Planning a trip? You can spare yourself a lot of headache (and save a lot of money!) by getting a travel agency. Your travel agent can help you process your visa, find great deals on hotels, and even look for package discounts on tours and transportation. You also get a lot of helpful tips on what you need to prepare for the trip—after all, your travel agent’s familiar with the country, and the kind of hassles a tourist can encounter there.
Here are tips on how to find a good travel agency, save on agency rates, and work with your travel agent to get the best discounts and promos. Have a great (and budget-friendly) trip!
1. Shop around.
This may sound like common sense, but a lot of people skip this step and just use a travel agent recommended by a friend (or worse, the first name they pick up on a Internet search or the airline website). That’s because they see a travel agent as a last resort, and only make the phone call when they’re panicking because of lack of time. “Help, my business trip is in three days!”
The trick is to look for a travel agent way ahead of time, so you can compare rates and services. You’ll find plenty on websites and your local directories, and of course, your friends have their own. See which ones can give you the best bang for your buck—and of course, check that the travel agency is legitimate and credible.
2. Ask for quotes.
One way of comparing travel agencies is to come to them armed with information, and a list of preferences. For example: “My family and I want to go to Hawaii this summer. We’d like a first-class, family-friendly hotel and a tour of the islands. I also want to know what activities or tours my kids may enjoy.” Better yet, research on your destination and draft an itinerary. Then, you’ll be able to see what they can really give you, and how much.
3. Ask about discounts and freebies.
Don’t be shy! Go ahead and ask your travel agent what he or she can do to lower your fares, hotel rates, or package rates. You can also mention what the competition is offering you: “I really like you, but the other agency said they could give me the same package at xx amount. Can you match their price?”
4. Name your budget.
Your travel agent may not be able to give you a specific discount, but maybe he or she can look for affordable options. You can name your total budget for the vacation, and then say, “What can you do to help me stay within this price range?” This may help your travel agent look for specific ways to cut costs—like finding another hotel, or moving your date of flight to take advantage of off-peak rates.
5. Ask about complete packages, then negotiate.
Can your travel agency give you a package rate for flight and transfers, accommodation, tours and activities, and even buffet breakfasts? Inquire about pre-existing deals as well as a breakdown of how much it would cost you if you paid for these individually.
As you compare the costs, consider whether or not you’d really want everything in a package. For example, if it includes a tour that you would never even think about joining in the first place, then you’re throwing away money (and wasting precious vacation time). Also do web research. The brochure may make a tour sound really exciting, but it may just be a boring tourist trap.
If you don’t like one item in a package, ask your travel agent if you can swap it for something else, or what it would cost to “upgrade” that detail to something more to your liking.
6. Ask for alternatives.
For example, how much would you save if you traveled by train instead of by plane? Or (if you can’t afford a particular destination) what other, lesser-known places offer similar environment or activities?
7. Sign up for newsletters or internet alerts.
Many travel agencies have special promos or discounts that run all throughout the year. Sign up for these announcements, or join their Facebook or Twitter accounts.
8. Ask about off-season rates.
Let’s say you’ve always dreamed about visiting Italy, but after seeing the quote your travel agents gave you, you know you won’t be able to afford it this year. That’s okay, you can still take the trip in the future! The next step is to ask about what the rates would be during off-season, or how much you’d save if you booked the trip way in advance. That way, you can find a way to make your dream vacation happen—and you know who to call when you’re ready.