who to rely upon for travel agent recommendations?

Old May 5th, 2020, 05:03 AM
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who to rely upon for travel agent recommendations?

How much trust do you/ should you put in printed sources vs. online for travel recommendations?

What is their duty to amend their recommended list when things go wrong?

How much due diligence should you do before you book with someone?


Had a recent experience with a travel agent. In the course of dealing with her, I have discovered her "proudly advertised" ASTA membership is not valid and she is NOT bound to their Code of Ethics. She also advertises (and has in her contract) a "guarantee" that she is not standing behind. When our recent trip was cancelled, she - finally - agreed to refund us about 30% of our trip. (country with closed borders, state of emergency, closed hotels, etc.) (This after we offered to pay non-refundable deposits and $2k to her or postpone it).

I relied upon:
- orange book printed recommendation (also listed online)
- TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence
- excellent reviews

I have emailed both TripAdvisor and the book editor to ask them to consider changing their recommendation based on her mis-representation of advertising as well as her fake "guarantee". They basically told me that this is a dispute I have with the travel agent and they won't get involved.

How do we find travel providers if the people we trust - the orange book - continue to advertise for fraudulent travel providers?

Should I have verified that she was a member of ASTA before we booked? Do you generally do that?

thanks all - just interested in thoughts -
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:10 AM
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I rely on my Fodor's friends and my IRL friends, print and online reviews only as backup.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:26 AM
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A lot of people no longer deal with travel agents AT ALL and now you know why.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:52 AM
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This is not an unusual story, actually. Is this an overseas travel agent? I assume that paying by credit card or PayPal wasn't an option, nor was trip insurance?

When an agent doesn't allow payment by credit card, even with an extra surcharge, that raises a red flag for me.


Last edited by mlgb; May 5th, 2020 at 05:54 AM.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:56 AM
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Which is more likely to be up to date: printed or online information? Which is easier to confirm?
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Old May 5th, 2020, 06:06 AM
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surfmom, that's a tough situation. I do think that places endorsing an agent have an obligation to vet them. I also think it's problematic that your complaints to those entities haven't been heard. I would contact them again, leaving out the personal aspect of your grievance, and ask them to reconsider their endorsements just based on the ASTA fraud and nonexistent guarantee. That way it is clear you aren't asking them to step into the dispute, just notifying them that they have published inaccurate information.

To those who deride using travel agents or paying by transfer/wire--there are loads of places in the world where an agent makes sense and where credit cards are not an option. We went to the Galapagos last December and our well-established, reputable cruise company did not accept credit cards. The trip had to be booked using a wire transfer. I have grown accustomed to that practice in dealing with countries in SE Asia and in Latin America. It would only be a red flag for me on a trip to a European country or somewhere like Australia/NZ, or Canada.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 06:12 AM
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When I went to the Galapagos, I had an option to book the same ship and itinerary with either a US agent who accepted credit cards, or by wire transfer. I also had an option to purchase travel insurance separately.

I have paid for trips by wire transfer also, but I don't use a travel agent. Transfer directly to the provider. I recognize the risk when doing so, though.

TripAdvisor is not going to do anything. The Orange Books are out of date as soon as they are published and who knows if they will even be republished.

Given the current circumstances I don't know what I would expect in terms of refunds. Maybe a credit for future travel?



Last edited by mlgb; May 5th, 2020 at 06:16 AM.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 06:33 AM
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Part of my use of direct wire transfers is because I am a bargain hunter-- I almost always get a better price directly wiring money to a provider (I agree mlgb, it's rarely a travel agent I am wiring to).

We were booked with an agent for the Rwanda trip we have postponed. They have been superlative in terms of customer service. We usually do all our own booking but used an agent because of all that is involved in getting gorilla trekking permits, etc. I have been beyond delighted to have had the agent in this instance.

I agree about adjusting your expectations on what you want from the agent--can you postpone instead of cancelling, surfmom?

