Monthly Archives: September 2017

Agent Tricks of the Travel Trade

I’ll be forthright: I’m not a homemaker. I feel more at ease constantly on the move, city after city, mountaintop to seaside surf, living out of my suitcase and fumbling through a foreign language phrase book, than I feel even comfy and cozy, napping on my couch on a Sunday afternoon. Perhaps I’m a little crazy, but I find it thrilling sprinting to make a connecting flight (even if it’s the red eye); I believe it convenient when the airline informs me my luggage is a flight behind, leaving unencumbered to begin sightseeing immediately; and I think myself resourceful when I arrive at a booked hotel only to realize I forgot to make reservations but still haggle a room. Of course, while I don’t mind any of the perceived headaches of traveling, I do mind the high costs often associated with it. Traveling, for me, is primarily about escaping–whether it be work, commuting, obligations, sometimes even family and friends–but how is it an escape if I’m worried about how much I’m spending the entire trip?I mention cost as something that would potentially worry me were it not for the fact that, in reality, it doesn’t worry me at all. At least not since I wised up, did the requisite research and taught myself the agent tricks of the travel trade. Travel agents’ tricks that is, because in addition to being a constant traveler and writer, I am also a licensed travel agent. Not in the sense that I work for others, booking their hotels, finding their flights, or landing them a deal on an Alaskan cruise. Truth is, I only use my license for personal escapes (well, okay, occasionally for family and friends too, but only when their remarks regarding my debonair good lucks are particularly flattering).If you’ve never heard of this travel industry loophole before, this may sound somewhat (or completely) preposterous. In fact, however, it is quite common among everyday people, both those who travel often or but once a year, both those whose work relates to travel to those whose work relates only to that which remains stationary. What I mean, plain and simple, is anyone–you, me, your second cousin Otto, or my next-door neighbor Irene–can get their travel agent’s license lickety-split, and immediately begin reaping the benefits.

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First things first: when making travel arrangements for themselves, every agent knows not to book a single step of their journey through one of their own, i.e. other travel agents. Instead, they use travel consolidators.Think about the difference those terms: agent and consolidator.An agent, in any industry where they’re principal players, obviously gets something in return for the services they provide. In sports, agents represent athletes, working off the field to win their clients lucrative contracts and commercial cameos so the athlete can in turn, without financial distractions, concentrate and win on the field. For these services, agents win themselves a percentage of every deal they broker. The same is true in showbiz, modeling, or corporations where headhunters wheel and deal multi-million dollar salaries and stock incentive plans for their CEO clients. Likewise, then, in the travel industry, agents receive discounts, courtesies and other special benefits, not from the customer for whom they book a hotel or flight, but from the vendor providing that service (i.e. the hotel chain or airline) who profits from the customer. As agents for airlines, etc., they drive customers toward vendors whom offer them the most in return.A consolidator, on the other hand, does virtually the opposite. Rather than inflate the costs of travel by collecting fees, they combine, for the sake of efficiency, the expensive and unstable parts of travel into a cheaper, more solid whole. They work to maximize vendor’s numbers, ratios and the cost per head. Think about it in terms of magazine publishing: the real cost in printing an issue is not the number of copies made, but merely arranging and setting the plates that will allow the print run in the first place. Once that is set to go, the only added costs are that of extra paper and ink. The travel industry is the same, the more spaces that fill, the cheaper tickets or rooms become per person. As in any industry, consumers (i.e. travelers in this case) benefit from the sheer volume of numbers (i.e. all travelers, yourself included).You, as a licensed travel agent would obtain special contact with these consolidators and the deals vendors must offer to maximize their costs per person. But while it’s all well and good to make arrangements through a consolidator as opposed to an agent, just because you acquire a license (available online in under an hour) doesn’t mean the consolidator will believe you’re as much a travel professional as they are. To avoid common mistakes that expose amateurs from pros, you must learn the proper lingo and travel codes. For that there are volumes of eBooks (with corresponding printed versions) that provide the requisite knowledge, which you can quickly study before contacting a consolidator and easily flip through if put on the spot. Get these references. Some of them are thick, but in reality you’ll spend less than a hundred dollars on everything you need to in turn potentially save thousands on the first trip you plan with your travel agent’s license in hand.Furthermore, instead of turning to the discount fare finders like Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity or Priceline that lay-travelers search, as a travel agent, you additionally gain access to the lesser known, but more lucrative sites travel consolidators utilize.

