Family Vacation Tips

Should I Book a Vacation Online or With a Travel Agent?

[fa icon="calendar"] May 2, 2017 8:00:00 AM / by Sally Black

Sally Black

Should I Book a Vacation Online or With a Travel Agent?This story is true -

Names have been excluded to protect the guilty....

You my friend, are a genius. A world class master mind!

Your family is planning a family reunion. Mexico seems to be the destination of choice. You're a "get it done" kinda person and you like planning trips. You got this!

You start by contacting your local friendly travel agent because... hey, this is what they do for a living for a living. They are professionals. They have visited these place and they know this stuff.

You spend time on the phone dangling the carrot of your business to the travel agent (aka - lying).  Your agent invests  their time in good faith, researches all the best vacation options for your family and prepares 3 vacation package quotes for you to consider. In turn, the agent graciously answers all of your questions, your sister in law's questions and even calls Mexico for you to find out if the resort has a basketball court for your nephew. silence!

You tell the travel agent that your family needs more time to make a final selection...You ignore their reminder calls regarding the rooms they worked hard to put on hold for everyone. A week or so later you gracious apologize for being so busy and say your family has decided not to go due to some lame excuse.

High five! You, my friend, have just scored all this "free" professional advice. You're slick, You're smart and you know how to work the system. Guess you forgot that you're pals with your travel agent on Facebook. My guess is that you'll just blame the change in your family's vacation plans on your crazy sister in law if the subject ever happens to comes up. No worries because you know how to "CYA". You can talk your way out of anything!

You then take the winning quote and go hunting online for a better deal.  Everybody knows it's MUCH cheaper to buy travel online - right!  Go directly to the source, cut out the middle man and voila!'ve scored the same package your "professional" travel agent quoted you for $30 cheaper per room.  And hey - who needs to pay for travel insurance that costs  an extra $99 for adults and $59 for kids. Are you kidding me?  You weren't born yesterday. That's a complete scam! You've been vacationing all your life and never needed travel insurance. You know how to save a fortune on this trip.

Wow! You are everybody's hero!

16 rooms of friends and family members all book with you because you are the travel expert! That's almost $500 in savings. You're thinking, wow, this is a cake job! Maybe you should consider switching careers and becoming a travel agent yourself because you are so smart about all this stuff?

You are even smarter than a typical travel agent because you collected money from everyone and used your own charge card to pay for the entire trip.  You know how to work the system!...why not earn those credit card points to use for your own flights and freebies. Cha-ching!

 (Screaching halt sound effect) Yeah...NO! 

Your deadbeat cousin "swore" he'd have the money to you by Friday. That didn't happen and you don't want to be out of pocket $980 for his share of the room.  Screw that, you'll just cancel his reservation - brilliant!  

But wait, this  means his hard working brother who scrimped and saved to take this vacation  now has to pay an $1380 for a single room due to a supplement fee. What do you mean hotel rooms are based on a double adult rate? How were you suppose to know that?  Hey that's not your fault. You dodged a bullet! Nothing out of your pocket!  Who cares if he's upset with you - it's all his brother's fault anyway.

Guess it never occurred to you oh savvy traveler, that you could cancel this room and shift the good cousin's deposit over to another room so he could bunk in with a couple of other cousins. This would have saved them all about $25 bucks instead of your good cousin being out of pocket. (Guess you were absent that day in travel agent school).

One weeks before the big trip your sister in law calls you in tears to say her mother had a major heart attack last night and is critically ill in intensive care.  They are not sure if mom is even going to make it. She needs you to come over right away to watch the kids, cancel her trip and get her $4880 refunded.

Now it's your job to spend an hour trying to call long distance to Mexico to get YOUR card refunded.  You were told in broken english that reservation is under full penalty and is non-refundable. This is "unacceptable"! You insist on speaking to a supervisor who tells you in perfect English that you need to put in a claim under your travel insurance in order to get your refund.  

Yes, your travel agent HIGHLY recommended everyone be covered with "cancel for any reason" travel insurance. It was included in the original quote that she gave you for a few dollars more. You knew that was a ploy to bump up her own sales commission.  How the hell were you suppose to know something like this was going to happen?

You call your brother to gently explain the very difficult situation you currently find yourself in. He unloads an earful on you that cannot be printed in black and white. Bottom line, he doesn't really care what you thought...he just needs his $5k back. He needs it now because he doens't know if they will need to put his mother in law in a nursing home, pay for a funeral or what. He'll sue if he has too and he doesn't care if he has to sue you if you're responsible. You need to figure this out!  Meanwhile, he calls your mother so now she's texting you asking how you could be so stupid.

