6 tips to make working with a travel agent smoother, faster and cheaper.

Visual Artist Frank Bonilla

If you book all your own travel, disregard this post. But, if you use a travel agent or if you have someone else arrange your business or even leisure travel, here are six tips to make the process much easier.

I’ll use the phrase “travel agent” in the post, but everything equally applies to an administrative assistant or anyone else to whom you delegate your travel bookings.

If it’s a long-term relationship, many of us travel agents do get pretty good at reading clients’ minds, most of the time. However, it can be an inexact science.

1. Be specific. “Morning” and even “Early morning” means different things to different people. Within my own family, my sister, an early bird, considers 6 a.m. to be a reasonable flight time, whereas anything before 9 a.m. feels early to me.

2. Have a budget in mind. Unless it’s really a trip where the sky’s the limit, it will help if your expectations are realistic. Plus, it will help the agent focus on finding something you will be happy with. “Whatever it costs,” usually isn’t that simple. It may be that what you want isn’t possible. Our agency, for example, recently had a request for a week in Hawaii in July, including hotel and car, for about the cost of the current airfare alone. It is better to find that out before everyone wastes a lot of time. An agent can suggest either a shorter stay or a different destination that might work.

3. What level of luxury do you want? Along with a budget, luxury is always a factor. With airline tickets it’s relatively simple: coach, premium economy, business class, etc. But, hotels vary greatly. I often ask new clients, “Is there a hotel you like for a weekend getaway in San Francisco?” (or pick your local city). Then, it’s easier to match a comparable style and rating somewhere else.

Please, don’t just say something “reasonable” or “nice.” During the last month I’ve had someone use “reasonable” in London to mean up to about $500 a night and someone else hoping “reasonable” in London meant about $150. For some people, nice means a private bathroom, while for others it means room service until at least midnight.

4. Give agents your legal name. If your legal name is different from the name you use publicly, please say so up front. A good agent will ask, but most of us have all been burned by someone who goes by their middle name or a nickname that doesn’t sound like a nickname. In some cases, I’ve checked the name and then found out later that the client’s assistant didn’t actually know the correct version. (This is one of those things that can not only waste time, but really scuttle a trip.)

5. If you are flexible on dates, say so. Sometimes a week or even a few days difference will make a major difference in the price, especially if it’s around when the seasonal rates change — late March, late August, late October, for example. In December rates jump at various dates for different destinations.

6. Say what is and isn’t negotiable. Different things matter to different people. It may be a nonstop flight, a certain view, or a certain location. Sometimes a few tweaks are enough to make a major price difference in a trip. Would you rather fly four more hours than stay in a room without a view? Or, would you stay in the least expensive room to get a hotel with a great bar, pool and/or room service? Let your travel agent know it up front.

The more communication, the better chance that an agent can put a trip together that fits your needs and the less chance you’ll go back and forth through several iterations while they guess what you want.

Photo credit: Visual Artist Frank Bonilla, Flickr Creative Commons

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