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All About Travel

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by Marvin McDaniel

Why use a travel agent. According to the president of Crystal Cruises, "Planning a vacation can be confusing and time-consuming. However using a professional travel agent can help you find a vacation that's right for you, and save you time and money."

Joseph A. Watters, president of Crystal Cruises, recently sent an open letter to the editors of several travel magazines, listing valuable services travel agents provide.

"The best thing an agent can do is to match up a traveler with a vacation that's right for them," Watters said. "The professional travel consultant builds relationships with their clients to learn their interests and lifestyles, as well as their dispositions."

Watters listed some of the important services professional travel agents provide:

?Distilling information. Through an ongoing and time-consuming process of familiarization, continuing education and customer feedback, the agent becomes a travel expert.

?Staying abreast of the most current and timely promotions. Via daily faxes, agent-only e-mail transmissions and their relationships with travel suppliers, agents obtain the most current promotional information.

?Clarifying the fine print. Again, the benefits of a professional's experience can save a traveler money and headaches, especially in the area of restrictions.

?Making recommendations. Travel agents share the experience and knowledge they accumulate about a variety of travel topics, from where to eat and where to shop, to how and what to pack.

?Simplifying the research and subsequent transaction. Agents can provide one-stop shopping for travelers who require air arrangements, rental cars, cruise accommodations and hotel stays with suggestions that are in the best interest of the client, not the supplier.

?Enhancing the trip with value-added benefits and amenities. Agents can add to a traveler's experience by sending a bottle of wine, providing a special land package, a specific escort or other amenities.

?Using clout to obtain the best possible in seemingly impossible situations. Whether it's airline seats, hotel rooms or cruise space, the travel agent has more buying power than the consumer.

?Getting problems resolved. The agent serves as a consumer advocate in the event something inadvertently goes wrong.

Free in-flight calls. AT&T is offering free five-minute in-flight calls for passengers on Alaska, American, Canadian, Northwest and Southwest airlines.

Passengers who dial FREE (3733) from any AT&T in-flight phone will connect to an AT&T representative and will be asked a couple of travel-related questions. After providing a calling card or credit card number, the passenger will be connected for a free five-minute call. Anything over five minutes will be billed at the regular rate, which varies by airline. The free calls are valid only in North America.

(Marvin McDaniel, CTC, is president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Carlson Travel Network.)

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