The AT Insider

What Do You Really Know?

A good travel agent is worth more than any commission they may earn. So, for all the best info on deals, incentives and preferred suppliers, listen close . . .

What do military intelligence and travel bookings have in common? Unless you’re planning on visiting Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, not much. But the following quote by US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld perfectly captures the difficulties of finding reliable travel information on the Internet:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things we know we don’t know. But, there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

A simple Internet search for travel or holiday options can bombard you with thousands of possibilities. Even if you read them all you can’t know whether they contain reliable information or are adverts in disguise. What’s more, there are always more options, the unknown unknowns that could be your dream holiday if only you knew they existed . . .

This is where travel agents come in. Professionals who have access to all the options and will help you find the best one, right? Not necessarily. What many people don’t realise is that often travel agents aren’t in the business of telling you everything; there are agents out there that will only tell you what they want you to know.

In the travel industry there’s fierce competition by the suppliers of travel, lodgings and tour products to become “preferred suppliers” of travel agencies. Ie, to be the product you’re told about first and steered towards, even though there may be another product better, cheaper or more suited to your needs.

In order for a lowly supplier to become a Preferred Supplier, deals are made with travel agencies involving extra commission or bonuses to promote their products ahead of competition. Alternatively, suppliers offer bonuses directly to travel agents in the form of free trips or tours if enough of their product is sold.

So, instead of a travel agent telling you what you know, what you don’t know and what you don’t know you don’t know, they just tell you about their company’s Preferred Suppliers. What’s more, you may not even get all of those options!

Getting paid on commission means the more expensive the travel option you choose, the more the agent earns, so an agent may neglect to mention some of the cheaper options. In some cases this is perfectly legitimate if they correctly judge that you’re seeking a higher standard of comfort or luxury; in other cases they do so purely to earn a higher commission.

Remember, not all travel agents are like this, so the best idea is to seek a second quote from an agent in an entirely separate group (eg, not simply going from one Flight Centre to another Flight Centre), compare it with what you found on the web, and book with whoever was the friendliest, most competent or best looking. It may be a few dollars cheaper on the web, but as the number and complexity of Internet travel options continues to increase, so will the importance of having a travel agent you can trust to wade through all the options for you. Once you find a good one who’s offering the right options for you, hold on tight (especially if they’re good looking) and they’ll tell you everything you really need to know.

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