These travel agents go above and beyond the call of duty

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Travel agents should really stop calling themselves travel agents. Travel advisors is a better word. Or perhaps even travel advocates.

With the frenetic summer travel season upon us soon, you’ll see why.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners. Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

A survey conducted by the National Association of Career Travel Agents suggests the term “travel agent” is close to obsolete. Roughly half of the respondents want to be called “travel consultant.” About a quarter said they liked “travel professional,” and only 13% went with “travel agent.”

The best travel agents do more than book airline tickets or rental cars. They find lost IDs for their clients, ensure your favorite chair is in your hotel room, and even lobby for laws that benefit you. When was the last time your travel site did that for you?

Consider what Kerry Mooneyham, a travel agent with Midwest Travel Solutions in Parkville, Mo., did when one of her clients left his ID in the back seat of his car at the airport before boarding a flight to New Orleans to take a cruise. Mooneyham, who happened to be booked on the same sailing, jumped into action.

“I met him at the airport in New Orleans and drove to the port to find out what our options were,” she recalls. “We arranged for Southwest to fly the documents to New Orleans that day, and I located a service that would courier the documents from the airport to the port.”

Wow, talk about above-and-beyond service. “Agent” doesn’t begin to describe Mooneyham’s job. She’s running a taxi company, a passport service and a concierge desk, too. Needless to say, her client made the cruise — and she’d won a customer for life.

Melissa Gutting, who works for a Travel Leaders franchise in River Falls, Wis., recalls a group trip to Azul Fives Hotel in the Riviera Maya that came with a special request. Grandma, the matriarch of the family, had “many apprehensions” about vacationing in Mexico.

“About two weeks prior to departure, Grandma wanted to make sure that she had a chair, like a reclining La-Z-Boy-style chair, in her room, so she could sleep sitting up,” she says. “If she couldn’t, she was going to cancel.”

Gutting worked the phones to find a recliner. Finally, she reached a manager at the resort who wanted to help. She searched the resort for the right chair and made sure that it was brought to the room, saving the entire family’s vacation.

Agents do that? Absolutely. Gutting should’ve been a Hollywood personal assistant.

Other agents are fighting for you even when you’re not traveling. Consider the actions of Jay Ellenby, a veteran travel agent from Bel Air, Md., who also is an executive for the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). He fought a new state hotel tax, which he argued would have hurt not only hotels, but also agents and customers.

“I spent many a day down in Annapolis testifying on three or four different occasions and meeting individually with representatives,” he recalls.

That particular tax passed, but other efforts to raise prices for travelers haven’t. For example, Ellenby and other agents have fought alongside other advocates to keep an industry effort to make airline tickets look cheaper than they are from gaining traction in Congress.

That is perhaps the biggest sign that agents aren’t agents anymore, but advocates. It’s no wonder Ellenby’s trade group has shifted its focus to the consumer. ASTA has effectively unleashed an army of advocates on state legislatures and Congress — to your benefit.

When you call someone a travel agent, the best ones chuckle, because they are so much more than that. They’re part PA, part courier, and all advocate.

“I didn’t start a business to be a traditional travel agent,” says Brianna Glenn, who prefers the term “personal luxury travel consultant.” “It’s far more than just booking travel components. It’s about listening to someone and understanding what they are after and helping them create that.”

If you want the perfect summer vacation, maybe that’s a good start.

How to find more than an agent

  • Ask for references and contact them. The best agents and advocates will gladly offer a list of references and invite you to contact them. Ask about the advocacy these agents do. You might be surprised by the answers.
  • Look for trusted names. The big names in travel, such as American Express, Travel Leaders and Virtuoso, have high standards and enormous clout in the industry. You’re likely to find a great agent by going with a trusted name.
  • Check out ASTA’s consumer website lets you search for an agent by specialty.

8 thoughts on “These travel agents go above and beyond the call of duty

  1. There are definite advantages to a TA on complicated or multi leg trips. While on vacation in Peru, my TA saved us lots of time and frustration twice. They hired a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us to our hotel and I left my backpack in the back seat. I called the TA, they tracked down the driver, and he came back within an hour. If it had been left in a taxi, I doubt I would have ever seen it again. You bet he got a nice tip for coming back the second time! The second time was when one of our domestic flights was canceled. The TA had us rebooked on another flight before we even knew there was a problem. They contacted the hotel concierge who greeted us when we arrived, gave us the new itinerary and said everything was taken care of. That was a great trip.

  2. I use the same rule when working with anyone that receives commission from selling me something. I will purposely avoid a purchase from a specific individual if I feel that they’re acting inappropriately or pushing something subpar; I’ve gone so far as to ask the manager for a different salesperson or I won’t make a purchase there. But I also go out of my way to make a purchase from a specific individual. I also get very frustrated when a salesperson isn’t upfront. I understand you need a paycheck and I understand you have sales goals – be honest, especially if I ask, and I’m likely to not only make a purchase, but go back to you.

    I will never forget an unbelievably rude salesman I had when purchasing furniture. In my early/mid twenties, I was often mistaken for a teenager. I went to purchase a mattress, and was looking for a relatively expensive memory foam kind, plus I planned on ordering living room furniture. I started looking at mattresses, and the guy showed me where the cheap, closeout models were and was very condescending when I asked about the specific type I wanted, saying those were too expensive to look at. I just said ok and walked away. It was awesome to see the look on his face later when I spent over $4000. I picked what I wanted and made sure the polite guy that helped me find the kind of reclining couch that I’d gone to purchase got all the credit for the sale, I was very clear to the manager that came over when he saw I was making a decent size purchase that the guy in the mattress section blew me off and living room guy also sold me the mattress. He lost about $120 in commission (I asked the nice salesmen) – and all he would have to do was show me where the models of the type I wanted were located. A very easy $120 commission with no real selling even required.

    1. yep – had a car salesman blow me off — had a printout of the car I wanted, explained it was being paid in full in cash (payoff from an accident) – and he had me “sit here” while he went to chat with his cronies – I walked out, booked elsewhere, and that lovely salesman has booked a total of 7 cars with me and my family – and will continue to do so.

  3. Like any profession, there are extraordinary travel agents and ho-hum agents. The great ones are passionate, caring, understanding, meticulous multi-tasker, troubleshooters. They bend over backwards, save the day (and your money) even when they don’t have to. I have not asked our travel agent about commissions, but I suspect since he’s been in the business for decades, it ain’t what it used to be.

    1. As a long time agent, I can say that is true. But I do a lot of things for clients that are not “money generators” per se – but the goodwill is worth its weight in gold – future bookings, referrals and great word of mouth

      1. So true, so true! Our travel agent values referrals far more than any dollars he earns. He truly loves what he does and goes out of his way to make trips as stress-free as possible. He has come to our rescue as well as others when things go awry. The service he provides is invaluable.

        1. yep – had a client check in, flight on time, then hit the runway, and delayed, delayed…..would be a misconnect in Atlanta — I called the airline, had her moved to a different carrier, texted her and waited till she landed. When they announced to the plane the situation, groans all around – she said, wait, let me check — yep, taken care of. The guy in front of her heard, asked HOW she booked, and she said with a travel agent, and asked him how he booked. He said Expedia, and then she asked “how’s that working for you?” She cracks me up – but she tells everyone, and it’s stories like this that let them see our true value. (And I cannot tell you how much traffic she sends, and so when other “agents” ask why I book something I make no commission on for a client like her, this is precisely why – she realizes the value, and lets everyone else know, too!) 🙂

  4. Great story. And to all those people who want to save a buck by using an OTA–it can wind up costing you a whole lot more, not just in money but in headaches.

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