Travel Pros' Tips for No-Hassle Vacations

By Bell, Carrie Sears | Medical Economics, February 9, 1998 | Go to article overview

Travel Pros' Tips for No-Hassle Vacations


Bell, Carrie Sears, Medical Economics


Get the airfare, hotel, rental car, and cruise you want for discount rates.

Ever get turned away from a hotel where you had a "guaranteed" reservation? Or been billed for damage to a rental car-a month after you returned it in perfect condition? Ever buy an electronic airline ticket, only to learn at the airport that your reservation has vanished from the computer? Or taken a discount cruise that proved to be the boat ride from hell?

If you answered No to every question, count yourself lucky-so far, at least. Such vacation snafus are as common as colds, but they stick in your memory a lot longer. After all, vacations are supposed to be fun and hassle-free.

To keep yours that way-and save some money-follow these tips.

1. Get it in writing. Confirm all transportation and hotel arrangements via fax or mail. You'll be glad you did when the airline clerk can't find your reservation, or the hotel representative says the inn is full and tries to send you away.

Faced with written proof of your guaranteed reservation, a hotel that can't provide the type of room you selected is more likely to give you an upgrade or find comparable accommodations elsewhere for the same price. Similarly, a rental-car company should supply the kind of vehicle you reserved, or, if it's not available, something better at no extra charge.

"It's hard to argue with a written confirmation, but 99 percent of people don't ask for one," says Berkeley, Calif., attorney Stephen Colwell, co-author of "Trouble-Free Travel."

2. Know when to use a travel agent. If you're planning a complicated trip or going to an unfamiliar destination, you're probably better off using a travel agent. The good ones do a lot of business with travel suppliers, so they know the flavor of each significant airline, hotel, and cruise line. They also know the best attractions and have the clout to get you choice deals. Just as important, they can help you solve any problems that arise during your vacation.

You want an agent who specializes in leisure travel, comes highly recommended by friends or associates, and understands your preferences. "We're basically an unregulated industry, so word-of-mouth recommendations are your best bet," says Jim Maggio, owner of Hastings Travel in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

Though travel agents still are smarting from the airline industry's slashing of their commissions (from 10 to 8 percent of clients' airfare), you shouldn't have to pay a travel-agent fee for a vacation package that includes airfare and a cruise, or air, hotel, and a rental car. "The agency will be well-compensated in commissions," says Maggio.

3. Save money with hotel savvy. If you're not using a travel agent, you need to know a few things about hotels. First, to get the best price, never accept the rate the reservations agent initially offers. Make clear that you're shopping around, ask whether the hotel has any special rates, and find out whether your frequent-flier program, autoclub membership, or other associations qualify you for discounts. Unless you're looking for a room during peak season, you'll discover that the first rate is seldom the lowest.

Second, when making arrangements, ask not only for a written confirmation, but also a reservation number and the agent's full name. This information will strengthen your bargaining position if something goes wrong during check-in.

Third, make sure your room is satisfactory before you settle into it. It's much easier to get a different room if you haven't already occupied one.

Finally, ask whether penalties apply for early or late checkout, or for not showing up. "If something unforeseen causes you to cancel at the last minute, whether you get charged often depends on how convincing you are and how nice they are," says Nancy Dunnan, co-author of "Travel Smarts: Getting the Most for Your Travel Dollar." "Bed & breakfasts are among the most onerous when it comes to cancellations. …

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