SE­CRET AGENTS’ BUSI­NESS

If you want to know about hush-hush dis­counts and VIP up­grades, it pays to pay an ex­pert

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - COVER STORY - DILVIN YASA

Much has been writ­ten about the power of hu­man con­nec­tion in re­cent years. We know, for ex­am­ple, that reach­ing out to other peo­ple can in­crease your life­span, strengthen your im­mune sys­tem and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce your risk of de­pres­sion and/or anx­i­ety. How­ever, what isn’t often (OK, ever) touched on is that hu­man con­nec­tion can also help you book the hol­i­day of your dreams for a lot less than an­tic­i­pated.

“DIY when it comes to book­ing travel cer­tainly has its place – par­tic­u­larly in cases where you may only re­quire a straight in­ter­state book­ing on a pre­de­ter­mined day,” con­firms Tom Wal­ley, head of leisure for Flight Cen­tre Travel Group. “But if you’re look­ing for flex­i­bil­ity, op­tions or to book a hol­i­day, an ex­pe­ri­enced travel agent has a lot of in­side in­for­ma­tion that isn’t often read­ily shared with the gen­eral pub­lic.”

Just what is this in­side in­for­ma­tion? Pre­pare to be amazed.

SE­CRET #1 IT’S WHO YOU KNOW. AL­WAYS.

Ev­ery so often, some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pens in travel agency land: a heart-stop­pingly cheap air­fare, pack­age deal or cruise will drop – unavail­able and in no way ad­ver­tised any­where else – and agents will work like a stock­bro­ker on a trad­ing floor as they call their VIP clients to sell, sell, SELL. Want to be the first in line to hear about heav­ily dis­counted cruises such as the Re­gent Seven Seas cruise to Bali which was whis­pered in the ears of se­lect Vir­tu­oso clients just be­fore Christ­mas last year? You in turn need to be in the ear of your travel agent.

It isn’t just the shopfront agen­cies where the bat phone rings hot either; at Lux­ury Es­capes, in-house travel concierges have ac­cess to ad­di­tional deals at many hol­i­day hotspots that aren’t listed on the web­site. “We don’t make it widely known,” ad­mits the travel com­pany’s cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions boss, Peter Tay­lor. “But if some­one is af­ter a five-star prop­erty in Bali and can’t find the per­fect match on­line, our travel concierge team might sug­gest a hand­ful of ad­di­tional, un­ad­ver­tised op­tions such as an eight-night stay for the whole fam­ily at Inaya Putri Bali at 66 per cent off.”

Ex­clu­sive deals aside, your travel agent will make the most of their re­la­tion­ships with tour op­er­a­tors, air­lines and hote­liers to ha­bit­u­ally gift clients room up­grades, tack on free meals, spa treat­ments or ac­tiv­i­ties. At Flight Cen­tre, for ex­am­ple, trav­ellers can often ex­pect room up­grades, meal vouch­ers, free nanny ser­vices in Fiji and free or dis­counted spa treat­ments and day tours as part of the ser­vice, while Helloworld cus­tomers might see a sur­prise ro­man­tic din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence added to their itin­er­ary. It won’t be any old book­ing either, but a par­tic­u­lar ta­ble at a cer­tain restau­rant staff know first-hand has one of the best views to be found in the land.

LUXURYESCAPES.COM FLIGHT­CEN­TRE.COM.AU

SE­CRET #2 WHAT YOU SEE AND WHAT YOU GET CAN BE TWO DIF­FER­ENT THINGS

Bought a “chef-led culi­nary tour of Paris” only to find your­self eat­ing stale crois­sants at a train sta­tion with a guide whose in­dus­try cre­den­tials in­clude “ran prison meal ser­vice”? The risk with re­search­ing and book­ing trips on­line is you’re tak­ing travel ad­vice from either an al­go­rithm, strangers who don’t know a thing about your likes and dis­likes, or tour op­er­a­tors who can, and will, use cre­ative li­cence when it comes to the im­ages and copy they use.

