Travel agents

Sometime tomorrow, you may hear something that sounds like a tennis ball can being opened very, very slowly. It won’t be a new trio of tennis balls, but rather a can of whoop-ass. And I will be opening it before I chew out a travel agent. Susan Dennis style.

As part of meeting our corporate “stretch” milestone, everyone in the company was given a choice among a voucher worth $X towards travel booked through a specific travel agency, $0.75X in the cash equivalent, or, for the whiners, $0.00X, offering the benefit of being unencumbered by taxes or the urgency to consume it by the end of fiscal year 2007. I took the $X option.

After browsing Travel Agency’s Web Site, hereafter referred to as “TAWS,” I had a strong suspicion I would be much better at finding deals on the commodity items, especially after booking my most recent business trip. Furthermore, I noticed that TAWS was locked into some exclusive offerings. For example, for rental cars, they only show Hertz, a fine unit of frequency, but for rental cars, 2X what I can find elsewhere.

Monday at 1pm, I called the designated travel agent contact with an itinerary. I get her voice mail and leave a message. At 1:30, I called again. Voice mail. I followed up with email and was about as crystal clear as one can get in these situations: airline, flight number, seat assignments, dates, aircraft type, and so on. I got busy at work, but kept my cell phone at my side in case she called back. She did not. All she had to do was follow the simple instructions, and she’d be done with me.

If a pretty poster and a cute saying are all it takes to motivate you, you probably have an easy job. The kind robots will be doing soon.

This morning, I called again, catching her at the desk. Insert excuse here. She remembered my very specific email and said she’d call back. Half an hour later, she did, but breaking the news that the airfares on that particular selection have gone up $110 per ticket (times four), did I want to take another airline instead? While I’m stunned in disbelief, I check kayak, and sure enough, that’s the case. Since the new ticket had no stops, I opted for this. The total, plus a hotel booking, came to $X + $3. She offered the option for me to book the trip on my credit card and get reimbursed, or she would just charge me the $3. At the time, my thinking was “I don’t want to float the $X,” so I gave her my number to charge the three bucks and consume the $X voucher.

Later in the afternoon, I happened to be pricing rental cars. (It’s $24 to rent a car to go to the airport. Or, I can park there for $12-$20/day. Or, I can take Shuttle Express at $21 x 4 people. Or I can pay a cab $65….) I had a question about the aircraft type, and pulled up the itinerary online. The ticket price had gone up even further. The hair on the back of my neck was tingling because I hadn’t received a confirmation email from her.

Since I’m totally anal about these things, I pulled up the flight number and looked at the seat assignments. As I feared, the block of seats she had mentioned are very much available, meaning either she hadn’t booked it or there was some kind of transient subspace anomaly and it didn’t go through. Tomorrow, I will call and open up with “hey, I didn’t get a receipt for the itinerary, would you mind sending it again.” Her response will no doubt rhyme with “poops” as she segues into telling me it’ll cost me more money because she was lazy. I’ll ask for the voucher back in cash. We’ll see what happens next.

Meanwhile, I found a cupcake deal on resort hotel #1, bargains on three rental car reservations (to airport, from airport, and while I’m there), yet I still need a way to get to my vacation destination. I may try sweating it out another week, hoping the airfares fluctuate again, and booking it myself. I know they make a relatively small amount on the ticket, I don’t think I can make this an easier transaction.