This travel tip may be “too early” for people who have already traveled this summer. If you’re among the millions affected by the countless delays and cancellations in the airline industry, I’m sorry.
I’ll continue anyway because the advice can help lower future stats, just by a hair. One of the most common, and entirely legitimate, criticisms air travelers have had lately has been how painful it is to reach an airline when problems need to be fixed.
So slow. So confusing. Sometimes without help when you finally get through. As you might have guessed from the title, there is actually a not-so-hidden but not very well-understood way to remove all this drama from the travel booking experience.
This solution? It’s a little analog, a little throwback and you’ll need some manners to seal the deal. And no, the solution doesn’t call for upgrades. It’s just using a travel agent to book your flights. This can be priceless.
How travel agents save the day with flights
Travel agencies – good ones, that is – have teams behind them and support them. Most agents work through a larger agency or with the backing of incredibly strong networks of perks and access.
This is important because if an airline cancels a flight and gets you in trouble or changes your itinerary, travel agents have the power to do it for you on your behalf.
In most cases, travel agents have an “air team” that maintains relationships with airlines to handle everything on your behalf. Sometimes they can even “bend” rules.
These “air teams” in most cases do not need to speak to the airline at all as they can go into the backend of a booking and make allowed changes as per the airline’s rules. If you’re already bored, here’s the message: you don’t have to deal with the drama.
The catch: you need an agent willing to deal with you
I use a travel agency for as many of my trips as possible. It doesn’t matter that I’ve written blog posts’ worth of books on finding deals or best practices for booking hotels and flights.
I use one because at select hotels they give me better perks than elite status in many cases without being loyal and because I don’t have to worry if an airline messes up my itinerary.
The catch for most people reading this, maybe even you, is that in order to enjoy this often priceless benefit, you need an agent willing to deal with you. Finding one can be easy, but it can also be difficult.
Agents love a good relationship, but they also work on a commission basis. The more you book, which makes them money, the more willing they will be to do business with you. If you only book the cheapest flights and never hotels, you may run into problems on the agent front.
If you like nice trips and don’t always use points for hotels, agents will be more plentiful. And hey agents, don’t hesitate to use the comments section to add your contact information if you’re looking for clients.
Choosing a Great Agent
Assuming you are a decent client, you may have agents to choose from. Having an agent with access to Virtuoso privileges and benefit programs with major hotel chains is a good start.
Search anywhere for agents with access to perks at hotels that don’t require you to be a loyal guest. Having an agent with an air support desk is also important. You want someone with a team who can make changes on the fly to keep you moving.
It also never hurts if the agent or agency has a relationship with their partners. If you have an air support team that is a big customer of the airline you fly, they can do more “magic” than others.
Travel Agents: A highly competitive game changer
Look, I hate waiting on hold. I hate having to ask agents on the phone to actually approve allowed changes. That spoils the joy of travel. When a travel agency and their teams take care of these things for you, everything changes.
Remember: you usually pay the same price as everyone else. Agent commissions typically come from the hotel or airline side, not the customer side. This is almost always the case on flights. In hotels it is mostly true.
When you find an agent willing to work with you, remember that great clients get great service. Giving the agent more of your travel (rather than just flights) will help create a two-way relationship. Once in, you never want to get out.