As to trip insurance, I didn't have to look into it (luckily) for my various cancelled trips but a cursory review of my policy for Rwanda, had I needed it, did not cover the current pandemic situation.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 10:21 AM
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Thanks guys! I will share my thoughts one by one ....

sf7307 Yes, I usually do also. Didn't know anyone who had been to Morocco and the one Fodor's person who wrote a trip report... I reached out to her guy and he never responded to an email.

Dukey1 I rarely use a travel agent. In this case, it was because we were going to Morocco and with a family of 5, we weren't comfortable renting a car and driving ourselves. This is only the second trip I have used someone - the other trip was Kenya. I am much more of a DIY traveller also!

mlgb It is someone based in Morocco, but also has an office listed in Brooklyn. She did accept credit cards - which we paid with. I have opened a dispute with my credit card, but someone else using the same travel agent, lost their dispute.

Dukey1 In this case, the information about the Travel Agent is exactly the same for the same source in both online and printed recommended travel providers. I emailed the editor, asking him to remove the recommendation from the website and review her details again before they go to print, but that was for naught.

schlegal1 yes, sometimes you are between a rock and a hard place trying to plan in advance.

I tried to make it clearer in my followup email, this is actually what I said,
--------
Yes, it is true that I have a dispute, but I wouldn’t expect Fodor’s to get involved. That wasn’t why I was emailing you – sorry for the confusion.My issue – that you can impact – is that {orange book} – both on-line and in print, recommended this tour operator. You are recommending someone that is falsely advertising their services. Here are examples:
  1. Travel Exploration advertises (proudly! In multiple places on their website) that they are members of ASTA. They are not members.
  2. Travel Exploration advertised a guarantee for the best of Morocco travel or they will refund us 100%. This was listed in their “Reasons to book with Travel Exploration”.
I am asking as a customer of {orange book} that you consider updating your materials based on the fact that one of your recommended travel providers is not what they are advertised to be.
-----

schlegal1 We started with ... can we postpone? And we told no.
Then we suggested... how about we pay all (documented) non-refundable deposits and compensate you $2k for your work... and were told no.

She eventually said "I can maybe get back about 30% (ish)." After speaking with my credit card company and asking them, they actually advised against taking it - because that is a settlement that we agreed to. Instead, I emailed her asking how - in her contract - she states that she "guarantees safe and comfortable travel and follows all travel advisories and Ambassador alerts" and how that guarantee is inconsistent with only receiving a partial refund. At that point, she told me "we are closed for the next 2-3 weeks" ... and proceeded to post on instagram the next 3 days straight.

So, I don't know if i will win my credit card dispute. It stinks, because it was a decent amount of money. And trying to get airfare back from Royal Air Maroc - who cancelled our flights - has been frustrating as they continue to aggressively tell me "we can offer you a voucher" via email and you can't get anyone on the phone.

i am soured on Morocco as a country. Which is a shame... because I love to travel! But we will visit many other places...

-----

so bottom line relating back to this OP - I am disappointed that a print book and online travel site continues to recommend this travel agent. I relied upon their vetting and shouldn't have. Will seriously re-consider who I use as sources in the future and what travel books I purchase.

Last edited by surfmom; May 5th, 2020 at 10:21 AM. Reason: spelllllling!
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Old May 5th, 2020, 11:12 AM
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I'm sorry you had this experience, surfmom, and sorry you are soured on Morocco, one of my favorite countries on earth. I don't think I've ever done a formal TR about Morocco on Fodors, but I've certainly posted lots and lots of tidbits from our trips there, as well as numerous photos.

I never used a TA for Morocco, in I think 7 trips there. I have certainly hired drivers and the occasional guide, but I always arranged that on the ground through my hotels/riads. With one exception, which got worked out satisfactorily in a face-to-face, never had a problem. If you do decide to visit Morocco in the future, this is what I would do.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:01 PM
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I agree with St. Cirq on Morocco. It seems imposing and exotic from a distance but it is surprisingly easy to navigate "on the ground".
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Old May 5th, 2020, 05:19 PM
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I am sorry for your bad experience. I've never used a Travel Agent myself, so can't really say any more than that. Not very helpful, but those are my thoughts. Good luck in getting resolution.
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Old May 5th, 2020, 06:11 PM
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How much trust do you/ should you put in printed sources vs. online for travel recommendations?

the same amount: none. Or trust, but verify. Online can be scammy. Books can be out of date, or not first hand experiences. Actually, the latter is my chief issue with books. For the most part, how many travel books sound like they come from first hand experiences? Online isnít necessarily much better, but you can evaluate sources by their online presence. And you can find out how recent the experience is.

