Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Great letter to "book it yourself travel" enthusiasts....about travel agents

Dear client:

I hope and trust that you will book your next vacation with our firm. But we know there are alternatives out there, and we know you are receiving mailings and seeing ads that often urge you to book directly with a travel supplier online.

We enjoy an open and honest relationship with our clients. So I would like to share some straight talk with you about using toll-free numbers or websites to book your vacation directly with the provider.

The best-kept secret in the travel industry is that those who book direct are paying for something they are not receiving: the services of a professional travel consultant.

I realize you are being told that it is easy to book your cruise, tour or airline tickets online. You can do it yourself. Just trust the supplier to take care of everything and have your credit card within easy reach.

Be thrilled that you live in a time when you can just click and travel. It's all so easy, isn't it? Turn over your credit card number and personal information to someone in a cubicle in a reservations factory or, better still, to outsourced labor working out of a call center overseas. Now your credit card information is in Bangladesh, and your vacation will be expertly planned and delivered.

So why use my services?

Well, the first thing you need to know (the industry's best-kept secret) is that you are going to pay my fee or commission when you book directly because it is always -- not sometimes, always -- built into the price of any brochure program. It's the way the industry prices.

Tour operators and cruise lines, even top-grade hotels, love direct bookings because a portion of the travel agent's commission that is built in to every program simply goes into their pockets. They believe that it costs them far less to maintain order-takers in a reservations center.

One hotel chain, years ago, was actually using prisoners on work release to handle phone reservations. Most telephone res agents who work for cruise lines are commissioned salespeople with little knowledge of the industry. Their goal is simple: Try to get a direct booking, earn their smaller commission, and let the company pocket the rest of the total commission built into the fare.

So when you book something directly, you are making a sucker bet that the person on the other end of the line has your best interests at heart, will look out for further discounts and apply them to your record and will be there for you in an emergency.

Imagine what happens when you make a direct booking. Your credit card information is stored, and you receive a computer-generated invoice. That's it. You are now a travel statistic. The computer software that is now your "agent" will notify you when final payment is due, and you will receive final documents.

Of course, you will not receive any of the amenities available through our office, so you might actually be missing out on pricing incentives and advantages.

Let me state it as clearly as I can: With the exception of certain airline and hotel websites that run occasional online "sales," you will never receive preferred pricing on any online site.

If a tour operator or cruise line did not give us pricing that was equal to or better than what they offer on their site, no reputable travel consultant would ever again sell their product. It just never happens. You can always count on the fact that our pricing will be as good or better than any tour or cruise prices you see on direct booking sites.

But frankly, I don't want you to book with us because it is always a better value than booking directly. There are other, more important reasons that have little to do with price.

There is not enough space to list all of the things we provide to our valued clients that are never provided when you book directly with a cruise line or tour operator. But here are just a few to keep in mind:

We are going to compare what competitive companies offer. We are going to advise you on the very best product to meet your needs. We can point out the advantages and disadvantages of several options. Booking directly puts you in touch with a single-product sales person. That is all you get.

We provide special documentation and advice about ports, sightseeing options and even restaurants. We know the best times to do your itinerary, and we might have affiliated offices abroad that can make your vacation truly memorable.

One of the most important things we can do is analyze your travel insurance needs. If you book direct, you get no options, no discussion. You are offered only whatever the site happens to be selling. We offer a universe of options, and that often saves you money.

Suppose something goes wrong? Suppose someone gets sick, and you need help getting home in a hurry? Suppose your vacation experience was unsatisfactory? Who is your advocate if you are dealing directly with the company operating the program? You have none.

Perhaps the most important single thing that we do is give you an honest, unbiased view of both the upside and downside of the vacation option you are considering. Book direct and you get none of that. Everything about the product will be painted in glowing terms. Everything will smell like a strawberry.

Finally, a personal note.

