TSA Pre Check: You Can Leave Your Shoes On

Want to make travel even easier for yourself? Apply for TSA Pre Check. You’ll be on that charter to Punta Cana in no time, without having to take off their shoes!

TSA Pre Check Basics

TSA Pre Check is a program that gives travelers leaving from the U.S. access to an expedited security screening program at the airport. U.S. citizens and lawful permanent U.S. residents can apply for the program and go through a screening process in order to become a “trusted traveler.”

Perks of TSA Pre Check

Anything to make your airport experience better is worth it, right? And probably one of the least enjoyable parts of air travel is the security process. TSA Pre Check pretty much eliminates that less-than-desirable part by giving trusted travelers these perks:

  1. Expedited security screening - There’s a shorter line for TSA Pre Check members. TSA’s website says that in December 2017, 93% of TSA Pre Check members waited less than 5 minutes – that’s pretty incredible!
  2. Less to do to prep for security - You don’t need to take off your shoes, belts or light jackets, and you can leave your laptop and liquids in your bag.
  3. Share it with the fam - A parent or guardian with TSA Pre Check can bring family members ages 12 and under along with them in the expedited lanes.

The Pre Check Process

It’s really not that bad – just three steps.

  1. Travelers can apply online on TSA’s Universal Enroll Pre Check page. The application has four sections and it’s mostly basic information to help TSA verify your identity and citizenship.
  2. Next is to schedule the in-person appointment for a background check and fingerprinting within 45 days of completing the online application. The appointment can be made online or by walking in to a TSA application center. This TSA web page lets you enter a zip code, city or airport code to help you find the most convenient one for your clients.
  3. And then at the appointment, which TSA says only takes 10 minutes, applicants must bring the required documents and provide their fingerprints. There are some options to determine what type of documents are acceptable, but TSA has a helpful web page to help sort it all out. It can be as simple as just a valid driver’s license and passport if the names on both documents match – that’s it. Then the applicant pays a non-refundable fee of $85 that’s valid for five years. That’s $17 a year – less than a tank of gas nowadays!

After an applicant is approved as a trusted traveler with TSA, they’ll get a Known Traveler Number (KTN) in the mail within two to three weeks. You can enter your client’s KTNs for each traveler when booking their flights on VAX. There’s a field for it in the Traveler Information section of the booking engine – how easy is that?

 

Originally published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess "TSA Pre Check: You Can Leave Your Shoes On"

Top 5 Destinations in Mexico for All-Inclusive Vacations

Mexico is one of top destinations in the world for an all-inclusive tropical vacation and receives millions of visitors per year. People are drawn to Mexico for its tropical beaches, near perfect weather, delicious cuisine, ancient Mayan ruins, relative affordability and close proximity to the US. To top it off, Mexico has an impressive selection of picture perfect all-inclusive resorts making this destination ideal for anyone who is searching for an easy tropical getaway.

So where exactly should you go in Mexico to find your dream all-inclusive vacation? In no particular order, here are the top 5 destinations in Mexico for an all-inclusive vacation:

The Riviera Maya is a vast stretch of land that lies just south of Cancun and is widely known for its spectacular white sand beaches, warm turquoise waters, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, the Mayan ruins, and the colorful town of Playa del Carmen. It is located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo on the eastern side of the Yucatán Peninsula and stretches for about 100 miles along the Caribbean coastline.

Los Cabos is located at the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, in the state of Baja California Sur. This 20 mile coastal area is made up of the mission town of San Jose del Cabo to the north, Cabo San Lucas to the south and the resort area that lies in between the two towns. Los Cabos is currently Mexico’s fastest growing resort destination with more than two million visitors every year and is filled with charming art shops, small restaurants, and nightclubs. This area has a wide variety of all-inclusive resorts as well as some of Latin America’s best golf courses.

Cancun is a vibrant city located on the Caribbean Sea in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is situated in southeastern Mexico on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and is one of Mexico's easternmost points. Cancun is Mexico’s most popular beach destination, and while many of the 4.8 million people that visit this area yearly are looking for a phenomenal party scene, there is plenty available for those travelers who are looking for peace and relaxation.

The seaside resort town of Puerto Vallarta is located on Mexico’s glamorous Pacific Riviera in the State of Jalisco. This popular vacation destination is situated between the Sierra Madre Mountains and Banderas Bay and is known for its old-world Mexican charm, its beaches, water sports, and nightlife. The popular resort region of Riviera Nayarit lies just to the North of Puerto Vallarta.