The night before your departure your cell is lighting up with texts.  Everyone wants to know how they are suppose to get from the airport to your hotel. Your resort is an hour and a half drive from the airport. Along with travel insurance, your travel agent included round trip airport transportation in their quote. You didn't thoroughly read the fine print on the cheaper hotel quote. You "assumed" they included transportation because that's what you asked them to do. They did not! This means each family is going to have to pay at least $70 or more to hire a van to get to the airport because everyone is arriving at different times. It's either that or risk a dodgy Mexican taxi ride with kids.

So now your brother, your mom AND everyone else is annoyed with you.  Everyone thinks they are out of pocket an extra $40 thanks to you. You are no longer the hero.

But wait - there's more....

Your travel agent  told you the rooms she was offering for you would be located near the beach and pool in building 7 complete with a private concierge.  This is a special  perk she offers to all of her clients thanks to the great relationship she has with the staff at that resort.  You figure, this is a highly rated resort....a room is a room right, who cares?

When you arrive, The hotel did exactly as you requested. Theykept your family all together in the same building.  The problem - everyone is in building 13 which is at least a mile and two golf cart rides away from the beach. Your mom has hip problems and can't walk that far.  In addition, it's quickly discovered that one of the rooms assigned to your group has major plumbing issues.  It's Spring break week and the hotel is's your mother's room! The hotel has no rooms to switch her into.

The  desk clerk smiles as you pound your fist threatening nasty reviews on tripadvisor and making a scene in front of other guests. "Yes, no senora I no can move rooms of your madre because z hotel itz full..but we have somebody to fix the toilet soon."

He tries to find a silver lining for you and tells you that you should feel lucky. They had just enough rooms for your group and that you didn't get walked to a worse hotel.  You have no idea what any of this means. You spend 2 hours sitting in the lobby waiting for the hotel general manager to appear. He never materializes....oh and neither does the plumber for the entire week of your stay!

All you know is that  at this point, it is easier to put up with real "sh&%" than to listen to your mother who keeps coming back to the lobby to yell at you. You decide to swap rooms to make her happy. Now your husband is pissed because your room smells like sewage and your family is SO ungrateful.

So much for a week in paradise!

Meanwhile your travel agent is sitting in their office listening to your live facebook rants about everything that has gone wrong with your vacation and how evil and awful "XYZ resort" really is and how nobody should ever stay there - EVER!

As the agent sips her tea she hears the "bing" of new email arriving.  Lo and behold it's from the brilliant, cheap traveller begging for mercey and immediate crisis intervention.  

Just to confirm suspicions, the agent asks what name was the group was booked under?

The brilliant cheap traveller replies..."I booked it under my name of course".

The agent REALLY WANTS to reply something like..."OH, so you lied to me and now you need me to bail our your sorry butt".  After a deep breath and a couple of zen moments, she realizes karma has already intervened on her behalf.

Instead, she replies with the truth saying "legally I have no access or authority to intervene on a reservation that our agency did not book".

So how do I know this story is entirely true?....

Three weeks later I cart crashed into my neighbor coming around the aisle  in the supermarket.  I was cornered with no escape. I had no choice but to listen to her agonizingly long tale of woe.  I couldn't get a word in.  When she was finally done pontificating, yearning for my sympathy I said -

"let's just recap here for a moment-

You wasting my time, energy and good faith to save $30 per room - a total of $450 on 16 rooms.   I considered you a friend and you straight out lied to me.   You're now angry at all the family drama you created, how YOUR vacation was ruined and you want me to feel sorry because you now owe your brother $5k?

What you failed to recognize is that there is a HUGE difference between getting the cheapest price and the BEST value.

 OH...and HAD you booked the 16 rooms with me, I would have been able to add in a group discount and you would have gotten 3 rooms FREE. You would have ended up $6k ahead instead of being $5k in the hole to your brother. "

To this, she replied..."OMG, next time I am SO booking with you!"

"No Thank you" I said "We can be happy neighbors but it's obvious we are not a good fit to ever work together."

Sadly situations like this one is why so many travel agents have been forced to charge consultation fees or ask for plan to go deposits up front.  It's thanks all those brilliant bargain shoppers who take advantage and are determined to pay the cheapest price.  You may indeed get lucky,  everything "might" go smoothly....but when it doesn't, karma shows little mercy.

So be respectful, honest and "play fair". If what you're looking for is a consultation, any travel agent would be happy to give of their time and expertise for a nominal fee.  For all these "wanna be" travel experts out there, perhaps this will save you from the curse of karma.  Every good travel agent out there already knows our expertise is worth our weight in gold!

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Topics: Affordable Family Vacations, Familyvacation

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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