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Together, the benefits will materialize almost immediately. Buy plane tickets the day before the flight’s scheduled to depart, but only pay what you would have had you purchased tickets two months in advance. Get a spacious cruise ship cabin beside the captain’s quarters for the price of an ocean-level closet. Find yourself lodging in the seaside, honeymoon suite for the price you might have paid for the basement hide-a-bed beside the ice machine.Finally, the travel industry is a weird and wonderful creature, in this case, thankfully profit driven as much as other industries we often loathe. To those who present themselves as viable agents, promoting and thus earning money for the industry as a whole, it means endless perks. I get more special offers from airlines, cruise lines, and packaged tour companies than I know what to do with. For me, casinos, theme parks, and luxury resorts are not necessarily what I strive for, but if that is your cup of tea and your hocus pocus agenting appears legitimate, you’ll suddenly find yourself choosing between the best of many worlds: free weekends in the Napa Valley, first class seats to Tokyo, an all expense paid safari, a cruise down the Nile…So what are you waiting for, get started! Find a comprehensive eBook or alternate guide that takes you through the process of becoming a travel agent, step-by-step. Don’t sit on this opportunity, but rather start traveling cheaply, today…As for me, I’ve got a flight to catch…Now, where did I put my passport?Copyright 2006, Robert K. Blanc. All Rights Reserved.

Business Travel Secrets Revealed by a Frequent Flier

I’ve had people ask me many times for advice on airlines, hotels, traveling with children, etc and I figure its about time I share some tips and tricks I’ve learned. Some of these seem like no brainers to the experienced business traveler, and some are little tricks of the trade I’ve learned the hard way.Booking a flight:1. Unless absolutely necessary book at least two weeks in advance, preferably three. If you have elite status, the earlier you book, the better chance you’ll have of an upgrade.2. Stick to one airline and choose an airline that makes sense with regards to where your home airport is. If you’re based out of Chicago, you should make United your airline of choice. Based out of Dallas, fly American. Based out of Philly, Fly USair. I have people tell me all the time that they refuse to fly a certain airline because of a bad experience they had with one airline. Let me tell you, the good, bad, and ugly exist with all airlines and in the end likely even out. (Although the luggage handlers at PHL have successfully motivated me to avoid US Air at all costs in that city, thanks guys.)3. Save your frequent flier miles for expensive flights. Was it really worth it to fly for two years so you could cash in your miles for a $200 ticket to Denver? Frequent Flier miles should be cashed in for First Class flights, Hawaii, or International travel…enjoy your reward! Also, don’t fall victim to those up charge fees to get additional miles when you check in…the value just is not there.4. Get Elite Status anyway you can and fight to keep it. If you’re not going to be able to keep your elite status, call them up. If you’re close, some airlines will allow you to keep the status. Elite status is not just for the upgrades. For example, I fly United Airlines. With elite status, I get moved to the top of the list if I’m on standby. I don’t pay to check bags. Yes, I know Southwest doesn’t charge you to check bags…but as a business traveler, is Southwest really worth the hassle? As an Elite, you also have a separate 800 number for customer service, which greatly cuts down the “on hold” time.5. Layovers are not necessarily bad things. To get closer to elite status or the next tier, consider taking layovers to boost your flight segments. I do recommend that you limit these to return trips only. Missing your connection on your way to business meeting can throw off an entire trip. Also, its wise to choose your layover city carefully. Choose layovers in big cities, preferably the hubs for your airline. This way, if you miss your connection there is likely another flight available later. I try to book my United layovers in Denver as I know they fly to Chicago about every 90 minutes or so

