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Get better service, upgrades & prices if you use an agent to book lodging?

Get better service, upgrades & prices if you use an agent to book lodging?

Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 05:51 AM
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Get better service, upgrades & prices if you use an agent to book lodging?

We are leaving in a few weeks for our second trip to India. I have a trusted agent I used last time to mainly arrange a driver. He made a few bookings for me last time, but I did most of the booking on my own since it is relatively easy to do it online. And, all over the rest of the world we always make our own arrangements rather than using an agent. We tend to stay in small, family-owned types of places rather than large chain hotels.

For a small fee, the agent will make bookings for me. This is worth it to me if a place wants a deposit wired or a bank transfer made because they won't take credit cards; it saves me a hassle and money. My agent says I will pay the same published rates just as if I were making the booking directly. But, I think that even with smaller places the agency probably cuts a deal whereby they pay lower rates than an individual does, thereby earning some more money for the agency.

Now I am starting to wonder if I might get better rooms etc. if the place knows that they are dealing with an agent who will give them return business rather than just a sole traveler who will be coming through only once. If so, I'd be happy to pay the agent the small fee to book for me. On the other hand, perhaps with today's ubiquitous use of Internet review formats like Trip Advisor, places don't give any special treatment to those who use an agent to book.

What are your thoughts? And, remember that I am talking about smaller places rather than chains like the Oberoi or Taj or Radisson.

Thanks.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 06:09 AM
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If you are talking about smaller places, like homestays for example, it may cost you less to book directly. Since you are typically dealing directly with the owner, you should get the room of your choice. The agency websites may be helpful for researching the various options but do compare prices with the hotel's own website. We have only done this once, for a last minute booking in Udaipur, and it worked out great.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 06:46 AM
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I prefer to make my own bookings 100%
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Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 07:35 AM
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There are circumstances when using a travel agent will get you better prices, prime rooms and extras. We had that experience in Java. But I wouldn't assume that to be true everywhere.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 08:59 AM
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I really am interested in all of this input because I truly don't know.

When it came time to pay up, I do remember at one of the smaller places we stayed in Rajasthan the Thakur owner (who was not exactly super into making money off of this whole enterprise, I think) was surprised that we didn't have a voucher and had booked directly with him. When he realized that I had made the reservation with him directly, he charged us less than he had originally said when he thought it was a voucher scheme.

Gut level I suspect I'd get cheaper rates by booking directly, but I also remember a lovely, small place the agent had suggested and booked for us. We'd requested the cheaper room, but we were upgraded and got the best. However, we were also the only guests there that night.

Thanks again for the input.
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Old Feb 3rd, 2014, 11:19 PM
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Best way is to negotiate directly with the locations you want to stay at and using information online try to identify when their low seasons are and when they have rooms unbooked. Then you can usually negotiate a ~10-20% discount off the lowest rate you find online. Keep in mind that many of the online 3rd party bookers actually take a 25% or higher commission out of every room that is booked by them. Considering that, it's actually more profitable for them to sell you a room at a 20% discount if done directly.
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Old Feb 4th, 2014, 09:16 AM
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Leland--

This is valuable info to have.

I am looking primarily at mid-range heritage hotels out in the middle of nowhere where there aren't other options to choose from, and I want to book from here in the US. How would you go about asking them for their best rate? I understand how to do it if I am a walk-in in a city where I could walk out and go to another hotel, but in a situation like this I can't quite figure out how this negotiation would happen. Thanks.
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Old Feb 4th, 2014, 11:39 PM
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It depends on your free time--how much energy do you want to put into booking and researching, and how much, if anything it will save in $. It also depends on the accommodation and if the agent has a working relationship with the place. The agent I've used in india will tell me honestly if a lodging's place is the same whether I use him, or do it myself, and whether or not they can get lower pricing. I can think of several specific place where the agent got much , much lower rates than i did looking on-line. Other times, hotels will give upgrades to the clients of an agent with whom they have a good relationship. Why? They will send more clients next time, of course.

I just returned from a trip to India and for the first time in 5 yrs, booked it entirely myself. Except for one pretty bad place( which tripadvisor reviews had recommended, but which the agent had never heard of one way or the other) the places and prices were fine. BUT what i missed was having someone ELSE "worry" about the details,organize arrivals/departures/pickups, and then give me the information . It is still not a fait accompli to get an itinerary--feedback and changes can always be made, or suggested n advance. But the details took a huge amount of energy, compared to past trips when i'd fully or partially booked with the t.a. own, what a Granted, it can be fun, interesting, and a "learning" experience--but you have PLENTY of those in India, as you know Julie, whether you or someone else books the places/trains/airport pickups, etc.
Even when i booked places on my own in the past-- when I had the travel agency organize the small details, it was easier. And this is in addition to the feedback you'll get from an honest and knowledgeable agent. There have been a few times I've kicked myself for going against the reccos/advice I got!!