Cozumel is a charming island located in the Mexican Caribbean only 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Although it is the largest and most populated island in Mexico, it is relatively small at just 29 miles long and 12 miles wide. Cozumel is best known throughout the world as a premier diving and snorkeling destination. It has the second largest reef in the world and there are at least 100 dives sites within 3 miles of the island.

So now that you have learned about the top 5 destinations in Mexico for an all-inclusive vacation, I’d love to hear from you. What is your favorite all-inclusive vacation destination in Mexico?

P.S. If you would like help planning your trip to Mexico, please contact Violet Clover Travel Group at 877-833-1455 today. We help busy people create unforgettable vacation experiences by taking all of the stress out of your vacation planning.

Tips For Getting Into Airport Lounges

Airports can test the nerves of even the most well-balanced traveler. There are places, however, where calm and tranquility reign – where a comfortable seat is always available, fresh coffee and snacks await, and a glass of prosecco can be had a moments’ notice. We are talking, of course, about airport lounges. Rack up several hundred thousand air miles on the same airline, and you’re sure to get an invitation to join the club. For these rest of us, there are other options, and given the benefits, they’re worth exploring.

1. Join a Lounge Network
Depending on how often and where you fly, joining a lounge network such as Priority Pass might be your best option. Priority Pass offers access to over 1,000 worldwide lounges for an annual fee of $99 with a per visit fee of $27 (alternatively, an annual fee of $399 gets you unlimited access).

2. Buy a Day Pass
Have you ever been stuck at an airport for hours on end? Next time, a day pass to a lounge might be your saving grace. Prices vary considerably between airlines, but for around $50 you can have a day’s worth of food and drink, free Wi-Fi, and a quiet little corner to call your own.

3. Use Your Credit Card
Several credit cards, including the American Express Platinum card and the United MileagePlus Explorer card, offer free or reduced-cost lounge access. The drawback is that these cards often come with higher annual fees, but added benefits such as travel insurance, priority boarding and free checked bags might make the upfront payout worthwhile.

4. Upgrade Your Ticket
Buy an international business or a first-class ticket and more than likely you’ll also receive complimentary lounge access. This can be a particularly nice perk on long haul flights, as most international airport lounges have private shower rooms where you can freshen up after your flight.

Antigua Land of Sea and Sun

The Caribbean was hit hard by hurricanes this year, but nearly 80% of the islands are still gorgeous destinations open for tourism business. Luckily, the picturesque island of Antigua is one of them.

Read anything about the island, and you’re bound to learn that Antigua has exactly 365 beaches – one for each day of the year. You’ll also read about the island’s endless days of sun and stunningly gorgeous azure water. And while these things are true, they don’t capture the heart of this friendly little island, a former English colony where cricket games are an afternoon tradition and colorful roadside restaurants beckon with cornmeal and okra dumplings and cold bottles of Wadadli, the local lager.

Barely a hundred square miles, Antigua is particularly accessible, and exploring by car is a fun and rewarding experience – just stay alert for the bearded goats who sometimes wander into the road! Here are our personal recommendations for exploring the island:

1. Take the Dip in Half Moon Bay
No trip to Antigua is complete without a visit to Half Moon Bay. This family friendly beach is a national park that attracts visitors and locals alike for its stunning pink sand beach and quality snorkeling. Local vendors often sell food here, such as salt fish sandwiches topped with the local hot sauce, making it the perfect spot for a snack and swim.

2. Explore English Harbour
One of the most popular spots in Antigua, beautifully restored English Harbour has enough attractions to last an entire day. From pristine beaches and panoramic trails to restaurants, art galleries and historical monuments (this is where you’ll find Nelson’s Dockyards, the world’s only surviving Georgian dockyard), English Harbour is a must see.

3. Watch a Cricket Game
Cricket is serious business in Antigua, a passion considered more of a religion than a sport. From schoolyards to beaches, games are never hard to find, but for a truly fantastic experience, head to the impressive Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, built for the 2017 Cricket Cup, where you can join the cheering crowds for an afternoon of fun.

4. Hike Mount Obama

After Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2009, Antigua’s prime minister renamed the island’s highest peak after the U.S. president. Mount Obama, as it is now known, is an easy stroll along a lush jungle trail and offers spectacular views of the neighboring islands of Monserrat and Guadeloupe.