When I go to sleep at night, I am generally aware of where my clients are traveling and what current conditions they are likely to encounter. I worry about my clients. I think about their welfare, and I think about ways that I can enhance their experiences abroad.

I am fairly certain that the direct booking tied up somewhere in a supplier's software booking program is incapable of showing a "booking statistic" much empathy.

Contributing editor Richard Turen owns Churchill and Turen.

I believe Mr. Turen that you get more bang for your buck having someone else do your planning, taking care of errors, and being there when needed. Something you can not get from a program or a call center agent, I hope as people read this that they understand that we are here to help them, and whether they use us or not, they have already paid for us. I hope you use Second Star Travel for your next travel need, and we get to meet you and help you plan your vacation dream.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Do you know how to use FastPass at Disney World?

Fastpass is Disney's brilliant answer to long lines at the most popular rides at their Walt Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. Many people simply don't take advantage of Fastpass and continue to wait in long theme park ride lines that they could have avoided.

There's a lot of misunderstanding how Fastpass works. So let's start with the most important points.

Fastpass is free with park ticket!

First of all, Fastpass is free to anyone holding a Disney parks admittance ticket. So if you've got your ticket to enter Walt Disney World (or Disneyland), then you've got your ticket to use Fastpass.

Our best advice is if you are going during a busy time? Use early entry if staying on site and change to another park when that park gets to crowded for your liking. Don't leave before using the Fastpasses you have collected throughout the day. Make sure you get the next Fastpass when it is available. Send older kids with everyone's passes to get them and meet you somewhere. Always go back to the hotel mid day to cool off in the pool and relax for the late night hours. Get plenty of water during the day, which you can bring in....water is expensive at WDW!!

Disney's Fastpass Distribution
Put your ticket into the machine, get a fastpass

                                                            How to Use Fastpass

In order to use it, all you need to do is place your Disney park ticket into the Fastpass machine, where available and it will then give you a ticket with a return time for that attraction.

You then return to that attraction anytime during the "return time" or later, so you don't have to race back to get on the ride the moment the Fastpass becomes valid. As long as you return after the first time listed n the Fastpass you can get in line. It is a misconception that you must ride within the hour stated.

Once your fastpass return time has rolled around, all you have to do is return to the attraction, get in the fastpass line and hand it over to the Disney cast member. You might wait a bit before riding, but usually it is no more than 10 minutes.

Note the time indicated for getting your next fastpass
How often can you get a fastpass?

When Disney first started the fastpass system, you could only hold one fastpass at a time, but they've since relaxed the rules slightly. Now, you can get your next fastpass either at the start of the "return time" for your current pass or two hours after the one you are holding was issued.

Because you will generally be holding only one fastpass at a time, it makes sense to have an attack plan for the attractions where you want to use it. Fastpass attractions tend to be spread throughout the park to prevent bottlenecks in one area of the theme park, so you'll want to plan a route that keeps you from criss-crossing the park all day long.

Arrive early for popular attractions

It's important to go and get your fastpass early for the popular rides on busy days. Otherwise you may find yourself with a fastpass that isn't good until late in the evening, after you've long since left the park. So, it is always best to get to the park early, get the fastpass to the popular rides first and then when it is busy in the afternoon, use up the fastpasses while everyone waits.

On the busiest days, some attractions will run out of fastpasses very early in the day. This is common at Animal Kingdom's Everest roller-coaster and Disney-MGM's Tower of Terror, and the ever popular Toy Story Mania at the Studios. So get your fastpass early for these attractions if you're at Disney World in the summer or on a holiday weekend.

Fastpass Attractions

Fastpass isn't available at every attraction in the Walt Disney theme parks, but it is usually for many of the most popular rides, including: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain and Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom; Soarin', Mission Space and Test Track at Epcot; Rock-n-Roll Roller Coaster, Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror at Disney-MGM Studios; and Kali River Rapids, Dinosaur and Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Wow it has been a while.....

