I refuse to give an online website the designation of “travel agency.” A real agency with real live agents not only finds things for you, he/she gives advice, makes comparisons, and can be called for backup when a problem occurs. Nothing on the Internet can do all those things. Don’t get me wrong. I use travel websites a lot. In fact, I usually find what I want on the Internet and then call my real, live, breathing, talking travel agent to discuss what I’ve found. And no, he doesn’t cost me a cent, unless I am asking to simply purchase an airfare. He gets his commissions from the hotels, resorts, cruise lines, car companies – the venders – who provide the travel commodities I am looking for. In most cases of airfare only purchases, I do get them on the internet; but, if it’s a complicated international ticket I’m looking for, I have my travel agent do the work.
GETTING TRAVEL PROBLEMS SOLVED
First and foremost, I want someone with know-how and clout when I have a problem. I’ve arrived at hotels that have told me they didn’t have a record of my reservation. I even tried to check in for a return trip home just a year ago and was told there was “no one by your name with a reservation today on any airplane in our entire system.” In both cases I pulled out my cell phone, called my travel agent, handed the phone to the offending representative of the hotel and airline, who was then aided in finding my hotel booking, and last year, my plane reservation.
If you face a snafu with a cruise booking, it sure would be handy to call your travel agent, who made the booking, and let him deal with the friendly cruise line representative who is trying to check you in.
Another thing my travel agent does is compare what I have found with what he can find. Comparison-shopping is very important when booking travel. In the case of a cruise, larger travel agencies, like Columbus Travel, do a lot of bookings with a particular cruise line, and are often given reduced prices (even lower than going to the cruise company direct), upgrades, on board credits, and other perks.
Hotels are notorious for having varied prices. I once found a hotel in Prague with four different prices for the same room on as many websites. My travel agent found several more different prices from his sources, then advised me to book through one of the sites I had gone to on my own. The price of the room per night varied by $125.
WATCH OUT WHEN LOOKING AT REVIEWS
With the matter of hotel and resort reviews, I no longer use or recommend Trip Advisor. I personally think the guest reviews are not reliable. They also have been accused of “rigging” the reviews to favor resorts and hotels with whom they have a business arrangement.
I think all reviews based on guests who are alleged to have stayed at the place you are considering are sometimes rigged. Yes, I know you are shocked, but guest reviews are totally untrustworthy. People who are marketing the resort or hotel write many of the reviews. What’s more, guest reviews, even if written by real guests, are colored by the expectations and experiences those individuals have had. Actually, professional reviews are far superior. A better option would be to find someone who can give you a professional judgment about a particular place you are considering, someone who has a basis for his ratings, who has gone through hundreds of onsite inspections of hotels and resorts.
But, where can you find such a person? Well, an experienced travel agent would be a good start. She or he has been on hundreds of “familiarization tours” with lots of other agents in lots of places in the world where all they did was go on site inspections of hotels and/or resorts. And if your agent is from a larger agency with ten or more agents, he or she has lots of other people who are professionals who can offer more information. Also, if you are dealing with someone who has you as a client, they do not want you to have a bad experience.
I have four sites I use and I think you can trust.
- FOR GENERAL INFO AND REVIEWS
You can’t beat columbusvacations.com, not only for unbiased professional reviews and lots of trustworthy general travel information, but the best cruise search-engine on the planet. And all of this stuff comes free of charge!
A great site for making comparisons of the best deals available can be found at trivago.com. Even if I find what appears to be a super deal at hotels.com, I check for comparisons at Trivago.
If you want to compare the cost of flying on every airline going to your destination, kayak.com is the place to go. Just remember, Southwest Airlines doesn’t participate in any other online travel website, so you have to go to southwest.com to see what they have in comparison with what you’ve found at Kayak. Also, remember that Southwest doesn’t charge for your first bag checked. And a final reminder: If you are booking a complicated international flight, you should call a travel agent. An experienced agent might find you an air routing that Kayak has not been programmed to check.
- FOR INFO ABOUT THE PLACE YOU ARE GOING
First, ask your travel agent if he/she has been there or has clients who have reported what they found to be “must see” sites. Then, just “google” or “bing” the convention and/or visitors bureau at the destination.