Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why travel agents are still relevant

Recently, a coworker asked for my help in finding business class deals for the flight to repatriate his family to Canada. He really wanted this to be a nice trip home. We have both been frequent business flyers and knew where to begin the search. But it still took quite a bit of effort and time deciphering all the nuances of various booking systems, and there was a big dose of luck involved as well. This reminded me of the travel agent I almost took for granted...

While living in Montreal, I travelled internationally on business quite frequently. This included many trips to far-flung places in Asia and Europe. In the Internet age, booking your own trip online has been the norm. But for more complex itineraries involving multiple stops, I called on the help of Enzo at Westmount Travel, just down the street from my home. Westmount Travel is an independent agent and I always received Enzo's personal attention. It was unusual for me to pay full-fare for business class bookings because Enzo, more often than not, was able to find the best discounted business class fares that were not readily available online. This helped to put me in the CFO's good book. But Enzo's real value came when things did not go as planned.

When the 2010 Iceland volcanic ash incident started, I was in the midst of a multi-stop European business trip. I had flown into London from Spain, the night before, had a quick meeting at the London office, and was about to leave for more meetings in Malta when the announcement came through that the entire Western European airspace was closed to traffic. My fellow travellers, who had their travels booked through the usual corporate outfits, were on their own and on the phone with their respective airlines for hours on end to sort things out. I emailed Enzo to let him sort out the cancellation of the Malta trip and a few days later, he was able to rebook me on a flight home to Montreal when it was evident the airspace would reopen. I couldn't have picked a better place to be stuck in for an extra few days and my travel agent made sure I didn't have to the sweat the details of rearranging my travels. This incident really made me appreciate the value of using a good travel agent.

So if you are a frequent traveller, my advice is to build a good relationship with a competent independent travel agent to make sure you get the best deal for your bookings. They don't cost much, maybe $50 per booking if I remember correctly, and have access to deals that even the wonderful Google has yet to reveal (though it is a good idea to double check). When things go sideways, you know there is someone you can call upon to help sort things out. Not all travel agents are equal, so you might have to try out a few before you find the one. The agents make a bit more money on cruises and other vacation bookings, so make sure to send some of those business their way to reward their hard work. This is a worthwhile relationship to have in your life, even in the age of Internet travel deals.

1 comment:

  1. Well said, Joe. And you probably won't realize the full value until things do go sideways! Having said that, what I value beyond the logistics that I need for business travel is what they can bring to my vacation travel. A really strong travel agent can give you an inside track to really unique and exceptional experiences that don't show up on the first 2 pages of Google results. That's what I love to find when I splurge on travel experiences. Happy travels!