Never be the first one to quote a number, expert negotiators say — and indeed, we all hesitate to share the price we are willing to pay for things. But when it comes to travel, telling your travel agent what budget you have in mind saves time and ensures you get the best possible vacation.
Buying a trip is different from other purchases; there is no do-over for a vacation gone wrong. And like any trusted advisor, the role of your travel professional is to match you up with the perfect product for you. So be honest, tell them what you like and how much you can afford to spend, and they will do their best to get you the most for your money.
“When a client is very resistant or hesitant to discuss budget, often it's because they don't understand our process as travel agents,” said Sally Black founder of Vacationkids.com. “A good agent knows it's not about selling this year's vacation. It's about creating a trusting relationship so you'll come back year after year while telling your friends to do the same. A good agent doesn't want to waste your precious time — and honestly, they don't want to waste their own time either.
“Often pricing is based on availability, especially with airline tickets. Buying decisions have to be made fairly quickly to avoid disappointments. Having a working budget allows you to make intelligent buying decisions on the fly. If you're working with a travel agent, expect the question about budget to come up.”
“A person’s opinion on what price is expensive or cheap is relative, so it is my job as their advocate and agent to get them the best experience for the right price for THEM!” said Chris Hornick, owner of Chris Hornick Dream Vacations in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. “I never want to insult a potential client by offering something ‘too cheap’ in their eyes or way ‘too expensive’ simply because I did not know.”
“I think people shy away from giving you their budget because they are scared you might find something lower and you’ll just inflate their vacation to the price they said,” said Heather Bannon, luxury travel consultant at Unique Romance Travel and Destination in Anacortes, Washington. “I usually ask for a range from ‘this is what you feel comfortable with’ to ‘this is what you thought it would cost’ to ‘this is what you’re willing to spend if your vacation has all the bells and whistles and then some.’ That helps me immensely and makes me a hero when I can get them everything they want and maybe not reach the high end of the budget.”
With much of his client base coming from honeymoon planning, Charles Russell, luxury travel advisor at By the Sea Travel, always starts with a personal consultation in which he “paints the picture of the perfect honeymoon over coffee or cocktails. Very late in the consultation I address desired budgetary range and flexibility so I can narrow down the field. Is the budget conversation awkward or uncomfortable? Not really, but it's absolutely necessary in assisting me with sometimes writing a reality check without seeming harsh.”
“The budget is a critical factor in any selling situation, including travel,” agreed travel expert Mitch Krayton at Krayton Travel in Aurora, Colorado. “It helps define the range and scope of travel suppliers’ abilities to meet the functional travel goals desired, and still keep the trip affordable and realistic. I simply ask, ‘What kind of budget do you have in mind?’ and I always get a candid answer. Anything less is too speculative. Clients come to us to be certain and not to roll the dice.”
At All Travel Company in Indianapolis, Suzanne Haire tries to avoid using the actual “b” word. “ ‘Budget’ by pure definition indicates limitation, sets a negative connotation to the conversation and puts people on the defensive.” So, she asks where clients have stayed before, what they liked, and what research clients have done before calling her. Then “I ask them to now turn over the researching to me.”
At the very end, she says, “based on the experience you have described to me, I believe your projected investment will be in the $XXXX to $XXXX range. Of course, I make every effort to get you the best return on investment — and that means that figure can go up or down based on the sections you choose and sales and product availability. Is this what you were expecting?”
Robert Merlin at SmartFlyer likes to break down his budgets into a daily rate to help clients better understand the big picture. Citing an idea he borrowed from Lila Fox Ermel, he said, “when they say they have $5,000 for 10 nights I say ‘great, so after airfare that leaves about $250 per day for hotel, food, tours and activities.’ Many say they had no idea and up their spend; others ask for alternatives that meet their budget.”
“So, before you set out to plan your next great adventure, have a frank family discussion about money and set a vacation budget. It will save time and avoid stress,” Black said. “Who knows? By staying focused and on track with your vacation finances, you may find that you have a little spending money left over to buy a sexy little black dress to wear on your next vacation!”