Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

In June, an anonymous bidder paid $3.3 million just to have lunch with billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

So it seems like a relative bargain for a travel agent to shell out $2,500 to spend the entire day with sales superstar Vicki Freed.

That's what Dream Vacations franchisee Lainey Melnick paid last year at the Dream Vacation conference when Freed put a day up for auction, with the proceeds going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Melnick recently flew to Miami to cash in on her time with Freed, the senior vice president of sales, and trade support and service at Royal Caribbean International.

It was a full day, Melnick recalled.

"They had us scheduled from the moment I woke up until I headed back to the airport," said Melnick, whose agency is in Austin, Texas.

First she met with executives at Royal headquarters. Then it was on to the Mariner of the Seas for a tour and lunch in Jamie's Italian. She got time with many department heads ranging from national accounts to deployment to food and beverage to revenue management.

"I don't get access to people at that level normally," Melnick said. "They were very forthcoming about lots of exciting things that are in the works, that I'm not allowed to talk about."

Freed said she also spent time talking one-on-one with Melnick about techniques for building business, sourcing new clients and keeping existing clients.

"Vicki is in the hall of fame," said Melnick, who has been a travel agent since 2011. "She's one of the most powerful women in the travel industry. She has a very unique way of doing business and I really wanted to learn from her."

Melnick, who ran for Congress in 2010 against one of the senior Republicans in the Texas delegation, said that spending the day with Freed was a kind of challenge to herself to improve her career success. "I wanted to push myself to get to the next level by modeling successful people," she said.

As to the cost, Melnick said she definitely got her money's worth.

"I really got a lot out of all the executives at Royal Caribbean," she said. "They were all wonderful and gave me some great tips and I felt like they really cared about what I had to say about improvements they could make."

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