5. Dance the Night Away
Rum punch and live music fuel Antigua’s famous dance parties, where tourists and locals alike shake and shimmy to the rhythms of the West Indies. From rustic beach bars like Beach Limerz to the ever-popular Shirley Heights Lookout sited high above English Harbour, there is no better way to experience Antigua’s hospitability than on the dance floor.

6. Sail into the Sunset
Antigua has long been a favorite destination among the international sailing set. Join them by chartering your own classic wooden sailboat for the day or watching the sunset from the deck of a catamaran. Whichever way you chose, this is the quintessential Caribbean experience you’ll never forget.

5 Apps Every Traveler Needs

As a travel professional, I always want to book my clients’ dream vacations. While I can manage all of your travel plans to a T, your actual experiences are not always plannable. Luckily, there are some great travel apps to help with just about any aspect of your trips. Check out Violet Clover Travel Group's top travel apps to add to your packing lists.

An App for: Speaking the Language

For your clients traveling to foreign countries, be sure they are prepared with an app that helps them speak the common language. Google Translate is a lifesaver for any mono-linguist traveler. Translate from 103 different languages just by typing or drawing the word or phrase. Use your phone’s camera to hold up to street signs or even restaurant menus for instant translations. The best part is that the app works without using a wireless connection so your clients can explore data-free. Navigate with confidence and even learn a thing or two about the native tongue. (ANDROID DOWNLOAD)

An App for: Maps & Directions

Don’t let your clients leave home without a solid navigation app for exploring. Apps like Maps.Me or City Mapper offer downloadable maps with turn-by-turn navigation, traffic updates and can even pinpoint local hotspots to check out. Explore points of interest from restaurants to tourist attractions, all with step-by-step directions. Even create driving, walking and cycle routes to save extra time, or just to take in the scenery. (Maps.ME ANDROID DOWNLOAD) (City Mapper - ANDROID DOWNLOAD)

An App for: Packing

Ensure your clients never forget a thing for their next trip. With apps like PackPoint, they can type in the destination and select the activities planned to create a customized packing list for the trip. It will even check the weather to make sure your clients are packing all the essentials. They can also share the list with their fellow travelers so nothing is ever left behind. (ANDROID DOWNLOAD)

An App for: Chatting

Make sure your clients can always stay in touch with friends and family. WhatsApp provides free voicecalls and messaging when they are connected to Wi-Fi. The group chat feature also allows your clients to share messages, photos and videos to share their experiences. (ANDROID DOWNLOAD)

An App for: Time Zones

Your clients will never lose track of time again. With an app like Circa, travelling to multiple locations across different time zones has never been easier; find the best times for connecting flights and send invitations to other travelers in different time zones to meet up. Now your clients will never miss a beat no matter how far apart they are.

Recommending helpful apps shows your clients that you care about every aspect of their trip. It also shows that you have your finger on the pulse of the industry, further positioning you as a true travel expert. (ANDROID DOWNLOAD)

Originally  published as Travel insights from VAX VacationAccess "5 Apps Every Traveler Needs"

Playa Mujeres, Mexico – A Mexican Secret

Playa Mujeres, Mexico

Looking for your next getaway? Check out the miles of uninterrupted beach—and thoughtful luxury—in Playa Mujeres, Mexico.

Just 25 minutes north of Cancún International Airport is Playa Mujeres, an exclusive beach destination. This up-and-coming slice of paradise is perfect for those who seek a luxury travel destination that’s more private than other Mexican vacation hotspots.

cancun resorts

High-end, all-inclusive resorts like Finest Playa Mujeres, Excellence Playa Mujeres and Beloved Playa Mujeres by Excellence Group prove to be elegant retreats on tranquil beaches. The area offers easy access to Cancún’s energetic nightlife and culture, celebrated Maya archaeological sites, cenotes (natural sinkholes) and other favorite tourist attractions.

Caribbean-style island

Perhaps best of all, Isla Mujeres lies just off the Playa Mujeres coastline. Several hotels offer day trips to this beautiful Caribbean-style island, where you can snorkel, fish, swim with whale sharks, relax on white sand beaches, and admire the Sea Walls Murals in el centro. Rent a golf cart or bicycle for your island tour, and be sure not to miss the ocean views from Mexico’s easternmost point at Acantilado del Amanecer, or Cliff of the Dawn.

