With the latest airport security issues, airline hassles, roadway tie-ups and expensive gas fill-ups, how can you smooth the trip for your clients? Several home-based agents shared their insight and trip tips with us.
First off, pick the correct accommodations for your clients, whether they're traveling on land or sea. "If my clients are going on a cruise, it pays [for me] to be very familiar with the layout of the cruise line, cabins and cabin locations," says Kaye Reece, the owner of Sun-Daze Travel (www.sundazetravel.org) in Hixson, TN. "Find out what your clients' limitations are, and if they are elderly, look for cabins close to the elevators to cut down on walking."
Educating clients is paramount, according to Bonnie Schwarz, the owner of Travelwbon (www.travelwbon.com), a Partners in Travel agency in Orlando, FL. "I feel that if you give your clients all the information possible that their vacation will go very smoothly. When I book a trip, I send them what I call a 'recap e-mail.' It gives all the information they need from beginning to end. It's very detailed."
When booking a cruise, she also sends them the links to the cabin pre-registration, shore excursions and documentation. "They usually read my e-mails and have very few questions," says Schwarz. "I feel that when they arrive at their destination, they are totally informed."
Michelle Duncan, president and CEO of home-based Odyssey Travel (www.odysseytravelinc.com) of Centreville, VA, advises clients to give flight and travel contact details to a family member or friend and to have someone they trust keep tabs on their home—collecting newspapers and mail for security's sake.
Recommending travel insurance is a must. When Reece's clients are worried about getting ill either from seasickness or reports of shipboard bugs, she also gives them parting gifts, such as hand sanitizer. Most agents tell clients to wash their hands frequently while traveling.
At the Airport
With recent baggage fees imposed by airlines, packing light is crucial to avoiding a trying travel experience.
"If you have a scale at home, weigh the suitcase empty and then after you've packed," says Duncan. "This way, by making sure you are under the 50 pounds allowed, you won't be trying to find places to move your belongings or paying extra to get your bag to travel with you."
"Lay everything flat in clear bags," recommends Liz Fisher, a SeaMaster Cruises franchise owner (www.cruisesbyliznpaul.com) in Mandeville, LA. "If you do get checked, they can easily go through your bag and not destroy your packing job." Also, tell clients to leave the shampoo and conditioner at home, as they can use the ones on the ship, thus avoiding carry-on dilemmas and extra weight, according to Daze.
To mitigate potential flight hiccups, "have the client go into a departing port the night before, as airlines do have delays and bankruptcies," recommends Haze.
Getting to the airport early is also a client stress reliever. Ticket counter lines, checkpoint delays, computer malfunctions, late-arriving shuttle buses and other airport logistical problems aren't uncommon. "I normally tell my guests to get to the airport a minimum of 21/2 hours early for a domestic flight and 31/2 to four hours early for an international flight," says Duncan.
Tell clients to write down the lot number, color code and row number for their parked car and put that in their wallet. It's common to see travelers with luggage in tow roaming through airport parking lots in search of "lost cars."
If clients are among the first passengers at flight check-in, they'll have a good chance of adjusting their seat. Arriving early is crucial if the flight is heavily booked and the client was unable to get a seat assignment at booking. Wheelchair-assist passengers should also arrive early.
Advise clients not to linger in the main terminal. Instead, head through the security checkpoint immediately after check-in. Then relax at the gate with a cup of coffee or a good book. "Knowing you have padded your travel time with an adequate cushion at least takes the panic factor out of, 'Will I get through this line in time to make my flight?'" says Duncan.
In addition, be sure to tell clients about the latest TSA rules on what items are permitted through the checkpoint. "I give?my clients?a list to go by just to make sure they are not held up at the airport," says Haze. Advise clients to put their medicines, camera, video equipment, jewelry and a change of clothing in a carry-on, not in their checked luggage.
Haze also tells clients to watch their personal items go through the screening machine before they enter the metal detector. That helps avoid items from being snatched on the main terminal side.
"For guests flying, I recommend they bring their own headsets for the in-flight entertainment systems and some reading materials," says Duncan. She also suggests bringing a packaged snack to eat onboard the flight or, alternatively, to purchase a snack onboard, if that's offered.
On the Road
For road trips, Duncan says clients should start in the wee hours of the morning. "Yes, before the sun comes up is preferable, say 2 a.m. or 3 a.m.," she stresses. "By doing that, if they are planning on driving to a destination that is six to eight hours normally, they will then arrive mid-morning or early afternoon, and avoid high-traffic times."
The cooler morning temperatures also help with better gas mileage as less fuel evaporates. Fisher advises clients to "check air in the tires, as it saves gas." Other agents advocate using cruise control and driving at a lower speed for optimum mileage.
And "when driving overseas, pay attention to where you are," notes Haze. "If you wouldn't go down that road at home, don't go down that road in a foreign country."