To err is human, even for a travel professional. And indeed, one might say there’s no better way to impart a memory on your brain than by getting things wrong the first time. When Travel Market Report asked travel advisors to share some of the mistakes they made early in their careers, we ended up with 10 tips for travel booking success. Here are some of the tales they told; file under “Why you need a travel advisor.”
1. Either do clients’ online check-in yourself and have them sign a waiver — or have them do it and then recheck everything.
Several years ago, Cheryl Dworman, at Howell Travel and Cruises, had a client insist he would take care of the online check-in for a cruise she booked — and then use his own passport number for each family member with whom he was traveling. When he arrived at the pier, the cruise line would not allow them on board; it took a supervisor three hours to clear them. Luckily, Dworman had him sign a waiver. After that, she said: “I do online check-in because I want to make sure all the information is input correctly. I make copies of all the information and send it with their documents or email them the pages. More work for me, but I know it is done correctly.”
Others suggested that doing the online check-in incurs unnecessary liability; they have the client do it, but then they double-check everything.
2. Get it all in writing, especially with travel insurance.
After years as owner of Promal Vacations, Helen Prochilo finally took this advice recently and started having clients sign a waiver when they decline travel insurance. “Wouldn’t you know, the first client I had that signed the waiver had to cancel — and the first thing out of her mouth when I told her she was in 100% penalty was, ‘You never told me about insurance.’ I forwarded her the paperwork and said, ‘I most certainly did and here’s your signature declining it.’”
3) If they don’t pay by the deadline, let it go.
There was only one time when Avril Victoria Winkle, of Destination Travel Services, broke her own rule about this — and of course, she got burned. When one bridesmaid in a wedding party had not actually sent in her check, she let it slide, hoping to build an ongoing relationship with the bride, who owned the local bridal shop. “I never thought for one second that a bridesmaid would not pay on time. I had mentioned penalties multiple times, and the other 35 in the group had paid. And, I was leaving to go home to Ireland for Christmas when the payment came due. When I got back, I called the bride and she said she and the bridesmaid had had a falling out and I should cancel; she went nuts when I said she had signed the group contract and was responsible. Long story short, guess who ended up paying pretty much 100%?”
4. Check the names a second time — and a third.
When booking his client, George Richard Dow, Cruise Planners franchise owner Jeff Page noticed the booking had been made as Richard George. He called the cruise line to make sure they corrected the name on their own paperwork — and more importantly, on the airline reservation they had booked for Mr. Dow. “I asked them to check it and get back to me ASAP. Two days later, they called to say his name was reversed. It cost me $350 to fix it.”
Maggie Harland Barton at SmartFlyer and Suzanne Haire at Travel Agent Suz take it a step further; they require that clients send a picture of their passports — and indeed, “most of the time, something is different from the forms they filled out,” Barton says.
5. Sell what you know.
“Be sure you know your product so you can set the correct expectations for the client,” says Geoff Millar at Ultimate All Inclusive Travel, Inc. Every resort and cruise line caters to a slightly different audience, and the key to being a great travel advisor is to know whether the couple sitting before you is looking for adventure or for romance — and where to find it. “A lot of bad reviews I read indicate it wasn’t a bad resort, it was just a bad fit,” Millar says. “Over the years, we have figured out, sell what you know. And we have had no problems.”
6) Watch those payment deadlines.
Nothing hurts more than having to pay big bucks for a little mistake. At Lainey Melnick & Associates - Dream Vacations, Melnick still recalls the time years ago when, busy with other things and confused by different time zones, she cut it too close and missed the final payment for a client’s balcony suite — and the system automatically canceled the trip and charged a $500 deposit penalty. When she called, the cruise line credited her back the $500, but the suites were all sold out. So Melnick paid for a $4,500 upgrade out of her own pocket. And, she never heard from the client again.
7. Charge a planning or trip cancellation fee to cover your time if they don’t use you to book it. Many travel advisors talked about spending hours doing research, only to have the client book the trip that they had suggested on their own. “Now, I know what my time is worth,” says Sylvia Curbelo Longmire of Spin the Globe Travel; she charges for any research that takes more than 15 minutes.
8. File it now.
Of course, you are multitasking. But don’t put it away until it’s done. Lori Gold, of TWIL Travel, still remembers the time a client canceled a five-night booking at 800 euros a night — and she just got sidetracked and forgot to do it. In the end, the hotel had mercy on her. But from then on, she said, “Nothing leaves my inbox until it’s complete and gets filed in the appropriate folder.”
9. Pay by credit card.
Jenifour Jones, of Go Get It Events & Travel, learned the hard way that wire transfers are not the best option. “It is important for purchases to be protected by a credit card,” she says, so if things go wrong, the traveler has an extra advocate. Many credit cards also offer other benefits, from waived baggage fees to trip delay and lost baggage insurance.
10. Don’t forget that the devil is in the documentation.
At Sharon Johnson – Dream Vacations, Johnson once assumed a client was a U.S. citizen and neglected to ask. When he got to London to start the cruise on which he planned to propose to his girlfriend, he was told that because he was a citizen of Belize, he needed a visa. After begging for mercy, Johnson convinced Celebrity Cruises to offer the man a $3,000 credit toward a future cruise — but she felt terrible nonetheless.
And yes, there’s a final lesson in there: Build those relationships with a few preferred suppliers, too.