5 things to know about working with a luxury travel advisor from our latest Return of Travel webinar
With the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic accelerating, you may be looking to splurge on your first post-COVID-19 vacation. From premium-class flights to luxury hotel rooms to private excursions, there are many ways to book a high-end trip — and a luxury travel advisor may be a terrific resource to accomplish this goal.
That said, many travelers are hesitant to utilize a travel advisor thanks to ongoing misconceptions about what (exactly) that entails.
So ... on our most recent Return of Travel webinar, we sat down with one to clear up any confusion. Brian Kelly, TPG's founder and CEO, interviewed Tom Ho, a luxury travel advisor from ThomsTravel.com — which is affiliated with both Protravel International and Virtuoso. The duo covered a lot of ground during the hour-long session — including how Tom got into the field and what someone could expect working with him.
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Read on for the most important takeaways from the webinar regarding luxury travel advisors — and scroll to the bottom for a full recording.
They can help with airline hold times
Over the last several weeks, many airlines have had horrendously-long hold times. The surging demand coupled with staff shortages and an abundance of vouchers from canceled flights last year have caught carriers flat-footed. Some have improved since we first reported on the issue earlier this year, but you may still need to wait multiple hours to speak to an airline representative on the phone — especially during widespread weather (or other) issues.
Thankfully, booking flights with a luxury travel advisor like Tom can minimize those hassles.
"We have direct, special partner lines directly into the airlines," Tom said, and even if there's a long hold time there, he has email addresses to follow-up. This helps to "push us along through that process to make sure that our clients are taken care of."
This very thing came up in the early days of the pandemic, where Tom spent hours on hold with airlines on behalf of his clients — and was able to obtain refunds or vouchers for all of his clients.
Related: How to use outstanding airline vouchers before they expire
You still can earn points and miles
Here at The Points Guy, we (naturally) want to do everything possible to earn points and miles before — and during — our trips. And sometimes, when you don't book directly with a travel provider, you may miss out on those valuable earnings.
Not so when working with a travel advisor.
"If you book directly with a travel advisor, and we book directly with hotels or our preferred partners ... you'll still get the points," Tom said, going on to add that the same thing holds true for the airlines — as long as you don't use your own points or miles to book your flights.
Now, he did point out that there is a rare exception to this rule: deeply-discounted, wholesale rates.
"The only time you don't earn points is if you say you want the best, lowest price possible and you want me to work with a wholesaler," he said, adding that in those cases, the provider may not "pass on the points, because the prices are so cheap."
However, this is exceedingly rare — so in most cases, you should still take home those valuable points or miles.
Rates are generally the same (or lower) — but with added perks
Another common thought with luxury travel advisors is that they're charging you more for the same flights and accommodations you can book yourself. Tom clarified that this is not the case.
"I would say 99% of the time, our rates are either the same exact rate you'll find online, booking directly," he said. "Or, it's slightly cheaper because we negotiate rates with partners that we work with a lot."
Not only that — a travel advisor can also unlock a variety of perks, and in many cases, this can be even more lucrative than those offered to top-tier elites. And here, Tom didn't mince words.
Related: How to book luxury travel using a credit card
"I can always get you a better upgrade or treated better, no matter how high your status is with the airline or with the hotel."
How does he do this? By leveraging his relationships and the reach of his travel agency affiliations.
Remember that when you book by yourself, "you're still just one consumer in this industry — compared to me with a community of travel advisors who book nonstop. Our volume is a lot higher, and money talks. We come with the higher-yield sales each year, so they're going to (of course) treat my clients at a higher level than other people."
But the benefits of working with a luxury travel advisor go beyond just these perks ...
They can help you book more creatively
A lot of us have favorite airlines or hotel loyalty programs. And these preferences can play a major role in selecting travel providers to use on your trips. However, Tom highlighted how this approach can prevent you from considering other (potentially better) options for your travels.
"If you're just bound to whatever hotel company that has your highest status, you're missing out on some of the most amazing experiences."
He even went as far as to say that, at some higher-end brands, a loyalty program is simply unnecessary — because every guest is treated like a top-tier, VIP during their stays.
"That's why you should explore and reach out beyond just your regular hotels," he said.
Related: The TPG 20: Staff picks for our favorite new hotels
They can offer wide expertise
There are many specialized trips out there, and Brian asked about the importance of specialization in the world of travel advisors — should you utilize someone who focuses solely on African safaris, for example, if you're planning that kind of vacation?
According to Tom, no.
"I say treat your advisor like your closest friend and family and stick with that person," he said. "Work with an advisor with a broader scope. That advisor already knows who to reach out to that fit the best experience for your trip." The best advisors should have deep connections in their own right, but they also have networks that can be incredibly helpful in meeting those specialized needs on a trip.
As an example, Tom highlighted one of his clients that's booking a Christmas trip to Belize. He has his own suppliers down there, but he also has an advisor friend who actually lives in Belize. She was able to offer first-hand advice to meet the needs of Tom's client.
So ... if you're considering hiring a luxury travel advisor, be sure to find out the depth of their connections — both with travel companies and through their network of other travel professionals.
Want to hear more of the conversation between Brian and Tom? Check out the full recording right here:
Run of show
- 2:12 — Brian's intro
- 6:18 — What a travel advisor can do
- 10:42 — Extra perks
- 15:56 — Travel agency affiliations
- 17:36 — Finding a travel advisor
- 19:25 — Specialists
- 24:38 — Staying on top of reopening plans
- 26:56 — Booking travel for this summer
- 31:01 — Utilizing concierge services
- 33:23 — VIP airport support
- 38:28 — Becoming a travel advisor
- 44:25 — LGBTQ+ travel
- 48:34 — Q&A
"The Return of Travel with Brian Kelly" is a series of live events to help consumers prepare for the comeback of travel as the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic. Join Brian as he interviews top experts and company executives on a range of topics, including the anticipated boom in leisure travel, what travel looks like for various groups, the return to cruising, destination reopening and much more.
You can view a recap and recording of the previous episodes at the following links:
- 4 takeaways from our first Return of Travel webinar featuring the president of Destination DC
- 8 fun things to do in Puerto Rico from the island’s head of tourism
- 6 biggest moments from Delta CEO Ed Bastian's appearance on TPG's Return of Travel webinar
- 5 key moments from our webinar with former United CEO Oscar Munoz
For recaps of this series' predecessor — "The Future of Travel with Brian Kelly" — please visit this page.