It's a trip

People take advantage of phones, agents, Internet to book vacations

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Editor's Note: This is a reprint of an article that ran Saturday, Dec. 20 that did not run in its entirety.


With the advent of the Internet and online shopping, residents wishing to escape Northwest Colorado to lower latitudes or famous destinations have more choices than just a local travel agent.

There may not be a "local" travel agent.

Just Travel & Tours, the only travel agency listed in Craig, did not return phone calls related to this story. The listed address for the business did not appear to be very lively. The Craig Chamber of Commerce has no members who are travel agents.

Yet residents do travel, so how do they make arrangements?

Some residents use the Internet exclusively, while others opt for the personal touch that travel agencies offer.

Great Escapes once staffed a Craig office, but now operates exclusively out of Steamboat Springs. However, it still sees a lot of Craig clients, according to Karen Patterson, a Great Escapes travel agent.

The majority of those clients are "older," Patterson said. And some of the clients have had bad experiences with Internet booking.

"They find if they book over the Internet, they don't have anyone to talk to (if something goes wrong)," Patterson said.

Changing itineraries can be a challenge for all but the most Web-savvy travelers, according to Patterson.

"If they try to do that through an Internet company, they have a lot of problems," Patterson said. "Talking to the Internet is kinda hard sometimes."

With one call to a travel agent, such as Patterson, a traveler can change plans in the middle of the vacation, due to emergencies or just caprice.

Travelers with an agent can make such changes and speak to a person as opposed working with a computer terminal. Also, the agent would know the client personally and have a vested interest to fix the problem.

On the Internet, "you're another number," Patterson said.

"When you're stranded and need to get somewhere, you don't need the extra stress," Patterson said.

Dusty White works at Freight Damaged Furniture Plus in Craig. Her travel experience includes two trips to various European destinations and a vacation in Jamaica.

White hired a travel agent.

White avoids Internet booking. She describes herself as "computer illiterate."

"It's easier for me," White said about her decision to use a travel agent. "I just pick up one little package with everything I need."

The package included plane tickets, hotel reservations, car rental receipts, and information about tours and foreign exchange rates, White said.

Perhaps school teachers, with their worldly knowledge and free summers, may have insights about how people in Craig arrange travel plans.

The Craig Daily Press spoke to three high school teachers who were familiar with computers as well as domestic and foreign travel. They described several methods of booking transportation and accommodations.

Amy Coleman teaches English at Moffat County High School. Coleman uses Orbitz.com to book plane tickets. She calls herself a "control freak." She likes Orbitz' options, including the shortest flight, the cheapest flight, and multiple airline choices.

"That's how I got my tickets to Texas," Coleman said.

Mathematics teacher, Ken Harjes used several methods to buy tickets to Europe.

Harjes recommends the "travel" sections of Denver newspapers, which often advertise cheap flights. Harjes found unbeatable tickets to Paris in one such section.

Coleman used the same method to buy tickets to London.

Harjes' sister is a travel agent in the Chicago area. He booked trips through her as well.

But in the end, Harjes' failsafe is a call to the airline itself. He looks up the airline's number in the yellow pages.

"I find I get as good a rate just calling," Harjes said.

Sylvia Duncan, an English teacher, bought a membership with a company called Travelers Advantage. For a yearly membership fee, she can call the company's 800 number and arrange flights, car rentals and hotels over the phone. She even uses the company to book hotels rooms at nearby destinations, such as Boulder.

Duncan previously used Expedia.com, an online company that deals in travel-related services and vacation packages.

Travelers Advantage offers superior customer service, Duncan said.

"I like them because they're such nice people," Duncan said. "They set it all up and I don't have a thing to do."

Much of Duncan's foreign travel was pre-arranged by school groups she belonged to.

Booking large groups at once, especially for corporate clients, has become a mainstay for Great Escapes, making up as much as 70 percent of its business, Patterson said.

Internet resources, coupled with dwindling, and eventually vanishing kick-backs from airlines have hurt the agency, but selling large corporate packages still pays the bills.

Airlines used to pay agents a percentage of the plane tickets the agents sold. At one time, that percentage was 10 percent. A few years ago, the commission dwindled to eight percent, then five percent. Finally, it vanished, Patterson said.

"That's just because the airlines are in trouble (financially)," Patterson said.

Patterson said she preferred the way things were. But in the face of zero commissions, the travel agents had to stay alive.

Now, Great Escapes charges a flat fee of $30 for a vacation package. The fee is the same for a flight to Las Vegas as for a vacation to Europe.

And for that price, customers can book not only flights and car rentals, but tours and other attractions as well.

For Patterson, business seems to be booming. She was surprised a phone interview with the Craig Daily Press was only interrupted twice by telephones ringing in her office

The most popular destinations to which she arranges travel are in sunny climes, such as Mexico.

"People like to get out of here in the winter and go to nice, warm destinations," Patterson said.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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