What is their duty to amend their recommended list when things go wrong?

I donít think they have a duty. I mean, itís all subjective. If they amended the list every time they were contacted by a dissatisfied reader, theyíd not have a list.

How much due diligence should you do before you book with someone?

As much as youíre comfortable with. As for the ASTA thing, though, I donít really think membership matters. Theyíre a professional organization, members pay for a membership. They arenít legislative or disciplinary. I mean, lying about being a member is dodgy, but membership wouldnít have swayed me one way or the other.

I think your experience with the airline is to be expected. Hopefully the credit card company will side with you over this. My cynical mind thinks she probably could get more than 30%, she just doesnít want to, or she already has and doesnít want to (it canít) refund you. But she might honestly not be able to get money back. Weird time.

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Old May 5th, 2020, 08:03 PM
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So did you accept the 30 pct against the advice of the credit card company? Or is this still in negotiations?

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Old May 6th, 2020, 04:02 AM
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This won't help hugely with your current situation, but going forward I would use as many fully refundable or 'no payment up front' services as possible when arranging travel. I am evangelical about Booking.com for this reason - a large percentage of the listings require zero payment up front, and allow cancellation right up until the day of travel. Ditto many of the hosts on Airbnb (though you have to check, as some hosts do have more stringent policies). Rail and air tickets are harder as these tend to be non-refundable unless you've paid extra for flexible tickets, but most major airlines and rail networks will allow credit/rebooking where they cannot provide the service initially booked. And I prefer to use large airlines with less chance of going bust and a wide variety of routes so that I can go elsewhere if necessary if credit is offered, not a refund. I also have a yearly travel insurance policy, and again whilst not covering every eventuality exhaustively, gives peace of mind for many instances.

By way of example I've had to cancel four trips or planned outings as a result of Covid 19 this year, and am only £3.50 down. All travel, accomodation and event tickets have been refunded in full to me. I see no need to use agents anymore 99% of the time, and no need to pay for many aspects of travel up front. Anything you do have to pay for up front should ideally be purchased with a debit or credit card with built-in cover.

Last edited by RM67; May 6th, 2020 at 04:04 AM.
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Old May 6th, 2020, 04:56 AM
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surfmom, I am so sorry you are in this dispute. The travel agent sounds terrible. I am sure she's overwhelmed herself right now but it seems like she could at least give an update on what is prohibiting her from refunding and whether she thinks that could change. The whole point of an agent is to have them working on your behalf to keep your trip running smoothly.

While I don't think travel sites need to update for every disgruntled customer, I do think that they need to remove recommendations when something is objectively false, which appears to be the case here (the ASTA affiliation).
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Old May 6th, 2020, 08:07 AM
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If you only found one Morocco TR on Fodors you didn't look very hard - there are 73 (select Morocco and then "Display Trip Reports"). I would regard all Morocco TAs with considerable suspicion, I have seen too many spam posts on the Morocco forum, although they usually disappear.

I haven't used a TA since 2004 (and that was a specialist Aussie outfit booking rail tickets in Russia), but if I cared about ASTA certification I would check it, just like I check BBB claims.

I wish you luck getting the book changed. I once had a bad experience with a Lonely Planet recommendation and despite exchanging emails with the author it did not get changed for at least a couple of editions.

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Old May 6th, 2020, 08:32 AM
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Moved to Africa Forum and tagged for Morocco
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Old May 6th, 2020, 11:12 AM
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Travel Exploration Morocco is a tour company, not a travel agent. Big difference.

The other person who's been actively posting and complaining about this company (Karen Joyce) apparently never read Ms Cohen's small print, didn't find out where the company is based before booking (Ouarzazate in Morocco, not USA) and didn't take out comprehensive travel insurance.

