Working with an online travel agent can be an excellent way to plan your next trip. When you select a travel agency that has a strong online presence, you'll be able to enjoy the benefit of researching or booking travel online, while also being able to work with knowledgeable professionals who can help you get the best possible deal on a vacation that suits your needs perfectly.
Tips for Choosing an Online Travel Agent
The first step in working with an online travel agent is to find one. Michael Pan, CEO of online travel agency Jetbay, states, "Locating the perfect online travel agent can be a daunting prospect, with consumers often analyzing copious amounts of travel website content and reading fellow consumer testimonials before finally coming to a decision."
Ask Your Contacts for Recommendations
To make the process of finding the right online travel agent easier, Pan suggests relying first on input from your personal network. "The best way to locate an online travel agent is still through word of mouth. Ask friends, co-workers, and colleagues specific questions about the service they received." This way, you get an idea of what companies to use and or avoid.
Run Targeted Keyword Searches
While getting input from your personal network can be helpful, that's not the only kind of research you'll need to do when searching for a web-based travel agent. The people you know might not have experience with a travel agent that meets your needs. Even if they do, it may still be in your best interest to find out what other options are available. Pan states, "Your keyword search on search engines will be pivotal to finding that online travel agent." He recommends:
- "Try some specific searches related to your vacation requirements and preferences to narrow the search (for example 'Nature Hike / China / Child Friendly')."
- "Review the options and make sure the travel agent's website is reputable and feels safe! "
- "Avail yourself of the agent's customer service helpline for any queries, or check out their social media pages to see a more 'human' aspect of their operations!"
Rely on Reviews With Caution
Pan advises, "Don't believe everything you read. The online travel agent market is flooded with user-generated content that can often be created by the property itself, or other rival properties to create competitive, negative feedback. Instead, try to search for honest, hearty reviews from reliable users. If you're still not sure, we suggest getting to know the brand. Understand the core values and principles of the company through the 'About Us' section on their web page, to make sure you can trust the company before booking."
Be Wary of Loss Leader Pricing
Suzanne Klasen, an independent vacation specialist with CruiseOne, cautions, "The mistake that some people make is they go for an online travel agency that advertises a low loss-leader type price. When they call, they're likely to get an upsell, which maybe they weren't expecting." The upsell, which some might refer to as bait-and-switch, could be because what is offered with the low price might not meet their needs, or because the travel agency's goal is to upsell.
Klasen points out, "Some online travel agencies are concerned only about making the initial sale and not about providing a long-term relationship with that client - so it's kind of like a one-time, close-the-sale, get rid of the person, and then never talk to him again." The old saying that you get what you pay for holds true with travel agents, just as with other kinds of products and services. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!
Clarify Service Expectations
Klasen indicates that you're better off opting for "a service-oriented travel agency that also has an online presence." She explains, "This is a much better option because they can offer you not only a good price, but they can also give you lots of tips and make sure that you're getting the best deal. A service-oriented travel agent wants to build a relationship with you so they are concerned about much more than just the initial sale. They want to make sure that you have the best vacation that you can have. They will take their time with you and give you a lot of attention to make sure that you have that quality vacation."
To avoid travel agencies that aren't focused on service, Klasen recommends, "Look for the way that they market themselves. Are they marketing as just a low price leader with lots of numbers and figures, or are they offering a lot of other information on their website about themselves and about their business? Are they engaged with their customers through social media? Look for agencies where you deal with an actual person and not a big corporate bureaucracy."
Seek Specialized Expertise
When making your decision, consider the expertise and experience of the online travel agents with whom you are considering working. Some may have broad practices, offering assistance with all kinds of travel, while others may specialize in a particular type of travel. Jetbay, for example, exclusively assists with foreign travel to China and CruiseOne focuses exclusively on cruises. Even if you use a different travel agency for other types of travel, it might make more sense for you to use a specialist agency when planning these types of trips so you can enjoy the benefits of working with true specialists.
Tips for Working With a Web-Based Travel Agent
Once you select an online travel agent, it's important to know what to expect so you can make the most of the services provided.
Read the Fine Print
Make sure you know the terms and conditions associated with any travel that you book. Pan advises, "Keep in mind that some online travel deals may be non-refundable. Make sure you click on the correct dates and read through those important terms and conditions."
Pan emphasizes the importance of verifying currency and the exchange rate when scheduling international travel. He states, "When booking through an online travel agent that uses multiple currencies, or that quote in U.S. dollars, take your time to convert the currency before you checkout to avoid any rude surprises!" What sounds like a good price might not be so great when you consider currency and exchange differences!
