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Travel agents share top strategies to avoid bad experience

by Tribune News Service | September 17, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
Passengers check in and wait by the Spirit Airlines ticket counter at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. (Chris Day/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS)

Travel disasters can come in nearly any form, turning your vacation into a giant headache in a hurry.

For example, losing your luggage before or during a trip can cause delays and waste time. So can failing to plan your trip (or to plan it well), as can taking shortcuts to save money that actually cost you in the long run.

Other travel problems may involve the timing of your trip. Arriving too late for a cruise, missing your flight or a connection or forgetting to check your passport ahead of time can create some huge problems for your vacation that can cost time and money to resolve.

With that in mind, we asked travel agents from the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA) for some of their best strategies to have an enjoyable trip and avoid the myriad issues and inconveniences that can occur. If you want to have the best possible vacation with limited hassle and stress, read on to hear what these travel professionals had to say.

Travel early before a cruise

When people are planning a river cruise or ocean voyage with a set departure date, some like to leave things to chance and fly into their port city the morning of their departure.

But what happens when your flight is canceled or delayed? You can easily miss your cruise, and no, your vessel is unlikely to wait for you or anyone else.

That's why cruise planner Jen Rosa says you should always leave extra time in your plan just in case something goes wrong. Specifically, Rosa suggests flying into your departure city two days in advance if possible.

"If you can't do it two days before, at the very least fly in one day before," she said.

Track your own bags

Lost luggage can be a nightmare for travelers, but it's not that uncommon at all. That's why Pamela Fierro of Coastwise Travel recommends managing the risks of losing your luggage and being proactive about tracking your bags.

Fierro recommends using tracking devices, such as an Apple AirTag or Tile, in your luggage, both in checked and carry-on bags.

"If your luggage goes missing, whether via airline mishandling, theft or even just forgetfulness, you'll be able to determine its exact location," she said.

While not always the case, knowing where your bags are can help you retrieve them more quickly.

Book flights directly with airlines

Booking airfare through third-party sites like Expedia and Priceline can become a major hassle, especially in instances where your flight is delayed or rescheduled or you need to rebook on different dates. After all, third-party companies and online travel agencies (OTAs) typically do not have the same level of customer service or the same flexible rebooking policies as some airlines do.

Travel agent Carol Karp of Karp Travel and Cruises recommends the following when it comes to airfare as a result:

"I always tell my clients to book their air travel directly through the airlines or better yet to book with a travel consultant that handles the booking themselves," she said.

Check your passport expiration date regularly

Imagine you booked a dream trip that's a few weeks out from departure and you suddenly find out your passport expires right before or after you're scheduled to leave. With passport delays still prevalent and even renewals taking up to 12 or 15 weeks right now, you would be stuck trying to figure out a solution to your problem -- or simply stuck at home -- with little time to spare.

That's one of the reasons travel agent Thomas Carpenter of Huckleberry Travel recommends checking the date of your passport regularly and always knowing how much time you have left.

"If you don't have at least six months' validity from the date of your return home, and two blank pages, you might not be able to travel," he said.

And if you need a renewal before your trip, you should get started on the process or set an appointment as quickly as you possibly can. But what if you still find yourself in a bind when it comes to your passport?

"If your travel dates are rapidly approaching and you still haven't received your new passport book, reach out to your representative in Congress, as well as both of your senators," he said. "They may be able to assist you."

Buy travel insurance

Carpenter also adds that you should purchase a comprehensive travel insurance plan, and that a quality travel insurance policy can protect against a lot more than unexpected cancellations.

The agent said the policies he recommends to clients have coverage for emergency medical coverage, medical evacuation, lost and stolen luggage or personal effects, trip interruption, trip delays and much more.

"We had a client whose smartphone was stolen on his honeymoon," Carpenter said. "The cost of his insurance policy was much less than the cost to replace his phone."

Have a professional in your corner

Finally, travel agent Cyndi Williams of Wanderlust Campus says that taking the time to plan well for a trip is the most important thing you can do to avoid something going wrong.

While you can always plan each aspect of your vacation your own, she adds that using a certified travel adviser can help with planning, the servicing of a reservation and even being on standby to help resolve issues that pop up during a trip.

"I have seen a lot of devastating things in my 30-year career in the industry, and most could have been avoided with solid planning or mitigated by having a solid travel adviser in their corner," she said.

Print Headline: Travel agents share top strategies to avoid bad experience

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