 

Images courtesy of Cancun Convention & Visitors Bureau

Dubai Tops Americans’ Travel Bucket List

Dubai Bucket List Travel

The analytics team at www.US.Jetcost.com recently revealed the results of their research and ongoing studies into the travel plans of Americans. 4,956 Americans aged 18 and over were quizzed about their vacation plans—where they had been and where they would be most likely to go next. The team managed to compile a variety of statistics about the average American traveler’s vacation practices, and a “bucket list” of the top 10 destinations for Americans.

 On the quiz, respondents were initially asked where there most recent vacation had been. 39 percent of respondents—almost two fifths—stated they had been on a vacation in a different state within America, while the top destinations following that were Mexico at 12 percent and Canada at 11 percent.

When asked why they had gone to another state rather than another country, the top responses were “It’s not different going to another country/it’s completely different to the state I live in” at 26 percent and “It’s too expensive to venture outside of America” at 17 percent.

Following these inquiries, respondents were asked where in the world they’d most like to travel given the opportunity. From a full list of countries around the world, those taking the quiz were asked to pick their top three. Here are the top ten countries from the study:

1.      Dubai - 29%
2.      Costa Rica - 25%
3.      Iceland - 24%
4.      Italy - 20%
5.      Kenya - 18%
6.      Croatia - 17%
7.      Brazil - 17%
8.      Switzerland - 15%
9.      Samoa - 14%
10.  Cyprus - 13%

The poll then went on to ask what attracted each respondent to their top three countries. The most popular response for Dubai was “shopping opportunities” (48%); for Costa Rica, the main draw were “the sloth sanctuaries,” (52%) and for Iceland, the “Northern Lights” were the chief attraction (73%).

Borrowed from: http://www.travelagentcentral.com/destinations/dubai-costa-rica-and-iceland-top-americans-travel-bucket-list

10 Things About Dubai

Dubai Skyline

by Hazel Plus, The Telegraph, March 28, 2017

 

The Dubai World Cup, formerly the world's richest horse race, takes place today. But spectators at the Meydan Racecourse won't actually be having a flutter. Because gambling is illegal in the emirate. Here are 10 more things that might surprise you:

1. You'll probably only meet one 'local' person

Emiratis tend to keep to themselves, away from the main tourist drag, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll get chatting on the beach – indeed, most tourists only encounter one Emirati on their holidays: when they get their passport stamped at the airport.

Border control is staffed almost entirely by Emiratis (indeed, most bureaucratic roles are reserved for “nationals”), but this isn’t the ideal place to strike up a conversation about local life. If you do have burning questions, keep them for a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Museum of Cultural Understanding – a brilliant initiative that connects holidaymakers with Emirati people for cooking lessons, traditional dinners and heritage tours.

Emirati nationals are far outnumbered by expats in Dubai, to the tune of almost six to one. The majority of the population is Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Asian and Western.

 

2. It’s not as tall as you think

At last count, Dubai has 1,344 completed skyscrapers – that’s small fry compared with Hong Kong (6,606) and New York (6,180), according to construction data from emporis.com. The city is indeed home to the world’s tallest tower (Burj Khalifa – more of which later), which peaks at 828 metres.

In 2006, a quarter of the world’s cranes were working on Dubai building sites, but those days are over – after the 2008 financial crisis, the crazy construction rate has slowed.

You might think that the ludicrously big Dubai Fountains are the tallest in the world, but they’re not – that accolade goes to King Fahd's Fountain, in Saudi Arabia. Dubai can’t even lay claim to the world’s tallest residential skyscraper: its Princess Tower (413 metres, in Dubai Marina) was surpassed in 2014 by New York’s 432 Park Avenue (426 metres).

3. Its police cars are epic

With so many supercars on Dubai’s roads, its law enforcers couldn’t just pootle around in Fords like the British constabulary. To keep up with the crims, they turn to Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys – of course.

They added a McLaren to their fleet in December 2013, and a Bugatti Veyron in 2014. Powered by a 691 horsepower mid-mounted V12 engine, the force’s Lamborghini Aventador can go from zero-to-60 in less than 3 seconds, and has a top speed of 217 miles per hour. Its BMW i8 makes mincemeat out of fleeing villains, going zero-to-60 in 4.2 seconds.

On a less luxurious note, Dubai police has its own band of bagpipers who perform at state events. If you ask nicely, they might play you Scotland the Brave.