Have Realistic Expectations
It's important to have realistic expectations when working with an online travel agent. While a travel professional can provide expert assistance with trip planning and travel booking, they can't handle every aspect of preparing to travel for you. As an example, Pan points out, "Not many of the online travel agents assist with visa applications for international travel, so you'll need to be prepared to do this yourself!"
Pan advises, "Once booked, stay in regular contact with the agents. This way you will be able to manage your booking, keep track of flight times and weather projections, and check for any updates to your schedule." He emphasizes, "A good online travel agent will be happy to reassure you, and will enjoy regular contact."
Examples of Quality Online Travel Agents
When you want the convenience of online booking paired with access to knowledgeable travel professionals, agencies you may want to consider include:
Fox World Travel
With more than 50 years in operation, Fox World Travel has experience providing online and personal travel booking services to destinations around the world, via all modes of transportation. Customers can connect with travel agents who have expertise specific to their area of travel. The company is on the Travel Weekly 2015 Power List of travel companies. Reviews on WeddingWire.com indicate that they have many satisfied honeymoon and destination wedding customers. Some reviewers indicate that they have been - or plan to become - repeat customers.
Vantage Deluxe World Travel
Offering a combination of a comprehensive website paired with offices in locations throughout the world, Vantage World Travel provides customers with all kinds of vacation options and assistance from knowledgeable travel professionals. Headquartered in Boston, MA, the company has been in business since the early 1980s and has received several prestigious industry honors. They have numerous positive reviews - many from repeat customers - on ConsumerAffairs.com.
Focused exclusively on Chinese vacation packages for international travelers, Jetbay is an excellent option for people planning trips to this part of Asia. According to an article in Forbes, the company provides telephone customer service in addition to online booking, with knowledgeable Beijing-based service agents that speak English. The company offers unique China vacation packages, many of which cannot be booked online anywhere else. Jetbay began operations in 2015 and has already been recognized with a Travel Weekly gold award for online travel planning.
CruiseOne: With its network of independent vacation specialists who focus exclusively on cruises, CruiseOne is an excellent option for navigating the process of choosing and booking a cruise vacation. The company began operations in 1989. According to Franchise Chatter.com, CruiseOne has "more than 650 independently owned and operated franchises," which leads to outstanding customer service and has "unrivaled buying power within the cruise industry," a fact that can lead to great prices for customers. The company has received numerous industry awards, including recognition from Travel Weekly for its training program for agents.
Key Online Travel Agency Benefits
With so many online options available (from massive travel aggregators to direct travel company websites), it certainly is possible to book your travel online without outside assistance Just because you can do something, though, doesn't mean that you should. There are a number of benefits associated with enlisting the help of qualified travel professionals with an online presence.
Pan says, "Truth be told, booking a trip can be quite a daunting prospect. Given the plethora of hotels and flight companies available, consumers can often find themselves bouncing around website after website in the pursuit of their dream trip." It doesn't take long for a consumer to get overwhelmed when trying to make complex travel arrangements. Pan emphasizes, "Professionals are able to provide tailored recommendations suited to every consumer's needs while also taking away all that stress out of booking travel."
Pan states, "Online travel agents have great expertise in the field. They possess an expansive knowledge base that would make the collection of books in Washington's Library of Congress look minuscule." You can't duplicate what they know, no matter how much online research you do. Even when you put in hours doing your research, you might not learn about beneficial travel packages that a travel agent would know to share right away. It's easy to get overwhelmed and make bad decisions when making travel arrangements in unfamiliar areas, from choosing inconvenient hotels to failing to make reservations for attractions that sell out. Working with an expert travel agent can keep that from happening.
Not only can the process of finding and making decisions about travel arrangements me complex and difficult, it is also time-consuming. Pan states, "Remarkably, in a survey carried out by IBM Institute for Business Value, approximately 20% of 2000 travelers took five hours or more to search and book online. An online travel agent can save you time and make the whole process a lot more pleasant."
One reason that consumers decide to spend their valuable time navigating the world of do-it-yourself booking is that they believe that working with a travel agent is more expensive. However, this is not the case at all. Pan points out, "Travel agents can help you save money." He clarifies that travel agents "don't charge costly additional fees for the service they provide. Actually, they provide exclusive deals that aren't accessible elsewhere," often resulting in lower costs than booking independently.
Time Well Spent
The time you spend locating and working with a reputable travel agent is definitely time well-spent. Their expertise can be key to making the most of your vacation time and dollars. Klasen states, "I think the benefit of working with an online travel agent vs trying to do it yourself is that when you work with a good travel agent they have a wealth of knowledge they have experience."