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How to Choose the Right Travel Agent

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How to Choose the Right Travel Agent

by Lorry Patton

Finding the right travel agent is important. But, where do you begin?

You're over a big hurdle if you know where you what to travel. If you have no clear destination, you need to determine what you expect from your holiday. Do you like lying around the pool or is exploring archaeological sites more your style? Are you after a relaxing holiday or an invigorating adventure? Do you like water sports or city excitement, historical castles and ruins or quaint village streets? Can you get by with the bare essentials or are modern amenities a priority. Ask yourself these questions before you walk through those travel agency doors.

When you are ready, make some calls to agencies in your neighborhood. You can get a good feel for the agents just by talking to them on the telephone. Is he or she in a hurry? Many agents want you to leave your telephone number so they can call you back. Sometimes they really are busy. At other times, it is a way for them to know if you are serious about your holiday plans. Make an appointment when you feel comfortable that the agent understands and is able to meet your needs.

Some agencies specialize in senior tours, some specialize in cruises, some specialize in group tours and incentive conventions, and some ... well, you get the picture, the list is endless. These agencies have many more options available because they deal with exclusive itineraries. They are particularly useful if you are keen on a certain type of holiday such as cruising and want to familiarize yourself with every possible type of water excursion from barging, to sailing, to yachting. They also occasionally have a better deal because of the volume of bookings they do with tour planners.

Other agencies have something for everyone and can still offer you the perfect cruise. Ask about shore options, price options, days at sea, age of passengers, size of ships, and ports of call. For bus excursions, inquire about length of stopovers, lists of attractions, miles traveled per day, rating of accommodations, meals that are included, and extras that are not covered in the fare. Read the brochures thoroughly when you find a holiday package you like, including the terms and conditions regarding such important details as cancellation insurance and liability claims.

Prepackaged holidays are usually the best bargains, particularly when still available close to the departure date. Prepackaged holidays can also offer additional options. These options usually deal with accommodations. A good travel agent will look for the best rate on all packages and offer you a variety of options. Your budget will determine whether you choose a three, four, or a five star hotel. Is money no object or is low the only way you can go? Will you sacrifice on your food allowance and pay a little more for your hotel room? Do you want a prepackaged holiday that includes air and accommodations or do you want to book air and rooms separately?

Preferably, the agent or someone in the office will have actually traveled to the proposed destination. Resort and tour planners offer familiarization trips for that very reason. However, this is not always possible. Therefore, you will need to rely on his or her knowledge and professionalism. Since most vacation disasters happen because the visitor is disappointed with the accommodation, it is the agent's responsibility to prepare the client for any potential misunderstandings. For example, a 4-star resort in a tropical destination might not be comparable to a 4-star hotel in America.

Mishaps such as over-booking, lost reservations and delayed flights cannot always be avoided. However, qualified agents should be constantly updating themselves on the reputation of various destinations from their previous clients, and the tour planners who put the packages together.

You should also keep in mind that if you know where you want to go and where you want to stay, you don't technically have to enlist the services of a travel agent. You can call the airline to book your flight and you can call the hotel to book accommodations. Just be sure to get confirmation numbers from both. Most airlines and hotels have toll-free numbers which you can obtain by calling 1-800-555-1212.

If you would rather place your travel needs in the hands of qualified professionals, a good travel agent will provide you with insight that could be to your advantage. They attend trade shows and go on familiarization trips regularly. They read through the mountains of printed material that comes their way almost daily. They have knowledge about new and upcoming holiday packages, flight plans, hotels, and vacation destinations. In other words, a good agent is well informed.