4. It owes a lot to Abu Dhabi

Burj Khalifa, the world’s biggest skyscraper, looms high above the rooftops of Dubai – but it wouldn’t have been completed without the financial help of Abu Dhabi, Dubai’s neighbouring emirate.

Until just before it opened in 2010, the tower was actually called Burj Dubai (literally “Dubai Tower”), but it was renamed in honour of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahayan, the Emir of Abu Dhabi and President of the United Arab Emirates. Dubai, which had been deep in the throes of a financial crisis, had just been bailed out by Sheikh Khalifa to the tune of £6.13bn – so it showed its gratitude in typically lavish style.

5. It should have had a Steven Gerrard Tower

For all of the architectural follies that have been built in Dubai (man-made islands, record-breaking towers, et al), there are countless other outlandish designs that haven’t made it past the drawing board .

International Chess City (a cluster of 32 black and white skyscrapers, designed to look like chess pieces) was proposed, but didn’t make the cut. The Steven Gerrard Tower met a similar fate. Dynamic Tower, whose floors were designed to spin (yikes), was never built either.

6. The locals are rich, but occasionally forgetful

In case you were in any doubt that Dubai’s residents are minted, take a look at its lost-and-found statistics. In 2015, a passenger left AED146,000 (£35,000) in cash in a Dubai Airport toilet cubicle (it was returned to her) – and in the first four months of 2016 a whopping AED42,171 (£9,000) cash was left in the airport’s lost property.

According to Dubai Police, two diamond rings worth AED150,000 (£33,400) were also handed in to the airport authorities. And in October 2016, a taxi driver handed in a gold ingot that had been left in his cab. It was worth AED3.5million (£780,000), and was later reunited with its owner.

7. There are far more men than women

Of Dubai’s 2.5 million-strong population, 1.7 million are male – that’s almost 70 per cent. Females account for just over 30 per cent of Dubai’s population, according to official census statistics. The higher proportion of men is attributed to the fact that most of the city’s expats are males, who have left their families behind in their home countries.

Dubai residents are a sprightly bunch, too. 58 per cent of the population is aged 25 to 44, with the majority of people aged 30 to 34. Clearly, the cut-and-thrust expat lifestyle is best suited to youngsters: just 15 per cent of the population is aged 45 or over.

8. Its Crown Prince is an action man

The son of Dubai’s ruler, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum – or Fazza, to his friends – is the handsome, media-friendly poster boy of the royal family. He’s widely respected by both the expat and national community, and counts skydiving, falconry, fishing and diving among his hobbies. He also publishes poetry in the region’s traditional Nabati style, which dates back to the 16th century.

His Instagram feed isn’t the bling fest you might expect from an Emirati royal. Ok, so he clearly enjoys flying helicopters, hanging out in private jets and hanging out with Damian Lewis at Royal Ascot, but he also loves playing tennis, cuddling ponies and petting babies. Naaw. He’s even taken the London Underground with his dad.

9. It was built on pearl diving

Before tourism, Dubai made its money with oil. But before oil? Fishing, farming and pearl diving were the emirate’s  main trades. In the early 20th century there were 300 pearl diving dhows (traditional sailing boats) based in Dubai Creek, with over 7,000 sailors on board.

The men would be at sea from mid-May to early September, diving for up to 14 hours every day while the women looked after their families. The average dive would be ten metres deep: divers would reach the seabed with the aid of a noseclip and a weight tied around their waist, and then haul themselves up on a rope.  They would make about 50 dives per day.

10. You can buy pretty much anything from a vending machine

The Gold to Go ATM in Dubai Mall allows you to buy anything from a 2.5-gram, 24-karat gold coin to a one-ounce gold bar. There’s even a computer inside the vending machine that changes the prices every 10 minutes in line with real-time fluctuations in the market.

Bling not your thing? Take a visit to the Sharaf DG store at the Times Square Centre mall, where you can buy a laptop, tablet, camera or phone straight from a vending machine.

This article was written by Hazel Plush from The Telegraph

Travel Agents vs OTAs

What would you say if I told you that travel agents aren’t in competition with online travel agency giants like Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Expedia, Priceline and others? Maybe you’re waiting for a punchline, but I’m honestly not telling a joke. What would a travel agent vs. booking online face-off look like?

