Savvy Consumers Seek References, Qualifications

Travel Q&a

Travel Agents

April 26, 2009|By Tribune Newspapers

A recent column mentioned using "a cruise-connected travel agent" to get preferential cruise deals. That sounds good, but travel articles never seem to tell how to find agents who legitimately fit this category, rather than just any old travel agent who might make such claims. How do we do this?

In today's info-intensive world, you can find ratings of hotels (TripAdvisor), plumbers and electricians and other home-repair specialists (Angie's List), and restaurants (Zagat), but finding a great travel agent requires a personal connection because it's really all about the relationship.

You can do without a travel agent for simple things - an airline ticket or a hotel - but for more complex trips, he can be a strong ally. Choose the wrong one and he can suck the air and light out of your vacation.

Here's what Arthur Frommer, the dean of travelers, says in his new book, Ask Arthur Frommer: And Travel Better, Cheaper, Smarter: "The smart consumer adopts the same precautions in choosing a travel agent that they would use in choosing any professional: They seek references."

In an e-mail last week, he elaborated: "There simply is no substitute for asking friends and acquaintances if they're familiar with a doctor, dentist, lawyer or accountant for a particular need, which is the only way we have of finding a (hopefully) accomplished person. ... I also suggest to people choosing a travel agent that they 'cross-examine' that person closely to learn their qualifications. Have the agents themselves been to the destination you are considering?

"Have they themselves been to, or seen, the hotels they are recommending - or have they simply chosen those establishments from a booklet or other list? Can they provide you with the names of persons who have used them for similar services?

"In other words, can they provide references? If the agent is unable to cite such qualifications, I would not use them.

"Because travel agents no longer receive a commission from the airlines and must therefore charge extra fees for their services, it costs more to use a travel agent than to make the arrangements yourself. Therefore, why use one unless that person is producing added value?"

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