What I Learned About Flying

Trip Start Sep 27, 2008
Trip End Dec 02, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The best advice I ran across while researching plane tickets was from that slightly annoying guy on PBS, Rick Steves. In his book, Europe Through the Back Door, he insists on the importance of finding yourself a good, honest travel agent. That's exactly what I wound up doing and I'm glad that I did.

First, I did some checking around on my own, to get the lay of the land. My Rough Guide to India put low season flights from Chicago at $1600 or more (they didn't estimate any prices from Denver). I looked at a few websites (my favorite was www.cheaptickets.com) and saw prices bottoming out at around $1400 with taxes and fees.

However, when I looked at the layovers and stopovers I had to cringe. One flight had me hanging out in Chicago for something like 13 hours. Another pretty good deal required a stopover in Kuwait, also with several hours between flights. And who knows what kind of visa red tape that would have required.

Nevertheless, I had fun shopping for a fare on line for a couple of weeks. In fact, it was downright exciting as it slowly dawned on me that I could really easily enter my credit card information and, "shazam!", be off to India any time I wanted. Still, I maintained my self control.

My method for finding that honest and trustworthy travel agent was not very, well, methodical. I flipped through the yellow pages to the travel agent section and started looking down the list for an office close to my house. The second or third listing was "A Travel Advantage Inc."

Now, I have always made it a policy to avoid doing business with any company that starts it's name with any number of  "A's". If that's the best they can come up with as a marketing strategy then how much effort are they really putting into this whole business thing? It smacks of profound laziness and I have to wonder if they wouldn't rather be doing something wholly different with their time.

But hey, A Travel Advantage happened to be right next to my library, my bank and my favorite bookstore so what the hell. I gathered my notes, including a rough itinerary, and headed out.

I had my doubts when I first walked into their modest office in downtown Colorado Springs. Everything was old, yellowing and a little dingy. Not dirty, just kind of worn out. The carpet was drab and the travel posters on the walls from places like Cancun and Bali, were sun-faded and uninspiring. A bulky desk faced the front door with two old dining room chairs with gold corduroy seat cushions for clients to sit in.

Joan Spratford, owner of A Travel Advantage, sat behind this desk chanting into her blue tooth headset and hammering away at the keys of her computer. At first I didn't think she even noticed me there but after a few uncertain moments she waved me to a seat.

She finished with her client on the phone and we immediately got down to business. I gave her the basic details of my trip and after a few questions she resumed hammering her keyboard and staring intently into the monitor in front of her.

I glanced around for a peek at what she was looking at and couldn't make any sense of it. It was really just a basic LED kind of display with charts made of green light, filled with letters and numbers. It was just raw data that she processed and analyzed and manipulated for me over the next several days.

Normally I would have probably have been able to buy a ticket that first day, but Joan kept running into the problem of seat availability in the same "class". I don't really understand this but basically if you put different legs of a trip together (Denver to Chicago to Delhi) and they're not in the same airline determined category, then you're going to get screwed on the price by many hundreds of dollars. She told me that the airlines restrict availability of seats so they can better control and manipulate prices. She tweaked all kinds of options for me including consolidator fares and even an overnight stay in Chicago but finally found a group of flights that worked.

After all was said and done, my final ticket cost me $1460 including Joan's $60 fee. That was only about $70 more than what I would have paid on line (I just checked out fares again yesterday and they're holding to the same price). I've got to fly from Denver to Chicago but after a very reasonable 2 hour layover, I fly direct into Delhi. I leave and arrive at the times I asked for, and best of all my ticket is refundable minus a $200 cancellation fee. You never know.

Joan was awesome. She probably spent a total of three hours working on my flight. That breaks down to a pretty reasonable rate for the piece of mind that I got. On the second day we met she had just gotten off the phone with another client. Turns out he missed his flight from Chile to Mexico and there wasn't another one scheduled for two or three days. It sounded like he was pretty much a shit out of luck but Joan was working every angle to try and get him out of there sooner.

If I find myself in that situation as I'm trying to get back home, it's good to know that there is someone I can call stateside who will give all her attention to making things right.
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starlagurl on

Just when you think it's the death of the travel agent, it's nice to know that real, hardworking people are still out there. Good on you for taking the initiative and getting out there to try it for yourself.

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

zakary on

Love it.
Of course you posted a picture of your travel agent's office.

Love it. You are going to have the best time!

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