Summer has come and gone...The kids are back to school, and actually so am I. Looking forward to my favorite season of the year Fall. Here in New England it is one of the best times to enjoy the great outdoors....but that is for another post.

Looking back this was a fun filled summer. We spent a month after coming back from the Epic (we weren't impressed), in Falmouth, Ma. Falmouth is on Cape Cod and in the summer is a bustling little town, that reminds you of days gone by. From visiting one of my favorite shops "Blast From the Past" on Main Street, to Ben and Bill's Chocolate Emporium. There is so much to do and see here. The best beach in Falmouth is hands down Old Silver Beach, but get there early their parking lot is small and it fills quickly! If you want to venture to other parts of the Cape, there are whale watches and aquariums, bike paths and National Parks. Kids can miniature golf, ride go-carts and do soccer and batting cages.

Want to see baseball as it used to be played, and see some upcoming talent? Go see the Cape Cod leagues team on a warm summer night. Baseball up close and under the lights. In some towns there are bands that play on certain evnings, and there are art festivals and food festivals. You can take fishing charters, visit Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket to hob nob with the well off. Or you can sit back and just enjoy the lazy days of just smelling the ocean breeze, and BBQing in the back yard. There is something for everyone....

Came home on Aug 1 and we were on a plane to Orlando, Florida on Aug 5th. Spent 10 great days in Disney, and one very wet but enjoyable day at Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Disney, is my obsession.....love planning to go, being there and hate coming home. One of those few vacations where there is something for everyone and everyone is happy. We spent 2 nights at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Kadani Village. Can't tell you how beautiful it was. We did not have a Savannah view, but when we walked out of our door and into the corridor there was a viewing area not 10 feet away. We stopped everyday to see the animals. We then transferred to the Dolphin Hotel. I love the Swan/Dolphin hotels but prefer the Swan only because it is smaller. Our suite here was gorgeous! We could see some of the fireworks from Illuminations from one of our windows. Love how easy it is to get to Epcot and The Studios. Not to mention that they have great rates...Sometimes you can get a rate there for the price of a moderate and have a 4* hotel. If you are a teacher or a nurse there is a special rate just for you. If you need help booking it let me know and we can help you. Then finally we had our last night at the Boardwalk. Another beautiful room, I can't say any of the three rooms we stayed at was a disappointment. They were incredible! We tried Magical Express for the first time and I was actually pleasantly surprised how quickly we got to the hotel, but then again we did get in after 6 pm.

The first Sunday of our trip we ventured to Island Of Adventure to experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I was more than impressed with the theming of the area. You really felt immersed in the movie...the shops were not for show and inside they were selling what they did in the movies. I loved the Gringots ATM, and do not miss the frozen butter beer....The line to get into the Wand shop was over 3 hours long on a day that it poured 80% of the time. The Harry Potter ride itself was incredible and Disney better stop and see what is going on over there! I have always thought that the Spiderman ride at Islands of Adventure ran circles around anything Disney had ever done, and I am a die hard Disney fan. Yes, the screens at times were a tiny bit grainy, and I could have done without the Dementors as I think they didn't quite fit in. But the ride as a hole was incredible. It is a must do...and you will want to do it again...If Island of Adventure/Universal continues putting out rides like this I will be visiting them more often. I plan to go again the next time I visit, on a day not so "WET"!

We took advantage of early entry and fastpass at Disney, at Island of Adventure we used front of the line, but it does not include the Harry Potter stuff. You must wait in line for that. We really did not need the front of the line, since it was raining and that helped clear the crowds. If it had been a sunny day, they would have come in handy to actually see the rest of the park. BTW, do visit the rest of the park...it has some great rides!

On Aug 16th we got on a plane and came home. It was almost time for my twin daughter to start high school and my oldest to go back to college for her second year of college. I am so feeling old. Now we are all back to school and summer is just a memory...but I am lucky that I have such fun filled summers with my girls and such great memories I can relive over and over!

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