When you’re running a small business, time is a valuable resource. Although there are many resources available to help you book your own travel, sometimes you may want to leave the legwork up to an agent who knows the ins and outs of the industry.
“For a small business, your time is your money,” says Annette Cagle, an NFIB member and owner of Brandywine Travel agency in Old Hickory, Tenn. “You may think it only takes a minute to search for a flight, but 30 to 45 minutes later, you’re still online. That’s 35 minutes you could be spending on your own business.”
Finding a good travel agency is more difficult than ever since agencies are no longer required to be a part of organizations that set industry rules and standards. Because of that, many fly-by-night travel agencies have popped up, Cagle says. “It’s important to use a true professional travel agent rather than someone who likes to travel.”
Cagle recommends interviewing travel agents before you select one. Here are some key questions to ask them:
How long have you been in business?
Time spent working in the industry is a good indicator of the expertise of the agent you’re working with. If they just opened the business, what experiences make them qualified to handle your travel needs?
What organizations do you belong to?
Ask if the agency belongs to the Airlines Reporting Corporation and the International Air Transport Association. These organizations provide industry standards and regulations that travel agencies must follow for domestic and international travel.
What tools do you use?
The best travel agencies use a global distribution system, which is a computerized reservation network where agents have access to airline seats, hotel rooms and rental cars that don’t always appear online. Common systems include Amadeus, Sabre and Apollo. If the agency is simply using the Internet, they don’t have access to all the resources necessary to get you the best deal.
When are your agents available?
The best travel agents will be there for you if you’re in a crisis. If you have a flight cancellation late at night, will they be able to help you? Cagle makes herself available to her clients at all hours, and has even helped clients stuck overseas. “Ask them, ‘Is there someone I can talk to when I’m stranded in Timbuktu?’”