The beauty of travel agents is they travel all the time, to learn what’s hot, not and new, and road-test the ser­vices and tours they then go on to rec­om­mend with hon­esty. Sim­ply put, with a travel agent, choo-choost­yle din­ing with Gas­ton could have been eas­ily avoided.

SE­CRET #3 AIR­LINES CAN BE AS FLEX­I­BLE AS GUMBY

There’s noth­ing quite like hav­ing a dig­i­tal clock in the corner of your screen count­ing down the 30 min­utes you have to make your book­ing while you mull over the big ques­tions (Will that pay­ment you’ve been wait­ing on to pay for this trip fi­nally come through? Are you re­ally the type of per­son who wants to skate­board the Hi­malayas, or are you merely hav­ing a midlife cri­sis?)

While some air­lines and ag­gre­ga­tors will hold flights for a lim­ited time (30 min­utes to 72 hours in most cases), travel agents can hold flights, es­pe­cially those bound for Europe, for a cou­ple of weeks while you get your ducks in a row.

“Ob­vi­ously it de­pends on the con­tact agents have with air­lines,” says Tom Wal­ley. “Most low-cost car­ri­ers have to be paid in­stantly so there’s lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity there but we can usu­ally wran­gle more breath­ing space from the big name car­ri­ers.”

Sim­i­larly, some hol­i­days which have a de­posit at­tached to them can some­times be held for sev­eral months with Flight Cen­tre of­fer­ing nine months in­ter­est-free ser­vice as long as the hol­i­day is paid off eight weeks be­fore you de­part.

SE­CRET #4 IN­TER­NAL COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS SYS­TEMS ARE KING

Think­ing about head­ing to that re­ally ob­scure corner in Brazil’s Pan­tanal no one seems to know much about? Sure, you could chance the four flights and two days it takes to get there and fly by the seat of your pants … or you can con­sult travel agents who have at their dis­posal a large and de­tailed in­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tem where they can look back at re­views and per­sonal sto­ries from both pre­vi­ous cus­tomers and other agents and re­port back on that ob­scure corner ac­cord­ingly.

Such data bases mean agents have in­sider in­for­ma­tion at their fin­ger­tips at all times, from which din­ner and show you must en­joy in New York City, to which gal­leries in Rome will need to be pre-booked to avoid daily vis­i­tor cap­ping mea­sures.

SE­CRET #5 THINGS CAN (AND DO) GO WRONG

Whether there’s an ill­ness or an emer­gency re­quir­ing an ur­gent dash back home, travel agents have seen it all, and what’s more, they’re pre­pared for ev­ery pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. “If a client re­ceives dev­as­tat­ing news, for ex­am­ple, we can ac­tion the reis­sue of tick­ets be­fore en­sur­ing the mes­sage is fil­tered through all crew from the check-in counter to the flight at­ten­dants so they are as­sisted on their re­turn trip ac­cord­ingly,” says De­bra Carr, direc­tor and owner of Helloworld Travel in Sur­rey Hills, Vic­to­ria.

Travel in­surance can only cover so much; a qual­ity travel agent will not only pro­vide count­less meth­ods of 24/7 con­tact so you’re only ever one phone call or email away from as­sis­tance; they will move moun­tains to get you home to your fam­ily as quickly and pain­lessly as pos­si­ble.

HELLOWORLD.COM.AU

SE­CRET #6 A CHEAP DEAL AND VALUE FOR MONEY ARE TWO VERY DIF­FER­ENT THINGS

So you’re dream­ing of hit­ting up NYC and you come across two op­tions: fly di­rect to NYC at a slightly higher fare, or fly cheaply with a low-cost car­rier to Los An­ge­les and book a sep­a­rate on­ward flight to New York, saving you a few hun­dred dol­lars in the process.

