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Vacation Planning Tips

pdf-logo1It is indeed difficult to plan the perfect vacation, mainly because a vacation is an intangible product. You can’t taste it, you can’t touch it (or lay on it, or sit on it), and you can’t test drive it (like you could a new car). Yet, you have to pay a lot of money up front (and you can’t get it back if you don’t like it). To do a thorough job, you talk to a lot of people, which makes it worse. 20 different people will give you 20 different opinions.

And once you have decided where to go and what to do, it gets even more complicated. Should you book it online yourself? Or go to an online travel agency or a full-service local travel agency, work directly with the cruise line or hotel and if so, should you go on their website, call their 800, or call the hotel directly long-distance? How about a wholesaler, charter flights, tour companies?

It just doesn’t end … AND to make it even more complicated, not one single way is consistently the best. The following six golden rules will hopefully make the planning of your next vacation as much fun as the vacation itself.

1. DON’T TRUST THE BROCHURE OR WEBSITE!

When looking at brochures always keep in mind that they are a form of advertising and can be extremely misleading. There is a reason that hotel brochures never have pictures of their “standard” rooms, but instead tempt you with glossy photos (taken with a wide-angle lens) of their suites.

LEARN TO READ BETWEEN THE LINES:

  • Oceanfront does not guarantee that you will see the ocean (your building might be oceanfront, but your window is facing away from the water). An ocean view room on the other hand, is not necessarily close to the beach (you might be 3 miles away, but still see a sliver of ocean on the horizon).
  • A 7 DAY package is only 6 nights, and not equal to a full week, but of course less expensive!
  • A DIRECT flight is NOT a nonstop flight.
  • ADJOINING or ADJACENT rooms are NOT necessarily connecting.
  • ALL-INCLUSIVE doesn’t always mean that everything is included.

LOOK FOR WHAT IS NOT MENTIONED IN THE BROCHURE: Become suspicious if the brochure mentions a big swimming pool and there is no picture of it to be found anywhere in the brochure. For the same reasons, you need to be just as careful and suspicious when checking out websites. Consider who owns them, whom they accept advertising from and whether the information offered is truly unbiased!

DON’T’ BE MISLEAD BY ADVERTISING, MAKE YOUR DECISION BASED ON FACTS.

2. BEWARE OF ADVERTISED BARGAINS!

Everybody in the travel industry operates on an extremely slim profit margin. Hence, there really is no room for any legitimate major price differences! Be especially diligent when dealing with out-of-state (or out-of-country) agencies, companies with PO boxes, advertised bargains on the Internet, and if you have to pay for something immediately. Check their record with the Better Business Bureau and find out who the owners are (or are they hiding behind a corporate “shield”).

Too often people are misled by “sales” and “discounted prices”. Important is not how much you are getting off (I will gladly raise a price by 60% and give you half off!), but how much you really are paying, and whether the price you were quoted includes all mandatory fees (taxes, fuel surcharges,transfers, insurance, etc). With 20-some travel agencies in most Sunday papers promising to beat their competitors’ price … you would eventually end up paying nothing!

IF SOMETHING LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT USUALLY IS.

3. KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN!

Yes, you can book your vacation online (and you can do your taxes all by yourself and write your own will too). Just because the information is available, it still does not turn the average person into a travel planning expert (or accountant, or lawyer). And it all can be very time consuming. Different websites list different airlines, but not a single one lists them all. Often, the less expensive airlines are not listed at all. Most websites also don’t allow you to put in for a Senior Citizen Discount, and a variety of other offers. You might be better off to have a vacation planner (i.e. travel agent) do the work for you. Most of them charge a small fee for airline tickets.

However, because of their extensive experience, good agents often can save you much more than their fee: A couple recently asked us for tickets from Rennes to Paris. On Orbitz it priced at $753 per person. We issued a ticket from Rennes to Paris (and a week later a flight from Paris to Nice – as a throwaway segment). This lowered the total price to $162 per person. We were able to save this couple almost $1200!

Most agencies don’t charge fees for booking cruises, all-inclusive resorts, family reunions, safaris, etc,since travel agencies receive a commission for recommending them. Mistakenly then, some people believe they can save money by dealing directly with these companies. The truth is that many of them don’t even deal with the public and if they do, they will not pass on the commission (normally paid to a travel agency) to an individual customer as this would completely alienate the very “hand that feeds them”. So the question remains, whether finding the absolute lowest price is always the best use of your time. There is always a way to slice another $5.00 off the price, but it is probably not worth it if you must squander an extra day finding that discount coupon.

