he article in the July 3 issue of
SmartMoney was titled "Ten Things Your Travel Agent Won't Tell
Uh-oh, I thought. An insider is going to reveal some travel
agents' trade secrets -- how they get a room in a sold-out hotel,
for instance, or how they know which cabins are the best on a
specific cruise ship.
Instead of getting an insider's view of what travel agents know,
I found myself reading a painfully simple-minded view of how travel
agents operate. Over and over, I saw the gaping distance between a
reporter and knowledge of the subject matter she was writing
The article, by Stacey L. Bradford, appeared to be building a
case that agents, intentionally or by default, often work against
the interests of consumers and that wise readers would do well to
consider other channels to buy travel.
I found myself sighing for Bradford's naivete, wondering at her
logic and occasionally cringing to think that some readers might be
swayed from using agents on the basis of her advice.
It would not be difficult to issue a point-by-point rebuttal of
the article, but Carlson Wagonlit Travel's Associate Division may
possess a more effective response than a he-said, she-said
Back in April, Roger Block, CWT's executive vice president,
Associates Division, asked his member agencies to send in examples
of ways in which travel agents have "saved the day" for their
clients. He shared some of the responses he received, and
collectively, they present a convincing case that if you don't use
a travel agent now, you'd be smart to begin. Some examples:
• A client walked into Cynthia Dalton-Rogers' agency in North
Charleston, S.C., hoping to find a fare to Reno, Nev., lower than
$1,900 (quoted by airlines). She walked out with a ticket, two
hotel nights and a two-day car rental for $677 (including the $50
agency service fee). The agent, of course, knew the ins and outs of
vacation package deals.
• Two clients of Tricia Johnson, an agent in a CWT office in
Eden Prairie, Minn., needed to be on a certain NWA flight because
they were traveling with a party that had already purchased
tickets. They surfed the Net and found a $620.20 fare. Johnson knew
to check Continental code shares and offered them the same seat for
$343.97, saving $552.46 in total.
• Kathy Etzkorn, an agent in High Point, N.C., had a client who
needed to get from White Plains, N.Y., to Cleveland, returning the
same day. The fare showed as $1,064. Etzkorn searched for fares to
nearby airports -- LaGuardia, Kennedy, Bradley in Hartford, Conn.
-- without luck, but then tried Akron, 40 miles from Cleveland, and
found a fare for only $293.50. Upon hearing that he saved $770.50,
the client didn't seem to mind paying the $35 service fee.
• Austin, Texas, agent Deanie Martin's husband's flight was
canceled 14 minutes before take-off, and he was told to line up at
the ticket counter to be rescheduled. He got in line but also
called her immediately. She grabbed the last seat on the next
flight out that same morning. The woman in front of him in line was
given a three-hour bus ride to another airport, where she was to
board a 6 p.m. flight. She had booked her ticket on line.
• One day, a woman came into Kerrie Morrow's Portland, Ore.,
office to book a car rental from Amsterdam to Paris -- she already
had booked air at another agency. She declined all insurance.
When later her car (with clothes, travel docs and money in the
trunk) was stolen from a small town in France, she called Morrow's
office in a panic -- she couldn't even remember the name of the
agency where she had bought her airline tickets.
Morrow called the car rental company and had another car sent to
her stranded client. She also ascertained that the car rental
agency had made a photocopy of her client's passport and credit
card and arranged for that to be given to her client, as well. She
directed her client to the U.S. embassy for a replacement passport.
And, finally, she called the airline and set up a lost ticket
application, convincing the airline to waive all fees -- all for a
client who had bought the ticket from another agency.
• While backing out of her driveway, Nancy Twitchen, an agent
affiliated with CWT in Asheville, N.C., was approached by a man who
asked her how he could get to "Pinehurst," (the name of her street
as well as the golf resort). He had booked a flight (on the
Internet) into the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport in South
Carolina, which was, unbeknownst to him, 250 miles from his North
There was not much she could do about the drive he now faced,
but she went into her house and called a representative she knew at
She rebooked the man's return ticket out of Charlotte, N.C.,
saving him 100 miles of driving on his return trip.
In each of these examples, agents went the extra mile to help.
In the last example, the traveler who was helped by an agent wasn't
even a paying client.
One of the worst things about the SmartMoney article was that it
painted travel agents exclusively as agents of self-interest. That
was the message, that's "what your travel agent won't tell
It's unfortunate that what SmartMoney won't tell consumers about
travel agents is so much more important to its readership than what
it does tell them.