By October 18, 2004 Read More →

The Travel Agent From Hell

You’re stuck in Orlando as yet another hurricane takes aim at Florida. The airport is closed and the best advice you can get is to sit tight and hang with the locals because you can’t extend your hotel reservation.

Not that it matters. Your “garden view” room actually looks out on a concrete pad that holds the dumpsters.

Congratulations. You may have the travel agent from hell.

Let me be perfectly clear about this: If you handle your own travel arrangements then you have only yourself to blame when something goes wrong. But if you put your itinerary in the hands of a professional, there’s no excuse.

I wrote about the client from a hell a few weeks ago, and I got plenty of “attaboys” from my agency colleagues. But the pendulum swings both ways, my friends.

If you are using a professional, you are paying for, well, professionalism. And the $25, $30, $40, $50, or $100 or more you do pay should be worth it. If it is not, you need to reevaluate the relationship you have with your agent.

How do you know if you’ve got an incompetent agent?

They leave you to fend for yourself. That’s what happened in Central Florida recently, when a series of hurricanes bore down on the region. One client I knew of was left in the lurch – no hotel room, no flight out – by an agent. Sure, it would have taken a little extra work to get the traveler into a hotel and rebooked on a flight. Instead, the agent pocketed the commission or fee and moved on to the next sale.

They don’t act as your advocate. When one cruise passenger inadvertently got stuck with extra luggage after a vacation – and was accused of theft – one travel agent I know let the client work it out alone. Worse, the agent called the cruise line and they said that he might be an accessory to theft. The traveler had to drive three hours to return the luggage. Thanks for nothing.

They don’t pay attention to the details. True story: One traveler I know of saved up for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Jamaica and even splurged on the upgraded room with a fantastic view. But the hotel was oversold and when the agent found out, he did nothing – leaving the hotel guest with substandard accommodations with a stunning view of … a dumpster. Some special vacation that turned out to be.

In this day of book-it-yourself Web sites, travel agents have to set themselves apart from the competition with their service.

There are years of contacts and connections at an agent’s disposal. Even the greenest agent has colleagues; and from my experience, most agents are willing to share their connections for the mutual benefit of the client. I can’t fathom that some still believe they will survive simply because they’re already here.

A travel agent’s fee or commission is worth every penny – provided he or she is working for you. If not, then it’s time to look for someone who will.

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