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6. Get miles for other things you normally do. Make sure your credit card gets airline miles. Join their dining clubs and get miles for eating at places you normally eat at. When shopping online, especially with United Airlines, use the United Shopping Mall. Most major retailers are partners and they simply just ask you to log in and then transfer you directly to the retailers website. Popular stores such as Best Buy, Toys R Us, Target, and many others participate. This is also a great way to make sure your miles are not taken away if you do not fly much as most airlines require some sort of mileage activity each year or so.7. For the best rates and mileage benefits, book directly with the airline on their site, not through Orbitz or other bulk travel websites.8. Be polite to the gate agents, pilots, check in staff, etc. Remember, they work hard, have their benefits/pay cut often, and most importantly…it wasn’t their fault that your flight was cancelled or delayed. They didn’t make the call to have your bag pulled for inspection and they ultimately want to help you any way they can to make both of your days more pleasant.9. Be efficient going through security. Don’t make a scene or count on being singled out for a more “thorough” search. If you’re chosen to go through the new body scan machines, it’s in your best interests to make sure that your pockets are completely empty. Otherwise, count on getting a pat down. If you are chosen for a pat down, don’t give the TSA worker a hard time. Their just as thrilled about this part of their job as you are. Wear shoes that can be easily taken on and off. Always take off your jacket before going through. Learn which belts/watches/jewelry/etc will go through the x-ray machines without you taking them off. And yes, your laptop/iPad does have to go in its own container. Be aware of the carry on rule for liquids. Following these tips will get you through quicker and lower your chances of being selected for a pat down.10. Most US flights are either on Boeing 737’s or Airbus 320’s. Airbus seats are slightly wider if that is a concern. Aisle seats will give us bigger guys a little more room. When you book your flight, try selecting a seat at that time. Getting stuck in a middle seat is about as bad as it gets, especially if you’re not tiny.11. When the flight attendants ask you to turn off your computers and cell phones, do it. Your email is not important enough to the hundreds of other passengers on the plane to delay the entire flight.12. Understand that children will cry on a plane. They are likely scared to death by this new experience and the vast majority of the time, parents are doing their best.13. Be the good guy. Good Karma is a great thing to have when traveling. Offer to switch seats so that a parent can sit with their children or a couple can sit together. Speaking as a parent, I can’t tell you how much it means to me if someone switches seats with me so that I can sit with my children. It also doesn’t hurt to offer to help put a bag in the overhead bin if you see someone struggling.14. It’s your right to recline the seat, but do the person behind you a favor and do it slowly.15. Share the armrest.16. Chatting with your neighbor can make flights go by quickly, but if they don’t want to talk…don’t force them.17. Say hello to the flight attendants when you board. I can’t tell you how many times I see flight attendants say hello and people just brush them off. A smile and a kind word can brighten anyone’s day. It’s always safe to assume that someone gave them a hard time already today. If you’d really like to brighten their day, bring them a candy bar or two.18. If the pilot is saying good bye when you leave, say it back. Landing is the most difficult thing for a pilot to master. If you want to brighten his day, mention how smooth the landing was.19. Turbulence happens, but if you ever hear a pilot tell the flight attendants to take a seat…it’s going to get real rough, real quick.

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20. Don’t abuse the carry on privilege. Put one item in the overhead. And don’t act surprised if you are asked to gate check an item. Some travelers just don’t understand why they cannot bring their golf bag sized carry on with them.Hotels1. It should go without saying, but try to always stay in the same hotel or at the most, choose two brands and stick with them. Points clubs are free to join and rewards are easy to get. Some, such as Hilton Honors, gives you hotel points and airline miles. One way to choose is pick a hotel that you’d like to vacation at and book your business stays with that brand. I usually book at Hampton Inns as there are many Hilton’s that are great for vacations. La Quinta also has a decent program and in particular, there is a very nice, new facility in Scottsdale, AZ that I will be taking my family to for vacation due to my points.Rental Cars1. Go to a web based travel site, such as Orbitz or Yahoo Travel and get the rates for all of the rental car companies in the area you are going to travel and then go directly to the companies website and book direct. You’ll get the best rates and you’ll have a chance to enter your frequent flier number.General rules of thumb:1. Dress the part. I can tell you from experience, you’ll get treated better in a suit than you will wearing torn jeans and a vulgar T shirt.2. Arrive to airports early. You can always get a coffee, snack, beer, etc if things go quickly. No one is concerned that you are in a hurry because in all likelihood, they are in a hurry too.3. Do everyone a favor and don’t bring food that stinks on board. Most flights in the US are only a few hours at most and you can buy a snack on the plane or eat before/after.4. No one likes a drunk sitting next to them, exhibit self control at the bar.5. Don’t put disgusting things in the seat back cushion before you leave, I’m likely to reach in there on the next flight.6. Be patient.I hope some of these tips are helpful to everyone and happy/safe travels to my fellow frequent travelers!