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John Frenaye

Travel Agents - Don't leave home without one

In previous columns, Iíve told you when you donít need a travel agent. Iíve also told you when you canít trust a travel agent. But when do you absolutely have to call a professional?

Well, here are two scenarios when you must - repeat, must - call an agent.

1. The honeymoon. You bought the ring, mustered up the nerve to actually ask someone and now you might be shelling out upwards of $30,000 for the whole shebang. Please remember that somewhere in the ceremony the words ďtill death do you partĒ will probably be uttered. Please remember that if you screw this up, death will come sooner than expected.

If there ever was a vacation that must go off without a hitch, this is it. This is the Big Kahuna.

A trusted travel agent will know what needs to be done to make this go off without a hitch. If you are happy now, you are going to come back again and again - that anniversary trip, the family vacation to Disney, the renewal of vows cruise, and that retirement trip.

Good agents build relationships, and a honeymoon is a great start. Your agency should match the destination to your interests. But it should also have personal contacts with the resorts and destinations.

A good agent will be sure that everywhere you go you are treated like a VIP - with upgrades, gifts, and special amenities. For this vacation, you are the king and queen of the world and should be treated as such. And remember, the resorts want your agent to send more people so they have a vested interest as well.

Donít leave this one to chance. A couple I know booked their honeymoon online with a one hour connection in Chicago for their December destination wedding in St. Lucia. The bride and groom were late to the wedding and the bridal gown spent the honeymoon in St.Thomas.

2. The business trip. Any medium or large corporation that spends a great deal of money on travel needs an agent. Travel and entertainment - T&E in business-travel speak - is the second largest and most manageable budget item for most corporations. While small companies can probably manage their own travel, it makes sense to centralize your purchasing and utilize an agency if you are a medium to large company with multiple travelers.

A good corporate agency can identify trends in your travel in order to save you money. It can negotiate hotel, car, and airline contracts for you. Itís there to plead your case for the elusive waiver and favor. Many good agents can also negotiate to have your frequent flier status upgraded.

You may pay your agent a management fee, or a transaction fee but this is money well spent. Your agent knows the ins and outs of corporate travel - for example, to never issue a ticket until the last minute. Your agent will have access to the same Web fares that you can find - just remember you must compare apples to apples. Your agent will have a 24 hour service to handle your trip when your plans change. And most importantly, your agent will have the knowledge, intuition, and experience that most consumers and all Web sites lack.

A self-booked client made his connection in Paris with two hours between flights. We received a call because he couldnít find his gate. (Hint: there are two airports in Paris). And to quote those wonderful MasterCard commercials - cab fare to the right airport: 60 eurosÖunexpected hotel stay in an airport hotel: 210 EurosÖairline change fee: $100 your missed business meeting: priceless.



John Frenaye is the president of JVE Group, Inc., a diversified company based in Annapolis, Md. With a background in business management, he writes about the travel industry as an insider with an outsider's perspective.


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