It's incredibly EASY to book a flight and hotel online.
It's incredibly difficult to plan a memorable family vacation experience.
The difference between these two statements is completely misunderstood by so many consumers that sadly miss out on treasured vacation experiences.
Most folks fail to realize..."you can't miss what you don't know".
When people pull the trigger and book an internet flight and hotel, they fail to consider the amount of time they've spent researching their trip. On average it takes 10-20 hours of your time to research your vacation. This time can easily double if you're researching a new and unfamiliar destination.
Consider how much you earn per hour and how much your time is costing you?
Should a week's vacation equal a 20 hour investment of your time to plan it?
The really sad part is that only about 20% of consumers seek the help of a professional travel agent. Besides aggravation and costly travel mistakes, studies show an experienced travel agent can save consumers an average of more than $400 per trip. By comparison, it takes an average of 13 hours to do your income taxes and yet 56% pay for professional tax preparation.
Fees.....Time = Money
No one would expect to show up at their accountants office with a shoebox full of receipts and expect to have their income taxes done for free. Most CPA charge between $175-$275 for average tax prep for their time and expertise.
I would argue that 90% of consumers would have NO problem asking a travel agent for free advise.
This is why many travel agents now charge fees.
A travel agency is a unique business. The more time an agent spends customizing your experiences, researching the best schedules and hunting for the lowest rates, the less money your travel agent earns. Think about it...Disney just offered a free dining program for your travel dates. Your travel agent just spent the entire day listening to busy signals and every ethnic version of "It's a Small World" to save your family $600. Meanwhile, for all this work, your travel agent just lost $60 of commission income.
If your dream vacation is a cruise, a group tour, theme park visit or a five-star resort stay with few customized components, much of the agents income will be covered by commissions earned. Still many agents will charge a "plan to go" fee. Basically this is an "up front" deposit as a way to qualify your sincerity and commitment. Plan to go fees are valid for a certain length of time and are applied to your deposit once you decided on a specific vacation. If you cannot decide and book your vacation within a the contracted amount of time, then then your plan to go fee becomes non-refundable and these monies paid to the agent for the time they have invested. Think about it, why should an agent freely give you their heart, soul, time and expert knowledge if you are completely indecisive orso that you can simply go book the trip yourself taking commission dollars out of their pocket? Agents need a way to eliminate tire kickers and time wasters so that they can devote their time and energies to enhancing the trips of their paying customers.
Travel agents used to earn their living entirely from sales commissions. In recent years the airlines and many internet direct travel products have do not offer commissions to agents. For these reasons, travel agents have been forced to service fees. Also, today's families often require and desire highly customized itineraries, travel planning advice and help. This type of travel planning is very time intensive, even for professionals. Group travel arrangements, whether a multi-gen vacation or a huge reunion also take a huge time investment to perfect in these cases, travel agents may require a separate and non-refundable travel planning fee.
Many folks might argue time shouldn't be a factor when it comes to vacation planning. We travel agents hear these 3 main arguments all the time....
1. Researching my vacation is part of of my enjoyment, anticipation and fun.
2. I don't have to shop, I know exactly the vacation my family wants.
3. I'm convinced I can get a cheaper price online
Listen, to each his own. There are folks that like cutting their own hair and assembling IKEA furnature. True, you may enjoy and appreciate doing everything yourself but that doesn't necessarily mean you know what you're doing. Did you know you can have all the fun of DIY travel planning and then pay a small fee to have a travel professional review your work? This can be worth it's weight in gold to save you costly, fine print loopholes, help you avoid timely hassles, get insider expert tips and give you priceless peace of mind.
After close to two decades in the travel business, I can testify that 80% of people end up booking an entirely different vacation experience from what they originally thought they wanted. This frequently happens when clients have a full understanding of all the options and travel opportunities available to them. This isn't high pressure upselling or bait and switch tactics. Successful travel agents know it's all about making and keeping their customers happy. For example, you may want to book two adjoing rooms at your dream resort so you can have some privacy from your kids. Your agent knows that hotel only has 4 sets of room with connecting doors out of 350. This means your chances of getting your request for adjoining rooms during spring break week is probably slim to none. Your agent suggests a comparable, nearby resorts with 1 bedroom suites that also saves you $600 because two of your kids won't be paying adult rates based on double adult occupancy. Suddenly you now have a new dream resort.
Even if you are 100% certain of your destination and can book it yourself in a heartbeat, you might have failed to appreciate the amount of homework and prep time is necessary to get the most out of the money you've just spent. Do you want to invest the time it takes to book all of your daily touring itineraries, dinning reservations and sightseeing excursions or are you the type who can just "wing" it. Are you up for spending 3 hours in line to get tickets to the colosseum in Rome, get into the Tower of London or ride Space Mountain?
And finally, the second biggest misconception when it comes to booking travel is between the words cheap vs value. As a travel agent, I'll recommend you fly nonstop on a regular, scheduled airline. I'm not doing this to gain more commission for myself (airlines don't pay travel agent commissions). Sure I can book your family the same exact cheap flight to the Carribean you saw online with double connections and save you $300.
It will mean your family of four will be spending 15 hours of combined round trip airport connection sitting time (value $20 per hour for that fun). You'll be losing two full days of your vacation sitting in airports when you could be sitting by the pool. If for any reason you miss one of your connections (weather, technical issues, the pilot is too tired to fly) it will be next to impossible to get you to where you need to be because this airline only flies to these city pairs twice a week and is booked solid. Have you checked baggage fees? You'll be paying an additional $55 per carry on per person and $50 per checked bag per person each way. Even if everyone in your family just takes one small carry on bag (which will be a miracle with your wife's shoe collection)...you'll still be paying $140 more for your cheap flight with 15 hours round trip connection airport time at no extra charge.
So which option is the cheapest and which option is the best value?
Once again....you don't know, what you don't know.
Hopefully now you know and will properly use the expertise of a professional travel agent to make your next vacation a joy instead of an exercise in frustration.