The best deal in travel isn’t necessarily the lowest price – a cheap vacation can turn into an expensive mistake! YOUR TIME IS MONEY and the best deal in travel is the price that logically balances a reasonable expenditure of money AND TIME … and lets you rest assured that your vacation plans are well taken care of.

4. CHOOSE THE RIGHT TRAVEL AGENCY!

This can be quite difficult and takes a little time. Here is what you need to know: Travel agencies don’t price their products (cruises, safaris, airline tickets, resorts, etc.), the suppliers (cruise lines, tour operators, airlines, hotels, etc.) do. All travel agencies have access to the same packages and brochures/websites and work with very similar reservation systems. Therefore, it is important to understand that all travel agencies have access to the same prices. Just because one travel agency recommends a more expensive cruise line, does not mean that this travel agency is more expensive. They might have had a bad experience with the cheaper cruise line, know it to be financially unstable, or don’t feel it is the right match for you.

If you are truly comparing “apples with apples” you will get the same price regardless of who you book it with, unless you are comparing different travel dates (which can change a price dramatically), or you are not comparing prices on the same day. Prices can vary dramatically, based not only on your travel date, but also on when you booked it. It used to be possible to get lower prices with some of the online agencies, but that has become increasingly difficult and the most current surveys show that many times their prices are actually higher (AND you are spending a lot of YOUR time planning your vacation!). On their website, Continental Airline offers a $100 American Express Traveler’s Check to anybody who can find a lower price anywhere (online or not!). Since most cruise lines, airlines and hotels offer similar guarantees, travel agencies (who have direct access to these sites) are able offer you the absolute best value!

IT WON’T COST YOU ANYTHING TO HAVE A PROFESSIONAL PLAN YOUR VACATION,
SO SHOP AROUND FOR AN AGENCY THAT OFFERS YOU GOOD SERVICE AND EXPERIENCED CONSULTANTS.

Then, have the agency shop around for the best price on your behalf – and spend your time packing.

5. PRICE IS IMPORTANT, BUT… an inexpensive vacation can turn into an expensive mistake.

Stay away from travel agencies that promise and focus too much on just offering you the lowest price. Too often I have seen people book what they thought was an inexpensive vacation and then spend way too much on insurance and other “necessary” options. It’s interesting to note that many online agencies sell insurance at largely inflated premiums. They understand that most consumers don’t have the knowledge and experience to shop around for the best coverage at the lowest price. Price all components of your vacation before becoming a victim to this scheme!

IF you don’t feel like your travel agent wants to truly establish a long-term relationship, and asks you lots of questions BEFORE recommending anything, keep looking. Remember, a low price is great, but if you don’t enjoy your vacation, you can never get that time back.

6. A GREAT TRAVEL AGENT IS PRICELESS!

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO WASTE YOUR OWN TIME, WHEN IT WON’T COST YOU ANYTHING TO HAVE AN EXPERIENCED PROFESSIONAL BOOK A VACATION FOR YOU- AT THE SAME PRICE OR LOWER?

An experienced agent can also save you money by thinking outside of the box. You might proudly proclaim that you got prices from every single rental car company in France and you are convinced that you locked in the best deal for a month long rental. In a similar situation, we suggested to LEASE the car, instead of RENT it, and saved the client over $1000! The whole transaction took 4 minutes!

Our main goal is to establish a long-term relationship with you as our customer and have you book your vacations with us for many years to come. We are your ONLY unbiased and independent resource for a great vacation, because we don’t care whether you want to take your sweetie to Tahiti, go golfing in Scotland, take your kids on a safari, or plan a family reunion on a cruise ship. Our main goal is to make sure that we will get you the best price AND your vacation will live up to your expectations and you will have such a fantastic time that you can’t wait to go on another one!

Over 400 unsolicited thank you letters on display in our office confirm our success. Allow yourself not only to fall in love with a new place, but also to see the same place (and yourself!) in a different light. It’s good to dream and even better to make a dream come true.

And remember, statistics clearly prove that people who take vacations regularly, live longer!

Excel Travel: “I feel itchy for Fiji”

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