When you put it like this, there’s no deny­ing op­tion B sounds like the most palat­able – un­til you dis­cover that in the US, all trav­ellers mov­ing from in­ter­na­tional to do­mes­tic flights are sub­jected to lo­cal bag­gage lim­its and charges which could cost you even more. A good travel agent will help you avoid such sit­u­a­tions by book­ing a trip through to NYC as one ticket, even if at a slightly higher rate.

And don’t be­lieve the myth that flights booked your­self on­line will al­ways be a cheaper op­tion; travel agents are privy to a host of op­tions

THEY CAN HOLD FLIGHTS, ES­PE­CIALLY THOSE BOUND FOR EUROPE, FOR WEEKS WHILE YOU GET YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW

not avail­able any­where else, says Trav­elMan­agers per­sonal travel man­ager Frances Cream. “We have ac­cess to a num­ber of dis­counted in­ter­na­tional cor­po­rate air­fares, in­clud­ing to Europe and the US, and these fares often have more flex­i­bil­ity, in­creased lug­gage al­lowance and are often bet­ter priced than what you can find on­line,” she says. “Some air­lines also have fares that are only avail­able through travel agents, saving you thou­sands on a round-the-world fare, for ex­am­ple.”

Con­vinced you’ve found the best pos­si­ble fare on­line? Travel agents such as Flight Cen­tre have a lower fare guar­an­tee so it’s al­ways worth check­ing whether they can match or beat the price you’ve found.

TRAV­ELMAN­AGERS.COM.AU

SE­CRET #7 TIME IS OUR BIG­GEST LUX­URY

It can be painful for a travel agent to watch on as trav­ellers try to book their own trips. As Carr tells it, “One of the big­gest things a travel agent can save you is time,” she says. “We save on the hours of re­search be­cause we have the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence, we con­struct the air­fares to in­clude as much on the one ticket and save on back­track­ing and ad­di­tional pur­chases.” They know the quick­est routes, which air­line flies where and if they know you well enough, which air­line you would pre­fer to fly with. If you need to fly be­tween Syd­ney and Bris­bane on a de­ter­mined day, lock­ing it in on­line is easy, but if you plan a hol­i­day with con­nec­tions, your travel agent can quickly sort the chaff from the grain and make the book­ing process quick and seam­less.

SE­CRET #8 WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU LIVE

Yes it sounds creepy (and ad­mit­tedly, we made it in­ten­tion­ally so), but a truly great travel agent will work hard to de­velop a long-term re­la­tion­ship with clients, over time mem­o­ris­ing their likes, dis­likes, pre­ferred price points and spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tions they may have when they travel. So should they hear of a truly great deal or hap­pen upon a new ho­tel they think you’ll en­joy, they’ll get straight on the phone to gauge your in­ter­est.

They also have your pass­port de­tails so that not only can they iron out any po­ten­tial visa or pass­port ex­piry is­sues be­fore they arise (a prob­lem quite com­mon with DIY trav­ellers who don’t re­alise a 10-year pass­port is only valid for 9.5 years), but a good travel agency may also send you a bot­tle of cham­pagne or gift you a birth­day cake if you’re trav­el­ling around or on your spe­cial day. “Our job isn’t so much about book­ing you a hol­i­day be­cause any­one can do that,” Tom Wal­ley ad­mits. “Our busi­ness model is about lis­ten­ing to your needs and giv­ing you an ex­pe­ri­ence you’re never go­ing to for­get and that’s what we aim to do.”

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, STARWOOD, RSSC, BANYAN TREE

FIJI PAR­ADISE Agents’ knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence can save hours of re­search for travel as di­verse as Machu Pic­chu in Peru (main pic­ture); Fiji at the Sheraton Re­sort & Spa, Toko­riki Is­land; lux­ury aboard Seven Seas Nav­i­ga­tor; and soak­ing up Bali at the...

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PIC­TURE: ISTOCK

Cheap fares to des­ti­na­tions such as New York can end up cost­ing you ex­tra. Travel agents will help lead the way to a more eco­nom­i­cal re­sult. BROOK­LYN BRIDGE

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