options, won’t hunt for the best price, won’t spend any more time than necessary working up your vacation. You see them look up one thing and give you a price. A good agent will hunt down good deals, think of options (a nearby nice location that costs less, for example) that you didn’t consider, check with several wholesalers. Good agents give you a lot to choose from.
A good travel agent can handle a lot of that before-vacation hassle, and make your next trip more enjoyable while it’s happening.

Get the Most Out of Your Travel Agent

Booking air travel, making hotel reservations and arranging vacation travel in general has changed completely with the advent of the internet and many people try to be their own travel agents. While you can arrange seemingly most of your travel yourself, you can’t do as well as your travel agent in a long run!

Travel processionals, whether your local travel agent, tour operator or destination specialist still possess contacts that you as an industry outsider do not have. As in number of other professions, travel agents, whether in a shopping center near your home or an online agency, wherever they may be located, do know something you do not, have way to book and arrange travel for you in ways unavailable or unknown to you.

Traditionally you could contact a travel agent and ask for a quote, whether a price of an air ticket, hotel or a vacation package. For the most part travel agents still provide that kind of information, although there is a limit how much information they may disclose as not all information is readily available to them.

First of all, most travel agents indeed may have at their fingertips routine cost of air ticketing, hotel rates or certain vacation packages available and will be happy to provide the price information to you instantly when asked. But once your travel request will need to be somewhat customized, whether tailored to your dates of travel or your other travel preferences, to find a relevant answer will be time consuming. Because of this time element involved, do not automatically assume an agency is keen to spend the time to furnish the information you seek when there is no commitment you will travel at all.

Look at the situations from the following perspective. In the old days if you had a problem with your car, you’d drive it to your neighborhood car mechanic and asked him to see what was wrong with it. You would drop the car off at the garage, the mechanic would have a look and tell you what the problem was. He would also give you an estimate and it was up to you to decide if you wanted him to fix it right then and there, wait or seek another opinion and another quote. His services cost you nothing.

But not anymore. These days, no garage, no car repair mechanic is willing to spend time trying to find out what’s the problem with your vehicle without charging you at least one hour labor upfront. Pay and he will look and tell you. Up to you if you will decide to take your car to another shop or have him fix it, he has covered his time spent diagnosing what’s wrong with your car.

Similarly, many travel agencies and professional travel planners and tour operators will charge you an upfront travel planning fee if you are requesting travel arrangements that first of all are time consuming, or there is no guarantee you will book anything. All you are after are essentially private tailor-made travel arrangement s and there are no simple answers or options to give you, and the only way to find out will be for the agent to dig and consult all sorts of different sources he has at this disposal and then present the travel alternatives to you for you to decide upon.

When working with a travel agent, travel planner or any other travel professional such as a knowledgeable destination specialist, keep in mind that a certain protocol will assure you will get not only the kind of travel arrangements you want in general but also you’ll gain a true partner that will always work in your best interest whether you’ll travel away from home on business or for pleasure.

1. First of all, when contacting a travel agent, whether in person or online, don’t hesitate to give them your name – don’t worry, most agents won’t spam you back. Without your name when you’re asking for a valuable travel advice most agents won’t take your request too seriously. Call if you wish but most agents prefer not to take notes, email is a way to go and for an agent to look up a fare often a time means he has to plug in a name, so might as well that name will be your real name. If you decide not to accept the booking the reservation will expire and no harm done. If you decide later to purchase the reservation the agent does not have to rekey it into the system all over again.

2. If you’re trying to be you own travel agent, even in part, say you plan to book your own hotels online, disclose it to the agent your are contacting for assistance, he/she may still be interested to help you with the rest of your travel arrangements. Don’t hide your intentions from the agent as agents don’t like to be used for information gathering purposes only.

3. If at all possible, always contact your travel agent or destination specialist as soon as you know when and where you wish to travel, not last minute before your intended departure. That is even more important when you’re planning a trip to a lesser frequented destination.

4. Don’t book your flights and hotels online and ask a travel agent to do the rest, namely the difficult parts, such as complex transportation connections, travel arrangements in remote locations or to book segments that you just feel are not safe for you to book online yourself. Give your agent to design and book your entire trip for you. The worst you can do is design your own vacation package, then copy and email the same request to dozen different agents to see who may be the lowest bidder. Yes, the internet is perfect for that kind of information gathering but look at this from a perspective of a travel agent. If he/she knows you are sending the same request to dozen agents many of them will not be too interested in dealing with you. Then again, telling them the truth they will appreciate knowing what you are doing and approach the whole thing quite differently and in the end they just might offer you a deal.

