It Pays To Use A Travel Agent only if you know a good one. A good travel agent will know when a small change in your schedule can save you a lot of money. If you buy direct from the airline, you may not find out such information, since they will only quote you the rates for the times you ask. So if you're going to use a travel agent, make sure that you find one who is willing (and able) to search through the morass of fares and restrictions to find a good deal for you. A travel agent who just punches your data into the computer and tells you the prices is no better than the airline's 800 number. A good travel agent can probably save you about 10-15%.
An obstacle in getting good service is agent inexperience and ignorance. The agent you encounter may well be an ill-trained part-timer who works in the agency more for the fringe benefits (notably discounts, subsidized, or free travel) than to make a living. Such agents can probably book a package tour or a point-to-point flight, but they are unlikely to have the expertise to use a complex computer system to construct low-fare itineraries.
If your reservations are booked far enough ahead of time, the airline may offer to mail your tickets to you. However, if you don't receive the tickets and the airline's records show they mailed them, you may have to go through cumbersome lost-ticket procedures. It is safer to check the telephone directory for a conveniently located travel agency or airline ticket office and buy your tickets there.
As soon as you receive your ticket check to make sure all the information on it is correct, especially the airports (if any of the cities have more than one) and the flight dates. Have any necessary corrections made immediately.
Bring a photo I.D. when you fly, and have your airline ticket issued using your name as it appears on that I.D. Many airlines are requesting such identification at check-in in order to reduce the re-selling of discount tickets. (Airlines don't permit tickets to be sold or given to other persons.) On international flights, make sure your name is the same on your ticket and your passport. If your name has recently changed and the name on your ticket and your I.D. are different, bring documentation of the change (e.g., a marriage certificate or court order).
It's a good idea to re-confirm your reservations before you start your trip; flight schedules sometimes change. On international trips, most airlines require that you re-confirm your onward or return reservations at least 72 hours before each flight. If you don't, your reservations may be canceled. Check your ticket as you board each flight to ensure that only the correct coupon has been removed by the airline agent.
Seven Questions Which Will Help You Choose The Travel Agent Who Will Get You The Lowest Fare
What To Do When Making Reservations
Ask the reservations agent to give you the on-time performance code for any flights you are considering. This is a one-digit code between 0-9, with 9 being best, in the reservations computer that shows how often that flight arrived on time (within 15 minutes) during the most recent reported month. For example, an "8" means that flight arrived within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival time between 80% and 89.9% of the time. If you are deciding between two flights with similar schedules and fares, you may want to choose the one with the better on-time record. (Only the largest U.S. airlines are required to maintain these codes.)
When you make a reservation, be sure the agent records the information accurately. Before you hang up or leave the ticket office, review all of the essential information with the agent-the spelling of your name, the flight numbers and travel dates, and the cities you are traveling between. If there is more than one airport at either city, be sure you check which one you'll be using. It's also important to give the airline your home and work telephone numbers so they can let you know if there is any change in their schedule.
Your ticket will show the flight number, departure time, date, and status of your reservation for each flight of your itinerary. The "status" box is important. "OK" means you're confirmed. Anything else means that the reservation is not yet certain (e.g., waitlisted).
A direct (or through) flight can have one or more stops. Sometimes flights with only one flight number can even involve a change of planes. Ask about your exact routing.
If you are flying to a small city and your flight number has four digits, you may be booked on a commuter airline that has an agreement with the major carrier in whose name the flight is held out. If you are unsure, ask the reservations agent about the airline and the aircraft type; these flights are identified in the computer.
When a reservations agent asks you to buy your tickets by a specific time or date, this is a deadline. And if you don't make the deadline, the airline may cancel your reservations without telling you.
Try to have your tickets in hand before you go to the airport. This speeds your check-in and helps you avoid some of the tension you might otherwise feel if you had to wait in a slow-moving ticketing line and worry about missing your flight.Even though most airlines are now matching their lowest discount fares, it still pays to have your travel agent check several airlines
Most airlines have a "tickets by mail" service which lets you charge the tickets to your credit card over the phone, and have the tickets mailed to you at no extra charge. Allow 5 business days for the tickets to reach you.
When using the airline ticket agents (the ones you get when you call the airline's reservation number), if you find that you're having trouble with the ticket agent, try hanging up (politely) and calling again. Some of the agents are more knowledgeable and helpful than others, and by calling again you may reach one of the better agents. If you get very good service from an airline ticket agent, write to the airline commending his or her performance. Thank you letters do go into the employee's permanent file.