While starting a home based travel agency in the shadow of internet giants like Expedia can feel like a David vs. Goliath scenario (umm, where the travel agent is measly little adolescent David), I’m here to bring you glad tidings of why travel agents have an edge over OTAs, and how they can save travelers TONS of time (and money) on their vacations.

Suspend your doubt and hear me out.

No Seriously, Americans Spend So Much Time Online Planning Travel, It’s Ridiculous.   

Recent data published by Expedia documented that American travelers an aggregate of 8.7 capital-B-BILLION minutes of travel planning and booking time per year? It seems ludicrous, right? I know, I did a double take too. But that is the amount of time Americans spent consuming digital travel content in 2015, according to Expedia’s white paper, “The American Traveler’s Path to purchase.”

In the 45 days prior to booking travel—from beginning research to final purchase—the traveling American visited a whopping 140 travel websites. No seriously, that is a not a typo.

How much time does this add up to? Well the report indicates that in the six weeks prior to booking, Americans consume 22.95 hours of digital travel media.

Is your jaw to the floor yet? Well it’s about to get even more slack: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic, the average hourly wage in the U.S. as of Aug. 2017 registered at $26.39/hr 1, which means that it costs American travelers $605.65 of work time to plan and book vacations.

What does this mean for travelers?

A). They better research and book vacations while they’re on company dime (preferably not their company) and hope they don’t get fired for it.

Or, better yet,

B.) Go with a travel agent, don’t get fired, and save over $600 of your time.

How OTAs Work, and Why They Don’t Save Travelers Money Anymore

The $600+ savings in work time really just scratches at the surface. There are tons of other ways that using a travel agent vs. booking online save clients money.

1. OTA Access to Inventory Is limited

When you were a kid and asked your parents for a snack, they probably didn’t open the fridge and cupboards and let you have at it. No, they probably pulled out a few choice items and say, “this is what you can choose from.”

OTAs operate in the same way. OTAs used to rely on ample off-peak inventory, and empty seats on planes and rooms in hotels to offer discounts, and it worked. Vendors would dump their excess inventory on OTA sites for a premium commission to OTAs. Heck, at the end of the day, selling a hotel room for cheap is better than zippo, right? But the OTAs are no longer the land of milk and honey they used to be.

There was a huge rise in the number of OTAs and suppliers smartened up, doing things like having contracts where OTAs were not able to offer prices lower than what the traveler could find directly on the brand site. They stopped offering premium commissions, and some vendors (like Southwest) even refused to sell their inventory on OTAs. (Does this sounds familiar? Airlines did the same thing, cut commissions to travel agents in the 90s).

In fact, it’s the vendors that price the products—not the OTAs themselves. So, like the stingy parent, OTAs will not (and cannot) offer the smorgasbord of travel products and discounts they used to. They can’t.

Now let’s jump back to the travel agent vs. booking online thing. A travel agent will open all their cupboards, and find the best value available. Heck, they’ll even take you to the grocery store and present a full range of available travel options. Travel agents will not only have access to product and pricing, but they’ll also have the savvy to know the nitty gritty of things like which seats on the plane are more spacious for the same price.

2. Price Discrimination and “Steering”

According to a Wired article, the OTAs pricing would shift constantly due to supply and demand. This means that customers could potentially be directed to sites that weren’t the best deals, depending on the quantity demanded while the traveler book (remember how they try to scare you with warnings of “2 rooms left at this price?”).

OTAs with their Big Brother-like technology know when and how a traveler is booking. So if a traveler is attempting to book a hotel, on a mobile phone, the same evening of their desired reservation date, the OTA’s magic algorithm will smell their desperation, and potentially steer the customer to more expensive booking.

Price discrimination comes into play when they charge different consumers different prices for the same product (which is illegal). According to the Wired article, at one point, “Orbitz was steering Apple OSX users, for example, to more expensive hotels, since the algorithm assumed that an Apple user was more affluent than a PC user.”

Agent don’t, and can’t, do that. There is a level of price stability when purchasing from travel agent—who can put holds on tickets and packages to preserve the price until the end of the day or for 24 hours. (Read more real-life ways travel agents save clients money). 

 

3. Fine Print

Surprise! There are taxes and fees that might sneak up on the purchaser when they get to the checkout of an OTA.

With travel agents, the full cost to clients is transparent at the time they are quoted the price.

