Inside Look: What Does a Travel Agent Actually Do For You?
PHOTO: Susan Peavey Travel owner Susan Peavey (left) and her star pupil travel agent, Andrea Crowther (far right).
After raising two children, Andrea Crowther wanted to return to the workforce. When she mentioned it to her travel agent, Susan Peavey, Crowther was hired.
“Every day is different, which is what I love about being a travel agent,” she said. “I could be updating social media in the morning, organizing travel documents for delivery and creating travel options at noon, meeting with a bride about her destination wedding at 3 p.m. and going to a new resort presentation at 6 p.m.”
Peavey Travel is a small agency of three in Boston, Mass., so the agents are responsible for everything from travel reservations to accounting, marketing, and keeping up with destination changes, resort renovations, new openings and monitoring sales.
“Some days I am on the phone 7.5 hours out of 8 interviewing clients to help people find the right resort or destination,” said Peavey. “If someone is used to staying at the Four Seasons, I need to know so I do not recommend the Holiday Inn. Most of my requests start out with clients telling me that they want to go someplace warm, what do I suggest? I have to dig around and ask questions. When? Where? Where not? Where have you been before? How much do you want to spend? Many people have caviar dreams but PB & J budgets.”
Some days, Peavey said, she is busy putting out fires. “If a resort sold out of the room category…I may be on the phone with the client who is at the resort and manager, making sure they upgrade them and not put them in a room under the resort nightclub with a dance floor.”
Peavey also works with a GDS or Global Distribution System. “It’s an online real-time booking system for air tickets, hotels and car rentals,” explained Crowther. “There are a few different companies who offer access to GDS, Worldspan, Amadeus, Sabre and Apollo. To have a GDS at your agency, you have to be bonded and insured and accredited through ARC. Many newer agencies do not have a GDS and book through tour operators, air consolidators, through airlines and resorts direct.
She explained that the benefit of having access to the GDS is being able to mix seat categories within a flight class, getting real-time pricing and quantity of seats available, and holding seats at a certain price for 24 hours without cost.
Don’t think that this travel agent is just taking familiarization trips and hanging out on the beach. She’s busy working to make a living. “Most FAM trips have a set itinerary and you must attend,” she explained. “The idea is to see every different part of a resort or destination to familiarize yourself with it to sell and service it better. My last FAM trip I visited six resorts in three days and logged over eight miles of walking in 80-degree heat and took over 200 pictures. Yes, my photos look like I’m having the time of my life, but they are supposed to encourage the client to book.”
Travel agents are essentially paid by the resort, but work for the traveler to ensure they have the best vacation experience. “Most resorts have price parity, whether you book with a travel agent, through a resort’s direct website or through an online travel agent, the pricing is about the same,” she said. “Everyone is paid commission by resorts and tour operators.
She encourages others to book with a travel agent because there are benefits.
“First, we provide service before, during and after the vacation,” she said. “We have been to the destinations and resorts. We can give first-hand, non-bias information and work to make sure the client is matched with the correct resort and destination. Many clients of online booking sites will be the first travelers moved if a resort is oversold, TAs have relationships with tour operators and resorts to ensure their clients stay where they are booked.”
Travel agents can also get special deals for their clients.
“We can price match sales online, hold discounted group space and block rooms at a low price when availability opens,” she explained. “We can find already blocked resort rooms that other agents are holding and we have access to bulk, charter and unpublished air fare rates that do not show on airlines booking sites.”
Peavey said when you use a travel agent, you may not pay less, but you will get more service and one-on-one communication than booking it yourself. “If you hit a snag we are here to help you,” she said.
For example, one of her customers recently wanted to visit Athens, Greece.
“She was very proud that she had found airfare from New York to Athens for $349 round trip,” she said. “She booked it online through Expedia and called me to let me know. I asked her what the airport code was, she said AHN. I explained to her that she just booked a ticket to Athens, Georgia, and it would cost her $200 per ticket to change it plus the difference in fare to rebook on that airline.”
Another couple who was visiting from Boston wanted to visit Cancun.
“When they got to the airport they were told their flight was canceled due to weather in South Carolina, where their layover was,” she said. “American Airlines told them that they would be placed on the first flight out in 3 days. They called me from the airport gate in hysterics. I asked for 20 minutes.”
READ MORE: A Day in The Life of A Travel Agent
The couple had taken travel protection plan as per her advice, so she was able to book them on a Jet Blue flight the next morning and a reservation at beautiful, safe and close resort for the evening.
“Travel protection reimbursed everything,” she explained. “They left 100 people sitting at the airport gate in Mexico, got into a taxi and had a lovely evening. I try to educate my clients on their destination, and help ensure a memorable vacation problem-free vacation.”
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