Use agent or plan my own trip to CR?

Old Aug 31st, 2004, 11:13 AM
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Use agent or plan my own trip to CR?

Been doing lots of research on CR and have decided the itinerary, hotels & tours (control freak that I am). Question is...do I submit this to a few agents for best prices for flight, hotels, transfers? or do I book it all separately by myself? Any great costa rica agents that you've had great luck with and recommend? or do you get better prices doing all the reservation work yourself? Thanks!!
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Old Aug 31st, 2004, 12:01 PM
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Hi there,

I can recommend to you
www.CostaRica-Travelinfo.com they are based in Costa Rica and are extremely knowledgeable of their surroundings. Good luck!
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Old Aug 31st, 2004, 06:52 PM
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I took a trip to Costa Rica this past June/July and used Andrea from www.bestofcostarica.com to book all our hotel and transfers. If you do plan to book through an agent, then I highly recommend her. She's very responsive with email and will customize a package for you. For international flight, I booked directly through Taca Airlines online website.

I think you'll find that prices will be best if you book it all separately yourself. But I liked the convenience of having an agent do it all for me since I did a lot of hopping around to different places while in Costa Rica.


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Old Aug 31st, 2004, 07:15 PM
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I can't comment on how prices compare, but we {my husband and I} were delighted with the itinerary we set up ourselves {I guess I'm a control freak too!}. It took a lot of research and helpful advice from people on this forum, but there were few glitches. I hope that I saved us money by doing it this way, and I especially liked the personal contact with most of the lodge owners.

Call me weird, but I actually ENJOY the whole exhaustive process of setting up trip details, for the most part. Others in my family consider this a form of torture! I guess it boils down to your tolerance level. Good luck!
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Old Aug 31st, 2004, 07:46 PM
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dcd
 
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Another control freak who loves researching and planning trips checking in... I, too, am in the midst of planning a CR trip (for December) and have contacted several travel agents, some of which are mentioned above, and all have been helpful. However, for airfare and hotels, I found that the prices quoted by the agents are identical to what's quoted by the airlines and hotels themselves. The agents don't always add in the taxes when quoting a rate which can give the appearance/illusion that they're cheaper when they're not. Also, with some agents, once they book the room for you, it's non-refundable if you later have to cancel whereas the hotel itself will have a decent cancellation policy, usually a full refund with 15 or 30 day advance notice.

For airfare, I'm not sure what kind of cancellation policies the agents have; the airlines (American at least) will refund the difference to your credit card if the fare goes down before you leave and if you call to request the refund before departure, which is a great insurance policy, and if you can't use your ticket at all, you'll get a travel voucher toward a future flight to be used within a year. I'm not sure if the travel agents will do all that for you. In short, read the fine print if you use an agent and ask a lot of questions.

All that said, I found a situation where the hotel said it was full but the agents had rooms. I believe the agents buy the rooms which is perhaps why their cancellation policies aren't the best. You will need to first carefully research the type of room and amenities you want and convey same to the agent to make sure you're getting what you want. The agents I worked with tended to quote me a room price without telling me what I was getting, meaning I had to send follow up emails to seek claification.

I found the hotels to be mixed in their responsiveness to emails, which is the easiest way to contact them -- some are quick but I'm still waiting to hear from others, usually the smaller places. I have actually called a small B&B to jumpstart the reservation process. (I used a cheapish 10-10 dial around no., about $.16 a minute). Also, for hotels, the agents will not have access to all the hotels and B&Bs--they only deal with certain ones.

For transfers, I booked the now famous Oscar, who is a free lance private driver (type in his name under search to find him), based on the recommendations of fellow posters. On the shorter routes, a taxi appears to be significantly cheaper than a private driver. The private transfer rates vary quite a bit. For instance, from San Jose to Arenal, I've been quoted $99 to $210.

Dave
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Old Sep 1st, 2004, 07:42 AM
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I had a great time planning our CR trip myself. I had contacted a couple of travel agents also. What bothered me the most was having to pay for 100% of the trip in advance -for 5 people, 2 rooms & tours - 6 months before our departure date.

When booking directly with the hotels, most only require is a credit card deposit to hold your room, leaving you a bit more flexibility to change should you hear about a great place or great deal.

Should you decide on a package, Neta at La Finca Que Ama has put together one that seems to be very nice and very reasonable: www.costaricapackage.com. She is very helpful to anyone planning a trip to CR.

Dave, I think you'll have a great time with Oscar. Tell him Linda & family said Hi!
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Old Sep 1st, 2004, 09:16 AM
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Wow, you guys are good! Thanks for the recommendations. Nice to know I'm not the only control freak who revels in research and more research!

I never even considered the cancellation aspect, or the lower airfaire aspect. Gave me lots to consider. Taca from Chicago on the Saturday I was looking at seems to fly at 1 a.m....weird. Could be good in a way-unconscious children.

The hotels I wanted are Sapo Dorado-Monteverde, Hotel Los Lagos-Arenal, Capitan Suiza-Tamarindo and Peace Lodge outside San Jose. It seems Los Lagos and Peace Lodge aren't affiliated with any tours/agencies...that's why I was wondering if those needed to be booked independently or not.

By the way, this infamous Oscar, can he transport our family of 4 comfortably, say, in a van that's air conditioned?

Thanks!
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Old Sep 1st, 2004, 11:58 AM
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Lorainc,

We took the TACA flight that left at 1:30 am from LAX and got into SJO at 8:45 am, and found it to be fine. For one thing, it eliminated an overnight stay in San Jose that so many packaged trips seem to require.

Our first stop was the the La Paz Waterfall gardens, home of the Peace Lodge.