4. Group Bookings

Travel agents can especially save for clients who are traveling in groups. According to SmartFlyer’s CEO Mike Holtz in a Travel Market Report article, “travel websites will only show the lowest fare available for four tickets. But an agent might be able to find three seats at a fare hundreds of dollars less, with savings into the thousands of dollars.”

Travel agents—who are not governed by algorithms—have the experience and ability to analyze the options in front of them, and filter through them quickly in order to build group packages that maximize value and save money for their clients. Yet another reason to use a travel agent vs. booking online.

This Is to Mention Nothing of Customer Service and Client Satisfaction

Travel agents save clients money, but really it goes so much more beyond that. Travel agents also create high-value travel over OTAs because (the living, breathing, talented humans that they are) are able to advocate for clients when things go awry.

What can an OTA do for a traveler who is unhappy with a hotel room, let alone stuck in the middle of a natural disaster? The answer, not a whole lot, if anything at all.

Travel agents are able leverage their relationships with vendors in order to provide the best customer service possible to travelers. So not only will the traveler save money, but they can travel with the peace of mind that a travel agent can help them out in a bind if they transfer hotels, switch rooms, or re-book a flight.

In the same ASTA study referenced earlier, it was documented that “63% of consumers polled said using an agent makes their overall trip experience better.” So not only will travel agents save travelers time, money and stress during the planning and booking process––they’ll also help create a more satisfying and relaxing travel experience during the trip itself .  .  . and that, my friend, is entire purpose of a vacation.

How to get the best seats on your next Southwest flight.

Southwest Airlines. You either love them or you hate them. I’m in the “love them” camp. I love the prices and I love being able to take a change of clothes for no added costs, i.e. no baggage fees. I think most other people would agree with that the low prices and the free bags are great. It’s the open seating policy that bothers people. I get it! You want to sit with your travel partner. While it can be stressful having to hustle for a good seat on Southwest, I’ve found that with a few simple strategies you can increase your chance of sitting with your honey and avoiding that dreaded middle seat.

Learn how the Southwest Airlines seating process works.

Southwest Airlines has a unique open seating policy – basically, seats are not assigned. When you check in for your Southwest flight, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a boarding position (1-60). Your boarding group and position determine the order in which you will be allowed to board the flight. During the Southwest boarding process, passengers are instructed to line up in order based on their boarding group and position. So, passengers holding A group boarding passes board first, then B, then C. Within each group, passengers will line up based on their numbers. For example, A1 will board before A20. Upon boarding the flight, you may choose any open seat. Seats on Southwest flights are in a 3×3 configuration.

The key to getting a good seat on Southwest is, obviously, to board early.

I’ve found that an A group or early B group (B1-B30) is always sufficient to provide me with several good open seats and plenty of overhead bin space. B31-B60 can be okay too but it depends on how many people you are traveling with, how full the flight is and whether the flight is connecting from somewhere else. The C group usually means “center seat” and may require you to also gate check overhead bags.

Check in EXACTLY 24 hours before your flight.

If you would like to get a good seat on your next Southwest Airlines flight, follow this rule. Check in opens 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time. The earlier you check in, the earlier your spot in line will be. Many passengers will also be checking in 24 hours before the flight so a few minutes or seconds can make a big difference in your boarding group or position.

If you are unsure whether you will be able to check-in 24 hours prior to your flight, purchase EarlyBird Check-In.

I prefer not to spend any more money than I have to but found EarlyBird Check-In useful for those occasions I know I will not be able to manually check in. Effective March 14, 2016, the cost for Early Bird Check In is $15.00 one-way per person. When you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, Southwest automatically checks you in and assigns your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure. Southwest Early Bird Check In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, but you most likely will be in the A or early B group.

Pay even more money or fly more often to guarantee early boarding.

The only way to absolutely guarantee an A1-A15 boarding position on Southwest is to purchase a Business Select fare. This isn’t the most attractive option for leisure passengers though as the fare is more expensive. If you still want a crack at that A1-A15 spot but don’t want to purchase a Business Select fare, you can try Upgraded Boarding. Warning: this is not a guaranteed option as it may not be available. On the day of travel, inquire at the gate or ticket counter before the boarding process begins. If Upgraded Boarding is available, you can secure a boarding position in the A1-A15 group for $30 or $40 per flight, depending on your itinerary.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members with A-List and A-List Preferred status are also automatically assigned boarding positions ahead of general boarding – just like EarlyBird but without the fee. Not much you can do about that.

Tips on How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines