Q – I know we are early, but we are planning our first trip to the Orient in the winter of 2025. We will likely be using one of the top ranked tour operators like Red Savannah, Abercrombie & Kent or, perhaps, Tauck. We will be flying out of Cleveland. I am a tad anxious about the air and I will obsess about it until I have the schedule in my hand.  I am not sure, since I will know exactly what I want, if I will need a travel agent or if I should book this directly.

I will not accept flights that are “assigned to us”. There are some excellent carriers that operate in Asia and we will want the best possible routing. Who do I speak to at the tour company to make this happen as “it must”. 

Would really appreciate your addressing the “use an agent” question as I am receiving contradictory advise from friends who are well-traveled. Don’t be afraid to tell it to me straight. Love the site.

A –  You do not get to “choose” your flights when using supplier-provided air. What they can offer is, as we have discussed elsewhere on TT, limited by their contractual obligations. But there is nothing wrong with letting the air department know your preferences. If you don’t get them, and the air schedule is unacceptable to you, simply reject it and do your own thing. This will, almost always, increase your total costs by several thousand dollars and, should something go wrong, you are on your own. Another down side is that air, as quoted by a tour operator or a cruise line, is almost always a package – not a simple ticket quote. It usually includes taxes, which can run as high as 18%, baggage handling, and round trip transfers. You will end up paying for each of those items if you do your own air. 

The “should I use an agent” question is one that comes to us, in one form or another, on an almost daily basis. You want it straight – only a fool books direct. When you do, you are supporting one of the travel industry’s major “scams”. Virtually all suppliers will charge you the travel agency commission even when you book directly with the company. By all rights, it would seem to be unethical, and perhaps illegal under certain provisions of existing consumer protection laws, to charge a consumer the agent commission  when they book directly and have not used an agent. But the agent commission is always built in and you might  be surprised at the number of folks who pay it without asking for a refund. This is how travel suppliers can easily double their profits on any booking. They get the consumer to pay the same price the agent would charge even though the agent’s services are not included. This is why savvy travel observers will notice that every possible effort is made to get you to go to the supplier’s site to book online. You are paying for services you never received and they are simply pocketing the difference. 

Was that “straight” enough?