I actually rarely use travel agents. I was in Singapore and Hong Kong too and did fine. But those are different countries and cultures.

Finallly, if there are any problems, a good travel agent will "have your back" and intervene. If you're on your own....you're on your own. This may be more significant for me, traveling solo.If a lodging owner or local guy messes up with you...well, too bad. mess up with a reputable and used agent, and you're potentially ruining your future business.
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 06:29 AM
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Hi Cali--

Can I ask you if in the past you had the ta do the research, select lodging, and organize the itinerary? In other words, were those the type of trips where you would get a printed itinerary with all of those minute details designating where you were going when and what you would be doing for the day?

I am asking because last time I used an agent primarily to designate a good route for me after I had made most of my locales and accommodation choices on my own. He made a few room reservations for us, but I did most on my own. Then, the agent arranged a car and driver for us. So, we were pretty much on our own as far as what we would do once we arrived at a destination because we hired no guides. Even though these were the only services we had arranged through the agency, every day we would get a call from the agent asking if things were going well; this was reassuring.

So, when you say that past trips were a lot easier on you, I am trying to see exactly how large a contrast there was between those trips and this time when you made the room bookings on your own.

I completely get the notion of having someone covering your back and being able to make quick changes if things go bad. On our last trip I (no one else to blame) chose a bad place, so bad we decided to leave after an hour, and my agent was able to quickly make a readjustment for me.

Thanks much. And, I hope you had a good trip.
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 11:40 AM
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Hi Julie,

A combination!! On the two trips where I most involved the t.a.-- to the South of India, and then to Himachal Pradesh-- i chose most of the lodging, and then asked for feedback. Sometimes, the lodging the ta recommended coincided with the one i had chosen. Other times, they were just able to say if they knew of a place-- if they did, if they had experience there, what it was, etc. It is difficult if you've never been to a place--vs the travel agent who lives in a country,or at least, visits often.

I am curious--why did you make hotel res on your own, when the t.a. could have done ALL of them--even after you chose? EVEN if there was a slight mark-up --which i found there was NOT--was it worth the hassle and time? Making res in India can be a challenge! Maybe for some it is entirely smooth sailing, but for others...stuff happens.
I made my own res for the Oberoi in Kolkata on this last trip, and believe it or not, there was a major snafu with the Oberoi airport to hotel pickup. Had i had the T.a. book, i'd have been met by THEIR local connection. In there previous trips where they had varied levels of involvement, i never missed having a promised connection person be where they were to meet me off a train or plane.
Logistics stuff takes time that i would rather not deal with if a trusted person could do it. Then, there are the times someone is trying to "get over" on you -- no matter how aware of it, is still easy to fall prey, even for silly little things, which are still irritating (amusing, in retrospect) which, if organized by an experienced travel agent with good local connections, are less likely to happen
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 11:41 AM
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Julie, what part of India are you visiting this time?
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 11:47 AM
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p.s. Thanks for your comment hoping I had a good trip. this last trip (5th time to India) was my least favorite. the air pollution was TERRIBLE in a few places. Long stories. However, i found a fantastic new (for me) place to stay in South Delhi which will probably become my "go-to" place on all times there This last trip was unusual in that it was fairly brief, cities only: Kolkata, Varanasi, New Delhi and Meerut (AVOID the latter--i was there only to see a friend). I LOVE the countryside in India and not seeing much of it this time affected my experience greatly. Still, as soon as i got home, i started dreaming of the next trip! to India--probably parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala i missed 5 yrs ago
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 01:29 PM
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Our last trip was even more last minute than the upcoming trip. I'd pretty much scoped things out ahead of time since I knew we'd eventually make the trip. So, I'd already contacted some of the lodgings (we stayed at small independent places rather than chains and did a lot of rural places just as we intend to do this time)even before I had the car and driver all arranged. I had the agent make a few reservations when I would have had a huge hassle with a wire transfer or other down payment, but the rest I did myself. Some places were just honor system for the reservation, and some were able to take a credit card ahead of time. I guess if I'd just had the agent make all of the reservations, we'd just have paid one lump sum and then used vouchers from the agency. All in all, we had pretty good luck with this method of operation.

Was it in Meerut that the air pollution was so terrible, or was it other places too? I'm curious because we will also be going to Nepal, and I keep hearing that the pollution is absolutely terrible there too. And, I keep reading of all the people who come down with respiratory infections because of it. The rest of our trip will probably primarily be Rajasthan, but I am also looking at trying to fit in a visit to Amnritsar.
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Old Feb 5th, 2014, 02:01 PM
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julies, when we were in Nepal, I was impressed by how much the air quality had improved since my first visit in 1994.
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