Family Vacation Tips

Should I Use A Travel Agent? Vacationkids vs. Woman's Day Magazine

[fa icon="calendar"] Jul 18, 2013 8:00:00 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Should I Use A Travel Agent?Have you ever read something that leaves you with this kind of "What the...." expression? Soon after this look of dismay you find yourself screaming explatives similar to when you slam your finger in the car door.

Yeah...that happened to me yesterday after reading this article posted on Woman's Day Website  "9 Things Travel Agents Won't Tell You" written by Anne Roderique-Jones.

Most people would think if a beloved and respected magazine like Woman's Day published an article like this then it must be true....right? WRONG!!!! 

You can't always believe what you read on the internet people!

Truth be told, when the article was initially published this week the original title was "10 things Travel agents Won't Tell You". Due to a HUGE out cry by the travel industry, Woman's Day removed one of their "things" about airline commissions because apparently it was down right wrong.

As there are two sides to every story, I tried to reach out to author Anne Roderique-Jones online and via social media. It seems she is a very prolific freelance writer with a fashion degree. No mention is given to her research or methodology behind this article. Has she ever used a travel agent or traveled anywhere for that matter? 

So I tried to calmed down and waited a day. I thought perhaps if I thought it through I wouldn't be so angry. NOPE! Didn't help.

So because there are two sides to every story, As a travel agent and founder of Vacationkids, here is my side to this story. Here are 9 things THIS Travel Agent WILL tell you...

1. They Are Making Commission - Travel agents do get paid a sales commission for their work. Generally hotels, cruise lines and sightseeing companies pay us an average of 10% on the base price of a trip (minus all the taxes and fees). Airlines do not pay commissions to travel agents. Travel agents that do still sell just airline tickets normally do charge a booking fee to cover the cost of their time and liability. If a travel agency does charge extra service or booking fees they are obligated by law to make this practice known to customers in a very transparent way.

At Vacationkids, we do not sell simple airline tickets. As I said, we get no commission from the sale of airline tickets and we do not want to shoulder the extra liability.  We made this business decision when we first opened and it has always been this way. As far as all the other vacation products we sell, We never charge extra fees on anything that we sell.

A good travel agent knows keeping a client happy, safe and satisfied means a successful career, longevity and referrals. Vacationkids began in 2000, right before 9/11 changed how everyone travels. Even though many travel agencies have closed their doors in the years since, we have survived, thrived and grown.

There are good and bad in every business. Travel agents who are lured by fur coats and other booking incentives will not be successful in the long run. It's just like freelance writers who can churn out lots of articles.  They too will get paid for their work in the short term but if they don't do a thorough job of research, they may not get hired a second time. These are simply not a good business practices.

2. They May Not Be Able to Book All Airlines - To sell and write airline tickets, travel agencies technically need an ARC number.  Travel agencies, like Vacationkids, are registered and use an IATA or CLIA numbers to get paid our commission from hotels, car rental companies and cruise lines. Our IATA and CLIA number allows us to include an airline ticket as part of a vacation package when our clients request us to do so. (more on this later).

It's true, not all airlines are found in the major reservations systems or in the major online consumer booking engines like Expedia or Travelocity for that matter.  Travel agents with IATA and CLIA numbers ARE often privy to and CAN book certain charter and consolidator flights that consumers won't find online either. 

At Vacationkids, we ask our clients if they have a preferred airline or if they prefer to book their own flights (use their accumulated loyalty or credit card miles).  We will gladly help them do the research and offer suggestions to help them find the best deals or explain why that cheap price could mean potential problems down the line.

3. They may not have been to the hotel or on the cruise ship they’re recommending. At Vacationkids, we post online reviews of the places we recommend complete with photos of our staff in the resort or at that location to prove it. We actually have been to more places and have plenty more photos than what we have posted online. We are a small company and there simply isn't enough time in the day.  We do believe first hand experience is the best teacher. This is particularly paramount for parents traveling with their children.

That said, no one person can visit everywhere on this planet.  We tell our clients if we have not visited a location that they are requesting.  We also have access to insider information, trusted contacts and industry support people who can educate us to better serve our clients when need be.

At Vacationkids, if we are not comfortable booking a specific destination or helping a client with very special needs, we will do our homework and gladly recommend them to a trusted resource who CAN better serve our clients.  To us, it is important to gain the trust and respect of our clients, not just close a sale.

4. Be flexible with travel dates and airports. At Vacationkids, our goal is to find our families the best bang for their vacation buck. If we think a price is too high, we will immediately recommend money saving alternatives. In addition, we offer plenty of money savings travel tips in our "Vacations With Kids" and "Disney Blogs" with like articles about Saving $4,500 Dollars On Your Next Family Vacation  and how to save money on credit card interest by using our Vacation Layaway program.

Does saving our clients money effect our commission?... sure it does. We look at it like a long term investment. Does having our families come back to book with us us year after year, tell their friends to book with us and have us eventually plan their kids' destination wedding effect our bottom line....sure it does!  This is how we like to do business.

5. Travel insurance may not be necessary. At Vacationkids, we often tell our clients if you can afford to simply walk away and not feel the financial pinch should you loose the entire cost of your vacation then you do not need travel insurance.  If you have enough money to simply write a check to cover the cost of any emergency medical treatment for any or all of your family members might need while traveling then don't need insurance either. This is not the case for most of the families we work with.

