ASTA on Monday blasted an article on CheatSheet.com, calling
the story -- which plagiarized a years-old article from The Daily Telegraph and
incorrectly attributed information to Travel Weekly -- an "error-ridden"
article embarrassing to Cheat Sheet.
The article, "This Is the No. 1 Secret to Cheap Travel
That Your Travel Agent Won't Tell You" by Barri Segal, was posted on
Monday, March 19. It offers a 16-point list, with entries like "they might
take advantage of you if you're a loyal customer," "new agents will
give you a better deal" and "they'll rip you off with travel
Many quotes throughout the article are incorrectly
attributed to Travel Weekly when, in reality, they seem to have come from a
February 2010 article posted on News.com.au and the Daily Telegraph in
Australia, "What Travel Agents Don't Want You to Know" by Kate
Travel Weekly has contacted Cheat Sheet regarding the
multiple incorrect attributions.
In a response to the article, ASTA said, "Before
publishing 'articles' like this, do some solid research about the facts. Cheat
Sheet has embarrassed itself here, but it didn't have to."
The Society released its own 16-point list, responding to
the assertions in the Cheat Sheet article.
For instance, the third point in the Cheat Sheet story is
that agents "make the most money if someone dies."
Its author, Segal, writes, "This is perfectly awful,
but unfortunately, travel agents make the most money when they have to make
last-minute reservations, such as flights for unexpected funerals. 'Times of
need such as death, illness or other urgent trips are where agents see the big
bucks. Airlines don't charge any more for late bookings, but the agent sure
will,' a travel agent told Travel Weekly. Don't use a travel agent if you have
an emergency trip come up -- book your trip yourself.'"
The entry continues, "And another said, 'I remember a
time when I marked an airfare up $600 over what you could get it for on the
internet or with the airline direct. A family member had passed away in the
U.S. and they wanted to leave the following day. I felt a bit guilty, but it
paid for a big weekend of partying.'"
ASTA called this "as false as it is insulting. Exactly
what is the source of knowledge of agents' business practices on which these
claims are based? ... Suggesting that a travel agent would charge a grieving
customer more for an emergency trip is a blanket false statement. Many travel
agents arrange travel for their clients with NO FEE at all!"
Another assertion from the Cheat Sheet story is that "new
agents will give you a better deal." The story incorrectly cites an agent
source telling Travel Weekly that new agents "don't have the confidence to
rip you off."
ASTA said the statement "is false on so many levels"
because an agent's value comes from their expertise and affiliations, not how
long they have been in business.
In a message to Cheat Sheet, Arnie Weissmann, editor in
chief of Travel Weekly, pointed to eight instances of quotes falsely attributed
to Travel Weekly in the article. He also pointed out a link to a Travel Weekly
column included early in the story, which he called "misleading."
Under Segal's first point, asserting agents "can't book
or price all airline carriers," she wrote that "Believe it or not,
travel agents can't book -- or get prices from -- all airline carriers,
according to Travel Weekly. Agents cannot book Southwest when they're putting
together wholesale packages that include air, hotel, and transfers. Because
they can't use Southwest for these types of packages, you might end up spending
more than you have to. Southwest often offers the lowest prices across the
board for flights."
The Cheat Sheet article linked to an April 2015 Travel
Weekly column by Richard Turen, "10 Things Your Agents Won't Tell You,
Revisited," discussing a 2013 article in Woman's Day that caused an uproar
in the industry. In his column, Turen wrote that sometimes, agents cannot
choose Southwest when booking some wholesale packages.
Regarding the Cheat Sheet article, Weissmann said, "This
paragraph, with its provocative lead, is misleading at best, as the Travel
Weekly writer is referring to a specific subset of packaged vacations."
"Assuming the person who reads this is a journalist,
you know what you must do," Weissmann said. "If this was brought to
my attention, I would take the article down immediately, discipline the writer,
evaluate whether the article has enough service to readers to see if it was
worth cleaning up and republish with a correction and statement of regret and
then say a prayer that I won't get sued by the Daily Telegraph."