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Travel Agents: What You Need to Know

Tips for Dealing with Professional Travel Agents

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With even the most experienced travelers feeling edgy these days, making plans through a real live travel agent can help assuage some of your fears. Finding someone who knows the ins and outs of the industry can also help you to avoid the pitfalls:

Imagine arriving at a "first class" European hotel -- only to find it's actually quite ordinary and not at all luxurious. Consumers who booked via the hotel's own Web site would be unaware that in the rest of the world, a "first class" rating actually means average. Or what about booking a honeymoon, only to discover that a boisterous minority of your fellow cruise passengers are members of Drum Corps International?

Had you been privy to such information prior to booking your trip, you probably would have selected a different category of hotel or changed your cruise plans. A seasoned travel professional should provide this kind of insider information. And she can be key in making sure your expensive vacation turns into a personalized and positive experience.

Getting the Most from Travel Agents

Use the following tips from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) to make your next vacation travel experience a productive one:

Do a background check Look for the CTC (Certified Travel Counselor), CTA (Certified Travel Associate), or DS (Destination Specialist) professional certifications. Typically, certified agents display their credentials on business cards, in ads, in storefront windows, or the phone book. Or just call and ask. The CTC certification is the travel industry's highest level of professional achievement, granted to professionals with at least five years of travel experience and who have completed an academic study program and exam. Travelers who visit the Institute of Certified Travel Agents site and click on "Find a Travel Professional" can locate a certified one in their area.

Treat your agent as an information sifter Become an educated consumer by surfing travel Web sites and reading travel guide books and magazines. A good place to start is the Web site of your destination's tourism or convention and visitor's bureau. If you present your findings to a travel agent, she can use her knowledge and experience to help you sift through the information to locate options that are best suited to your budget and taste. Many times, especially if they are certified Destination Specialists, travel professionals can make invaluable recommendations based on their own personal experience.

Plan ahead When booking airline tickets, cruise packages, and hotel accommodations, the earlier you start, the better. Especially if you are planning a vacation during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's holiday seasons. Booking travel 4-6 months out increases your chances of choosing from the best options and price selections.

Describe types of people you'd like to meet on vacation Other travelers on a cruise or tour, or even the other guests staying at a hotel, could have a major impact on your vacation. After all, a young honeymooning couple would probably be disappointed staying at a family resort or one that caters to mature travelers and vice versa. A travel agent can provide the "insider" knowledge (i.e. a general profile) of other travelers you are most likely to encounter on your trip and can match your personal interests to a vacation where you will feel most comfortable. And, thanks to their industry contacts, travel agents should be able to find out if a particular cruise or hotel might be hosting a special group or corporate gathering during your stay.

Openly discuss your budget Are luxury accommodations or excursions and fine dining a priority? To help you arrange a truly great vacation, your agent needs to know what you can and cannot afford. Best of all, he can help you get the biggest bang for your buck with accommodations and activities suited your style and price range.

Relate your special interests Maybe you are avid motorcyclists, scuba divers, novice photographers, or have always dreamed of drifting in a hot-air balloon. Tell your travel agent, because she can help you develop a personalized itinerary that includes your hobbies or interests. After all, you might not have known that a destination you are considering offers a relatively unknown, but wonderful coral reef just minutes from a romantic hotel.

Spill the beans on your travel partner Is your idea of the ideal vacation relaxing by the beach, while your significant other would rather hiking by sun up? Sound like a travel planning nightmare? It shouldn't be. If you clue in your agent on the likes, dislikes, personality, and style of your spouse, he can suggest destinations, options, and activities to suit everyone's liking.

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