Most medical plans do not cover people traveling outside of the U.S. or some even out of their local area.  All it takes is a surprise pregnancy or a child with an ear ache to put the kibash on your vacation plans and cost you big time.  We recommend all travelers make sure they are covered for Medical, trip interruptions and trip cancellation insurance. We tell clients to double check with their current insurance carriers and to see if they perhaps have coverage as a service of using their credit card. No point paying twice. Having peace of mind from worry during your vacation is truly priceless.

6. They’re Best For Milestone Trips - Here the author talks to a gentleman who runs an online travel site. He goes on to say how he could have booked his own travel but a travel agent helped him make his honeymoon easier. Well yeah!

Parents are busy people. Time is precious. How often do you get someone who is willing to step in and save you time, money and hassles.  If you're traveling anywhere with your children, it is even more important that everything goes smoothly. ANY trip with children needs the services of a good travel agent that specializes in the needs of family travel...milestone trips like family reunions, weddings or celebration vacations are a given.

7. Online travel sites offer refunds and cancellation policies. What? agents don't offer refunds?...OF COURSE, travel agents offer refunds! In addition we will help our clients make sense of all the fine print, terms and conditions and cancellation policies. Ever try to deal with customer service with any of the online travel companies? Ever wait to get a money refunded back on your credit card? Often you have to wait for the next billing cycle to have your money credited.

Travel agents can put most airline seats on a 24 hour courtesy hold. Often we can hold hotels and cruises a few days longer. You are under NO obligation to buy. You do NOT have to use your credit card to hold space or worry about refunds.  We do have the same 24 hour cancellation or change deal as the online companies. If you book something and need to cancel or change something you do have 24 hours to do so. 

If by some chance you run into some unforseen problem or issue during your vacation, our vacationkids travel agents will work to champion your cause on your behalf. We know the proper way and chanels to use to get you satisfaction. If you book yourself online and need a credit or a refund, we hope you like muzak because you may be on hold for a while.

8. A travel agent won’t necessarily find the best price. As we stated in #4, we do offer our clients the best pricing. That said, the cheapest rate isn't always a BEST value. Many folks fail to understand this very important point and it leads to trouble down the line.

If you book directly with a hotel as the Woman's Day article suggests, then you are at the mercy of that hotel. It's common practice for many hotels to "over book" which means they sell more rooms than they have available. This is particularly true for high demand travel times like the December holidays and spring break when most families are looking to take their vacations.  Hotels expect a certain amount of people will cancel at the last minute. It's like playing the odds in Vegas. If you're unlucky and arrive at a sold out hotel, guess which guest will be "walked" or sent somewhere else, often to a lower class hotel?'s the people who have paid the LOWEST price  for their rooms. If you don't understand how the travel industry works then you don't realize how booking direct puts you at risk.

Many travel agents work with wholesale tour companies. Tour companies sell huge amounts of hotel space so they have preferred or contracted rates. Beyond that, most travel agents and tour companies will match prices advertised with the hotels and online travel companies. Hotels rely on tour companies for marketing and distribution. Hotels know if a tour company receives too many complaints, a hotel could loose it's contract. This could mean millions of dollars in lost revenue for that hotel or even the hotel chain. Vacationkids works with the leading tour companies offering their buying power and clout to our clients.  If there is an unforseen problem with your hotel when you arrive, we have local reps who can move you to a different hotel entirely.  Our clients have someone looking out for them every step of the way.

So let's recap...same low price, price match, more flexibiity, no worries and a local rep in case you need them...which would you say is the better deal?

9. Sign up (and use) a travel rewards card - The Woman's Day article says, "A travel agent won’t tell you that they make the bulk of their money on packages, so if you’re booking hotels, airfare or rental cars with rewards points, they’re losing big dollars".

Where do I even begin with this statement?

-AGAIN, travel agents don't make any commission on airline tickets so if a customer wants to use airline or loyalty points GREAT! Mazeltov! We often suggest this option to our clients.

-We make commissions on hotels, resorts, cruise lines and rental cars. Whether we book any or all of these items as a package or separately ala carte style, we get paid commissions. We want our clients to get the best deals year after year.

-Vacation packages do NOT always save you money. Yes, vacation packages are easy for travel agents to book. Actually when vacation packages go on sale the commission to us travel agents is also much less too.

You have to comparison shop much like at the grocery store. Sometimes it is cheaper to buy 50 rolls of toilet paper but often when you compare the unit price, you may find it's actually less expensive to buy one or two rolls when you need it. As consumers we've been conditioned to think bigger is better or cheaper.

At Vacationkids, our travel agents do the research and comparision shopping for our clients. It's more work for us to piece together separate travel components but if that's what it takes to save our clients some real money, we do it. By doing the extra work and saving our clients more money we too are often rewarded by getting our actually commissions so it's a win-win for everyone.

So there you have it 9 things This Travel Agent WANTS to tell you!  I could go on and on about why it really makes sense for you to have a trusted, honest travel agent on your side but I will leave that for another day.

It truly saddens me when I read bad information like this going out to busy working moms and dads who simply want to spend quality vacation time enjoying their kids. As a mom myself, I appreciate how travel builds character and "changes" children.  This is why I am so passionate about what I do and why my staff at Vacationkids are advocates for family travel.

I still look forward to speaking to this author and hope she reaches out to me. I welcome the opportunity to share with her what makes being a travel agent one of the best jobs in the world. I hope the next time Woman's Day wants to do a piece about travel agents that they also contact me. Travel agents are here to help insure you have wonderful vacations..period!


Topics: family vacations

Sally Black

Written by Sally Black

Sally is the Founder of Travel Agency and author of the book "Fearless Family Vacations". She is also the Director of Travel Agent Initiatives and Training at The Family Travel Association.

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