Saturday, August 30, 2014

Buyer Beware: Online Travel Agencies versus the REAL Travel Agencies

Quite a few of us book through Online Travel Agencies like Expedia, Egencia, Orbitz, and Kayak, just to name a few.  When you call these folks for help, do you think you are really getting an actual travel agent employee of theirs?  I'm here to tell you you're not, and what you might not know just might disturb you.

To demonstrate my point, let's look closely at one of these agencies: Egencia, which is owned by Expedia and is their Corporate Travel arm, where the demands for travel are more last minute, higher priced, and with a more urgent need to get out on a somewhat more difficult itinerary usually covering multiple stops, airlines, hotels.  You'd think the agents who deal with these corporate travellers of such companies like Federal Mogul, Chipotle, Allegiant Air, PHI Helico, the Screen Actors Guild, and more, would know what they're doing, right?  More often than not, they do.  Are they all travel agents? No.  Are they all knowledgeable and usually full of hard-earned info to get their clients where they need to go?  More often that not, they aren't.  But aside all that, here is what gets me...Egencia (and I'm assuming other OTA's as well) outsources to third party call centers like Teleperformance and Actelion!

Not only is there a huge difference between the work ethic and knowledge and experience between front line Egencia employees and their lower-paid under trained counterparts at the call centers, but there is also the risk that the travelers secure info (like their credit card numbers and private information!) can be lifted with ease by some of the more unsavory call center employees.

Let me give you an example:  I worked for Teleperformance on the Egencia project for a while and what I found was insanity.  The training was incredibly sub par for the work to be done.  The project manager does not have a week of travel experience and should be removed from the project by one of the mangers who are far more capable and knowledgeable.  Several employees have nefarious pasts involving credit card fraud, securities fraud and one even had a bank robbery charge! (The only way I found this out was to do background checks on those I work with, as I am paranoid of having my own identity stolen again).  Do you really want to give your credit card info to someone with a shady past like this?  Not me.

Now let me ask you this: Don't your lawyers, doctors, and accountants all have to be certified by the state to practice their trade?  Why wouldn't you ask that of your travel agent?  Any travel agent who has their CTA (Certified Travel Agent) or CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) or even the CTIE (Certified Travel Industry Executive) is worth their weight in Gold.  They have knowledge and experience on their side and can get you where you need to go and when you need to be there.  Not only that but they can give you all the info on visas, passports, and government travel warnings without having you take the time to do it yourself.

A real travel agent lives and breathes travel.  The OTA call center people do the job for a paycheck, not because they are passionate about what they do or who they serve.  A real travel agent is as trustworthy as your family doctor, the call center...not so much.  Also, a real travel agent can usually make you feel more comfortable during a travel crisis than the OTA call center folks can.

Take your pick, I'll be waiting right here to help you with your next booking.