My travel insurance would pay out for pandemic cancellations, apparently her insurance didn't cover it.

To answer your original question, "who to rely upon for travel agent recommendations?" Karen only appeared on Tripadvisor after she encountered problems with the tour company. If she had posted asking for advice beforehand, I would have recommended a very reliable company. But they wouldn't have handled the air ticket side of things.
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Old May 7th, 2020, 08:46 AM
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StCirq CounterClifton I think had we not been scrambling so last minute to get a trip booked, I would have done it by myself. I know - logically - I shouldn't let this impact my view of the entire country, but with so much of the world unexplored, realistically, I will just move it down the list.

suze thanks for the good thoughts! Feels like it has turned into a full-time job with tracking all the airline refunds due! (Finnair, American, SAS, Lufthansa, TAP Portugal, Norwegian, Royal Air Maroc....)

marvelousmouse All good points... My issue with the 30% is that I never felt she really tried. I was able to check our hotels and some of them were 100% refundable. Obviously. the driver hadn't been paid, the entry tickets hadn't been paid. And we did offer to pay all non-refundable deposits (documented) and a fee ($2,000) to her and she rejected that. Why wouldn't she accept that? Deposits would be covered and she would still get paid for her time and effort. That's why I think she was being greedy - we originally weren't asking for it all back!

mlgb It wasn't that I didn't "accept" the 30% back. She told me that I should receive something on March 23rd. On that date, we asked her for documentation of the deposits, and she responded with "our offices are closed". We have heard nothing since then and received nothing back. So I disputed it. Which I may or may not win.

RM67 I think we need to get a comprehensive annual travel insurance. Does that cover every trip taken in a calendar year?

We did have travel insurance for this trip, but they don't cover pandemic situations. They cover a quarantine or illness situation, so ironically, had my kid who was sent home from study abroad gotten sick, we would have been covered.

schlegal1 thanks for the positive thoughts. I wish we could get an update. My guess is that she won't be emailing us or responding to us since she claims she is "closed". (although she has enough internet to be posting on IG).

thursdaysd I did read through trip reports here. The problem that I ran into is that many of them are either old or weren't really applicable - they were 10-14 days and went to places that we didn't have time to go to. There was a recent one that I really enjoyed and found helpful. I did reach out to at least one of the recommended drivers in Morocco, but they didn't respond to my email.

Moderator1 I wish you hadn't moved this to the Africa forum. It is a general question about who to trust and what sources to rely upon. In the original post, I specifically didn't mention the country, because that wasn't the point. The point was - how do we know who to trust?

TimCullis I'm not sure there is a difference between a tour operator and a travel agent. She booked hotels and hired a driver. Sounds like a travel agent to me. (In the US, they are virtually the same).

Ms. Cohen's company may be based in Morocco, but she has a US address and phone number listed on her website.
145 Henry Street, Suite #6A, Brooklyn, NEW YORK 11201 USA
Seems like a US company? (and not sure why that makes a difference?)

You may have been willing to provide a reliable name, but there are so many scammers. How could someone verify you from Adam? "Oh, I got the name from a guy on the internet." "You whaaaaaat?"

As for reading the small print, I am not a contract attorney. But when I read... in the contract... "We guarantee a safe and comfortable trip that recognizes all State Department travel requests and Ambassador alerts." I assumed that that would cover a State Department "Do Not Travel" Advisory. I know... don't assume and all that. But I also read on her "Why book with us?" on her website "Travel Exploration Morocco guarantees you will experience the best of Morocco travel when booking a tour to Morocco with us or we will refund your 100%."

So... I can tell you right now, I did NOT experience the best of Morocco travel. So I would like my 100% back.


So, am I disappointed? Of course.
Am I mad? Yeah, I am. I feel that I was taken advantage of. We tried to be fair. We tried to be flexible. All those efforts were rebuffed. I'll get over it, but I am going to fight to (a) get my money back and (b) warn others.

I guess I need to figure out HOW to go to places in the future I am not comfortable travelling independently. That was the point.


now... back to calling Finnair, SAS, Lufthansa, etc. Luckily, I am pretty organized, so have a good list, but it is getting old


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