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Travels with my Agent


June 1, 2005
By Pulp & Paper Canada

It is so easy to book hotels, flights and rental cars on the Internet, it makes one wonder how travel agencies stay in business — after all, they charge a fee for what is free on the Internet. Doesn’…

It is so easy to book hotels, flights and rental cars on the Internet, it makes one wonder how travel agencies stay in business — after all, they charge a fee for what is free on the Internet. Doesn’t everyone just book on the Internet now? Not me! It may be free, but it is not without cost. There are so many advantages to using a travel agency, that they far outweigh the cost of the fee.

Outside of a few exceptions, I have used a travel agent for every one of my frequent business trips and those exceptions were the most difficult trips. Many of my trips require changes either before or during, and using an agent allowed me to easily and conveniently make those changes. Not only do flights have to be changed, but car and hotel reservations have to be cancelled and rebooked. I have found hotel reservations to be the worst — if you are changing at the last minute, many hotels want to charge a fee. Often, they will still charge even when they claim not to have: one hotel in the eastern US (from a major chain) consistently charges extra fees during any of my stays. These could be higher daily rates, extra days or mysterious ‘miscellaneous charges’ but unfortunately they are the most convenient hotel for this one location. I handled the problem once myself, with repeated calls and arguments with a very rude accountant. The next few times I encountered similar extra charges, I simply called my travel agent. With corporate clout and greater experience, she had the problem resolved in less than an hour, compared to the repeated calls over several days that it took me.

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In my experience, when booking or buying things on the Internet, travel is the least convenient. It is not like buying a book or CD, in which you select an item, and then just arrange shipping and payment. For any of my typical trips, I need multiple-leg flights, rental cars and hotels. In arranging these over the Internet, I need to research the best routing myself. Some Web services do not recognize the places to which I travel, while others offer so many very odd options it is difficult to sort them out (I did not know Philippine Airlines flew into northern Ontario!). I am well-versed in ‘Webbing’, so in a test of time to book a series of flights and hotels (no cars required), I compared my speed and results with that of my regular travel agent. For a simple two-stop trip, covering one week, it took about one hour with no unusual delays in setting up the trip. There was some trouble getting the website to recognize certain options, but no more so than normal. In contrast, it took about two minutes to explain my needs to my travel agent. She offered some suggestions, then emailed me the best options. The options she proposed were very similar to the ones I had found myself, so the savings would be in the time: one hour vs. two minutes. That time is valuable but it could be argued that the cost of the fee would justify the time.

Then things changed: one appointment had to be postponed off a day, then two days. The number of options for flights decreased as the weekend approached. The travel agent found several flights that did not show up on the Web service, and was able to easily re-book my hotels. Although I did keep track of the time, I was not rigorous, as it quickly became apparent that my travel agent was much better at this (she has been doing this professionally for 15 years) than the combination of Dan plus Web-service. End result: Travel Agent 15 minutes; Dan plus Web-service two hours.

Miscellaneous advantages

Other advantages gained from the travel agency include: discounted rates on hotels and cars (sometimes far less than corporate or web rates); flight and routing recommendations; travel insurance (remember JetsGo?); electronic itineraries loaded into your calendar-of-choice at the click of the mouse; assistance with lost tickets, cancelled flights, lost baggage, weather problems, etc. The scenario listed above was a simple one, with changes taking place only before the trip. I have needed assistance with mid-trip changes, missed flights, and the car rental from h*ll (ask me sometime — when you have lots of time!).

Booking on the Web is free of direct costs, but the indirect costs are more than I can afford. Also, given the choice between dealing with a friendly, knowledgeable professional or an impersonal Web-service, I am happy to travel with my agent.

Thanks to James Moran for suggesting this column topic. Thanks also to Margarett Lange of Carlson-Wagonlit for providing so much of this column’s information, as well as handling my travel arrangements; and in memory of Robyn Christensen, who previously arranged so many of my trips.

If you have anything to add or would like to suggest another topic, please contact the author. Dan Davies is the application manager at Degussa Canada in bleaching and water chemicals. He can be reached at dan.davies@degussa.com


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