Never say this to your travel agent

Travelers who book all their own travel can skip this post. But anyone who uses a travel agent, especially the first time they use one, should read on. Leaving these five forbidden words out of requests to any travel agent will save both traveler and agent a lot of time. (For travel agents reading this, these are some of the words all travel agents dread hearing.)

1. “Reasonable” — as in price.
No two people have the same definition of reasonable. For some, it might be $100 a day; for others, $1,000. Different travelers have different expectations. It’s much easier for a traveler to indicate what they hope to spend, or what their budget is for a trip. If that’s unreasonable, a travel agent will tell them.

2. “Nice” — as in a hotel or resort.
Again, this forbidden word means such different things to different people. Some clients are happy with a bed, a private bathroom and working Wi-Fi. Others think nice means 24-hour room service and a serious gym with top-of-the-line equipment. Travelers should tell an agent what’s important to them. Then agents will have a much better chance of finding the hotel or resort that fits the traveler’s desires.

3. and 4. “Early/Late” — followed closely by “morning,” “afternoon” and “evening.”
These forbidden words are trouble, especially when booking flights. As a night owl, I hate mornings, and think any flight before about 9 a.m. is extremely early. On the other hand, I have no problem with late arrivals and even red-eyes. But I have friends and clients who are happy to head to the airport at 4 a.m., while they might never want to arrive after about 9:00 p.m.

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Sometimes, with time zones and connections, it doesn’t matter what time travelers leave but what time they arrive. Saying something like, “I need to arrive in time for dinner around 7 p.m.” or, “I want to be home by 6 p.m.” helps an agent send a traveler the right options, the first time.

5. “Best” — as in the best hotel, best cruise line, etc.
The problem here is that the forbidden word is so subjective. Leaving price out of it, even when money is no object, “best” might be a classic hotel or a more modern property. Or, it might be the least trendy, or the most trendy, etc. As with “nice,” it’s much more helpful to say what you view as most important in a hotel. A helpful hint for those unfamiliar with their destination is to tell the agent their favorite hotels in general and what they liked. Then, the agent can try to come up with the same style property.

The short version of all this: Travelers should be as specific as possible, using objective criteria rather than the five subjective, forbidden words. It’s not just about time, it’s also about getting the trip they want, with as little back-and-forth as possible.

In time, if travelers work with the same agent regularly, he or she can probably start doing some mind-reading. Many travel agents know their clients’ preferences better than their own spouses do. But, when working with travel agents, travelers need to start somewhere — objectively, not subjectively.

This is an encore presentation

Janice Hough

I've been in the travel industry since I graduated from Stanford. Back in the days when computers were new, and air travel was comfortable. These days I'm also a travel and comedy writer. All opinions are strictly my own, and not necessarily those of

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