March 24, 2011

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Travel Advisor

1) Be honest about your budget. If you really have no idea, a ballpark range is fine. It’s helpful to know if your idea of a reasonable vacation budget is $3000 or $10,000. And don’t give a low ball number assuming that your advisor is going to quote something higher. Trust me, a good travel advisor gets a thrill out of finding a great deal for their client. And if you really were willing to spend a bit more, you might have missed out on a deal on a better resort or cruise line.

2) Tell your advisor early on of any special needs, medical issues, or non-negotiable personal preferences. It’s a waste of time for everyone if your advisor has researched lots of options, only to find out that you absolutely will not stay a resort that won’t guarantee connecting rooms, or you must have a water slide.

3) Answer all questions promptly and thoroughly, especially when it involves traveler information such as birthdates, passport expiration dates, etc. If incomplete information is on a reservation (even a courtesy hold), and it has to be cancelled and rebooked, the price could be higher. And reply to phone calls and emails promptly. It’s very stressful for an advisor to wait for a client to call with credit card information when a reservation is hours away from expiring.

4) If you’re price shopping, be honest about it up front. A good advisor spends a lot of time talking with their clients, to find the best vacation at the best value, not just the cheapest price. But if you know where you want to go and simply want a comparison quote, an advisor may be willing to provide it if it doesn’t require a lot of research. If you send them on a wild goose chase only to book your trip on the internet, don’t plan on coming back to them for future assistance. You’ve made it clear you are not interested in a long term relationship. Travel advisors are also not inclined to ask for special favors from their contacts, such as room upgrades or VIP status, if a client has put them through the wringer to get the rock bottom price.

5.) Similarly, let them know if you are looking for an AAA rate or plan to use airline miles or hotel points. Generally a travel advisor will not be able to book these for you, or will charge separate fees. Quite often travel advisors have put together packages which have specially negotiated airfare and hotel rates, so you might be better off saving your points for another trip.

6) Ask for their advice, even if you are sure you want to stay at Hotel XYZ. A good travel advisor will want to know the reason for your choice. Maybe you are relying on advice from a friend who has a completely different travel style, or you read a biased article in a magazine. Travel advisors love clients who do a lot of research on a destination or resort, so that they start off well-informed. But be aware that your advisor probably has more accurate and unbiased information from their extensive insider network.

7) Don’t tell your advisor “Let me know if you see any great deals.” Unless you really want to be forwarded dozens of emails daily! I literally get hundreds of promotions each week, and unless I know a client is specifically interested in a particular destination or resort, I delete them. (And believe me, there are none that say “Hey everyone, we’re giving our rooms away for free and also paying half your airfare!”) If you are solely going to plan your family vacation around price, then you probably aren’t the type of traveler who needs a travel advisor.

8) Tell your advisor about the trips you have loved most and least, and why. You would be surprised how much insight that gives us to your travel personality. It helps us match you to the right destination and resort for your next trip.

The most valuable piece of advice I can give: interview several travel advisors, and find one with whom you have a rapport and you can trust. And then stick with them. If you build a strong, long term relationship with a travel advisor, they will be able to create wonderful family vacations for you for many years to come.

March 16, 2011

Family Feeding Frenzy

When airlines quit serving meals, many travelers felt annoyed and inconvenienced. As a mother of two rapidly growing children, I was truly alarmed. How in the world was I going to keep my kids fed on long flights? Because as every parent knows, a hungry child is a an extremely grumpy child!

On vacation last summer, we faced one of the longest flights we have ever been on as a family: 7 hours nonstop from
Puerto Rico to California. And my son, almost 13 yrs old, was an eating machine.

As my husband and I were packing up the night before our flight home, we surveyed the kitchen of our villa, wondering what to do with the sandwich supplies we had purchased with good intentions, but never got around to eating. We could certainly make sandwiches to take on the plane, but how were we going to carry them?

Then my husband had a brilliant idea. With the help of our son, he emptied the entire loaf of bread onto the counter and set up a sandwich-making assembly line. In no time they had a dozen ham, turkey, and cheese sandwiches made, which he then restacked and inserted back into the bread bag. We tied it up, stuck it in the refrigerator, and it was ready to go the next morning.

As we walked through the airport with our “loaf” I am sure we got a few stares. (And we did receive a bit of extra attention from a sniffer dog at San Juan International Airport. The DEA agent actually had to encourage him to move away from us.) But I bet some of those looks turned to envy as we pulled what seemed to be an endless supply of sandwiches out of that bag throughout the flight.

We have a trip to France coming up in April, our first flight will be 10 hours long. So we are already talking about using this same strategy for keeping our kids full during the trip.

Do you have any tips for feeding your kids on long plane rides? What foods have you found pack well and keep kids full? Please post your comments here!