Oscar's air-conditioned van can fit 12 people, probably 9 comfortably. He takes out the very back seat to make room for luggage. We were a family of 3 adults and 2 kids and were quite comfortable.
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Old Sep 1st, 2004, 10:10 PM
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If you're flying out of Chicago, check out American Airlines website. Not sure when you're going, but I got a web-only rate for mid-November that was under $275 per person - at least $50 cheaper than i saw on expedia, orbitz, etc. I purchased the tix several weeks ago though, so it may be expired, but it's worth a look.
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Old Sep 2nd, 2004, 05:28 AM
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I just want to chime in since I am an agent (have been in the industry for almost 9 years & started my own company a little over 2 years ago). You know what got me started??? My control freak nature that loves the challenge of planning a great trip & all the research that goes into it!! Anyway, just my 2 cents...

1 - Yes, generally when you book with an agent you will have to pay in full prior to your trip & there will be stricter cancellation penalties.
2 - Yes, agents can often get you available rooms even when the hotel shows sold out. We work with wholesalers that buy a certain allotment from various hotels & they may have not sold their allotment yet, however the hotel has sold all they can.
3 - Yes, sometimes airfare prices will be the same whether you check the airline or an agent. And, sometimes the air will be more with an agent b/c many add in service fees these days. BUT, MANY times the airfare an agent can get you is WELL under the published airline prices b/c again we work with wholesalers who negotiate "bulk" airfare prices that we can pass on to the traveler. This is especially & most often true in the high seasons. When in the low season, it is very hard to beat the published air sale rates to Costa Rica.
4 - There are some destinations/types of trips where it just makes sense to use an agent because they can almost always get you better prices than if you arranged it on your own with the airlines/hotels/etc & I wouldnt recommend any other way. But - I would encourage you to find someone who will give you the attention you deserve & tell them you like to research up front. They should take the time to include websites & reviews, etc for you so you are part of the process & know why they are doing what they are doing!
5 - I used to say that Costa Rica was a destination better left to the traveler to plan & book on their own (unless of course, they wanted just a quick trip to one of the major beach resorts). I used to think that b/c if someone really wants to experience the country, they will be wanting the smaller, unique hotels & to visit several locations throughout the country. Most small, unique hotels (especially b&bs) do not work with travel agents so I was making that assumption on the CR hotels. HOWEVER, after my 1st visit in July, I realize that hotel owners in CR are very different from many other places in the world. They ALL seem to work well with travel agents & help to secure rates & availability. Knowing this, I then recommend you DO use an agent assuming you don't mind the change/cancellation restrictions. Remember the more you pay before you go, the more spread out the expenses are - so psychologically this always seems to help me when paying for a trip! Again, find an agent you connect with & will give you time & attention & listen to YOUR interests & wants (unfortunately, many agents do NOT & these are some of the biggest complaints you hear about the industry). Remember that even with the research you do, an agent may be able to recommend something you overlooked or recommend another season based on knowing a sale is coming up or any other sort of thing that you might not have thought about. At the same time, this board was SO helpful to me in planning my CR trip - and I found out so much more than I expected! There is a wealth of knowledge on here - and just think - your agent could be using this (like I do!) to get lots of good tips & ideas to pass along to their next customers!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2004, 06:39 AM
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Sorry - I didn't realize I wrote a whole book in my post above!
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Old Sep 2nd, 2004, 04:57 PM
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My husband and I went to CR 3 years ago in Jan. I planned the whole trip. We stayed in San Jose the first night and last night
http://www.bougainvillea.co.cr/
Great hotel out of the city quite, clean, internet, restaurant.
The next 3 nights we spent in Arena and stayed at:
http://www.arenal.net/hotel/montana-del-fuego.htm
Cute little individual cabins. Very clean and comfortable. Food was OK.

We also went to Manual Antonio and stayed at Si Como No. Wonderful. Great food. Lots of fun. We spent 4 night there.
http://www.sicomono.com/

Loved CR. Can't wait to go back.
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Old Sep 6th, 2004, 10:28 AM
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I have been trying to book our trip in December and everything was sold out. From reading these postings I decided to try an agency. They have come up with an itinerary which is perfect and they did have the rooms blocked. This seems to have worked out. Does anyone know Costa Rica Tourism and Travel Bureau or Rain Forest Tours?
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Old Sep 6th, 2004, 12:04 PM
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Keep in mind that many of the people in CR that can help are tour operators/drivers and don't really do the international air arrangements.

Often times we spend months figuring out what to do and make some of the arrangements ourselves and then contact someone to make the rest happen. The tour operators help with as much or as little as we need. They are also a good source of new places that may not be in the books or in the loop of discussion groups yet. They are also a quick help in case of a booked up hotel. I have spent weeks setting up trips because of slow responses only to have to almost start over because something didn't work out and now need to rearrange. Sometimes things just fall into place and sometimes they don't.

Another consideration for us anyway is the fact that there is one contact # or email address that any one of our family can get ahold of in case of an emergency. We like to travel to more remote areas (such as river rafting overnight) and feel better knowing that our family has someone to contact who knows where we are and can get to us. Someday I hope to resume my free spirited backpacking trips to Europe and C America but for now I need to keep in touch.
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Old Sep 6th, 2004, 02:39 PM
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Back to sum up my two cents . There is no right or wrong answer to your question. Costa Rica has tons of options for the do it yourselfer and the person who may want a lot or a little help. It is your vacation and you are the ultimate person to decide how you can best enjoy it. We all work hard to earn the time and $ for these trips and we all do it the best way for us.

Pura Vida
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