Approach the selection of a travel agent with the same care you'd exercise when you choose your doctor, lawyer, or any other long-term professional adviser. After all, the right travel agent should know both your financial wherewithal and your physical abilities and also share your tastes and sensibilities. The expert travel agent should even have in-depth knowledge of your favorite destinations. Here are some practical guidelines.
Even if you need an agent only to write a ticket you've booked yourself, it helps to have one with whom you can communicate.
Be aware that travel agents specialize and that specialties focus on either a type of customer or type of travel. The major areas of specialization are business and leisure travel. While every accredited agency has the authority to book any kind of travel, leisure agencies specialize in cruises, charters, low airfares, or up-scale resorts. The advertising in local media reveals much about an agency's area of expertise.
A good travel agent will become familiar with your travel preferences, and keep track of your frequent flyer numbers and any special requirements, such as special meals, seat selection (window/aisle), etc. They'll also let you know if changing your itinerary slightly will result in a lower fare. They'll also advise you of any changes made by the airline on your tickets, by calling you, or if they can't reach you, by mail.But beware. Airport ticket agents are not beyond lying or making mistakes. A frequent complaint of air travelers is being quoted one price over the phone, and finding that their credit card has been charged another. When you get your tickets, be sure to verify that the price charged matches the price you were quoted. If they're different, be prepared for a fight — airlines seem very reluctant to own up to this kind of error. Give as much detailed information as possible, such as the time you called, the name of the ticket agent, the price quoted, any unusual occurrences. Get the problem fixed before you use the ticket. They probably won't refund you the difference, as the price on the ticket is almost always the correct price, but they are required (by law) to allow you to cancel the ticket and get a full refund without penalty. It they give you any trouble, pursue it with your credit card company. It is worth repeating, however, that you can get the refund only if you don't use the ticket, and initiate any complaint promptlyMembership in either of two principal travel agency professional associations, the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) and the Association of Retail Travel Agents (ARTA) is a plus in establishing the solvency and integrity of the agency. ASTA members are supposed to follow certain Principles of Professional Conduct and Ethics, and also runs a mediation/arbitration service between member agencies and their customers. But an ASTA or ARTA affiliation does not ensure the competence of every agent in the office. One indication of an individual agent's ability is his or her qualification as a "certified travel counselor" (CTC). To become a CTC, an agent with at least five years' experience must complete a two-year graduate-level program offered by the Institute of Certified Travel Agents.
There are several major differences between using a travel agency and using the airport (airline) ticket agents:
Given the frequency of fare changes these days, a good travel agent can often find you some real bargains. A bad travel agent, on the other hand, may miss getting you the lowest possible fare. So it is best to find yourself a good travel agent.
If you don't care for consolidator tickets, the travel agents get the same pricing information as is available from most of the on-line reservation services and the airlines themselves. So you can do your own legwork if you wish by calling the airlines themselves. But why do it when a good travel agent can do it for you? After all, when you buy a ticket direct from the airline the airline still keeps the commission, so why not give the commission to a travel agent, who'll do a little leg work to make sure you get the cheapest fare?
Note that some travel agencies try to funnel all their business to a specific airline, because the more tickets they sell to a single airline, the more money they get. Airlines have incentive programs to encourage this practice. The travel agent may also know how to look up fares on only one airline. This means that your travel agent may be checking the fares on a single airline, instead of hunting around for the best fare from several airlines. This is especially true for travel agencies near airports that are dominated by one carrier. Your best bet may be to call several airlines before you go to your travel agent, doing research on your own, or to tell the travel agent to check fares on two or three specific airlines. (Don't tell them to check on all airlines — nobody is going to do that much work just for a $20 commission).
Also, airlines sometimes sell bulk tickets to large travel agencies at bargain basement prices if they think they cannot fill the seats. So depending on the travel agency, you might be able to get a really good deal. Travel agents sometimes get complimentary tickets (e.g., one free ticket for every 25 sold), which they can sell as they wish. (These are called "Promotional Tickets," and are for standby travel.)
Most travel agents will try to find you the cheapest possible fare, because they want your repeat business. But that's the only incentive for them to try to hunt down an inexpensive fare, so they may not be as thorough on the cheaper routes. All computer reservation systems provide a method of displaying the applicable fares in order of price, from cheapest on up.
Since discount flights have restrictions on day of week and flight times, make sure that you let the travel agent know you are flexible and will change a day either way if that will save you money. Also, don't be shy of stating the obvious — that you're looking for the cheapest possible fare — since (most) travel agents aren't mind readers.
Airport ticket agents tend to be better informed than the people at the toll-free reservation number, since they often have to deal with special situations (missed connections, bumped people, etc.) that require really knowing the reservation system's ins and outs.