The Guide to Savvy Traveling
A compendium of expert advice on using a travel agent, decoding hotel jargon, tipping, and more.
When to Use a Travel Agent
When you are strapped for time. Earmarking guidebooks and comparing hotel prices can take weeks. A travel agent can quickly steer you to the right locations and hotels and book everything for you (but you still have to do the packing). And while agents do charge a fee, it may not be more than an extra night at a hotel.
When you have a complicated itinerary. Visiting several cities? “We know the fastest trains, where there’s a lot of traffic getting in and out of a city, and when it’s too much trouble to have a car,” says Judith Wolf, a Spain specialist at Frosch Travel, in Deerfield, Illinois. Agents also specialize in certain countries, so they know which sites sell a limited number of tickets and what days a landmark is closed. And since some agents work in large offices, “there are 70 other people I can go to if I don’t know something,” says Wolf. To find a local agent, consult the American Society of Travel Agents (asta.org) and search by ZIP code.
How to Enlist the Help of a Concierge
Ask nicely, says Jonathan Nicholson, chief concierge at the boutique XV Beacon Hotel, in Boston. “It’s my job to help everyone, and I will, but I prefer to work with people who are polite,” he says. Translation: You’ll get better service, above and beyond the standard restaurant reservations. “We can give you ideas of places to shop or help you pick the order in which you visit museums so you can fit them all in,” says Nicholson. As for the timing of your requests for help, an hour heads-up is good; a day or two is best.