5. If you’re after booking shoe-string cost of travel, for example wishing to book the lowest type of accommodations, best be your own travel agent. Do realize that agents can’t book services that are simply too cheap to begin with, not to mention that that kind of suppliers do not pay agent s any kind of commission. The agent may still help you but keep in mind he will be doing you a favor and will be working for you at no charge. If so, appreciate it, email your thank you.

Do realize that to ask an agent million questions, get all the answers, including time consuming quotes, only for you to never replay again is definitely rude and turns agents off completely. If you are polite and respectful many will often work without any commitment on your part, providing you with information you need, working for free. But because of those that just siphon info out of agents so they could possibly book travel on their own leaves not only a sour taste in agent’s mouth but certainly induces the decision to charge au upfront planning fees when a next inquiry comes.

6. On another hand, when it comes to upper end accommodations keep in mind these hotels routinely offer discounts to agents that agents can markup and still offer you room costs below hotel rack rates. Genuine agent is not interested in selling you a higher end hotel in order to make a higher commission but to tailor in a better trip experience for you where he deems it desirable.

7. Keep in mind that there is a difference between a travel agent and a so called Destination Specialist. Most travel agents use online reservation systems to book transportation, hotel and vacation packages. They essentially book or resell ready-to-sell travel offers from a variety of suppliers that do not require more than filling in your name and dates of travel. When it comes to you needing customized arrangements, they will need to contact tour operators and destination specialists that are either part of their consortium or a network they belong to. Depending on the connections they have they will or will not be able to help you.

8. Destination Specialists pride themselves in really knowing their destinations. Many of them have indeed not only traveled extensively but know a particular destination inside-out so they can arrange travel logistics for you based on knowing, rather than looking it up in a brochure or some kind of data base. Many Destination Specialists specialize in difficult, custom designed itineraries and do not sell travel packages. Often a time though not always that kind of service reflects higher markup.

9. Last, please note that many destination specialists as well as travel agents work 110 or more hours per week because especially custom-design travel is indeed very time consuming. Being good at travel logistics does take experience and while with the internet it seems second nature to be able to arrange travel on your own, many travel professional are indeed very good at what they do! They do know more about travel than you, give them a chance, they can save you not only money but also many headaches and above all, they can assure not only that you’ll travel worry-free but that you may have a trip of your life! Keep in mind, a good agent is not after selling you a single ticket or a package tour, they want you to become a repeat client, their go-to-travel processional for rest of your life.

Find Good Travel Agents – 7 Qualities Of A Good Agent

Traveling to Japan is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some people, while for others it is a regular occurrence due to having business or family ties in Japan. Either way, when traveling to Japan on business or for personal reasons you want your Japanese trip to be the best it can be.

Experienced world travelers know that finding a good travel agent to help you plan your trip is a smart way to ensure that it will be a success. No matter how many Japan guidebooks you have read or Japan tourist brochures you have flipped through, none of these valuable resources can keep up with the ongoing changes in the travel climate of Japan.

With thousands of travel agents to choose from, you will want to find just the right Japan travel agent for your trip. It is important to know which qualities and characteristics for look for as you plan your trip.

To help you choose wisely, here are 7 qualities and characteristics of good Japan travel agents to help you plan your upcoming trip:

1. Belongs to a good network of air carriers, tour operators and hotel partners:

Travel agents these days are connected and networked in a way that they could not have been before the age of the Internet. However, having a computer and an Internet connection are not sufficient qualifications for being a travel agent that can get the best deals. For starters, good agents belong to networks of airlines, tour operators and hotels that offer them (and their clients) the best rates.

2. Speaks both English and Japanese:

It is a huge benefit if your agent can fluently speak your own language, as well as Japanese. This way, they can handle your planning needs while staying in touch with their own network of operators in Japan on a daily basis.

3. Is knowledgeable about your travel insurance options:

You may or may not require travel insurance, but it is a good idea to find an agent who can offer you travel insurance coverage options and who can competently recommend a customized plan if asked.

4. Has offices in your home country and in Japan:

Many of the larger agent networks have offices internationally. Once you have actually arrived in Japan, it would be convenient if your travel agent’s company had offices in Japan that you could call for help or advice in a pinch.

5. Has personally used the services they recommend:

Travel agents who actually have been on the tours and use the carriers they recommend are the ones you can trust. They know from experience what they are talking about.

6. Regularly travels within Japan:

Your agent will be able to give you the best recommendations if he or she actually travels within Japan at least 2-3 times per year him or herself.

7. Keeps themselves up-to-date on the latest Japan travel trends:

Good travel agents specialize travel in certain parts of the world or certain countries. Rather than finding a jack-of-all-trades travel agent, find one who has the time to study, connect and stay up-to-date with what is going on in Japan.

Look for these 7 qualities and characteristics in a Japan travel agent. Be bold and ask the agents you interview their qualifications and background before agreeing to work with them.