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The Devil’s in the Details

How to choose the best travel agent and carrier

By Noha Mohammed


There are scores of travel agents to choose from in Egypt, and thousands of travel sitesonline. A travel agents’ mission is to save you planning and travel time, not to mention finding the best deals to suit your needs. Your job is to scout out the best man for the job.
•Reputation makes or breaks travel agents; ask friends and family who they’ve traveled through and compare experiences and prices. If you don’t know anyone, head for the most established outfit. Don’t risk your holiday savings on small tour operators no one’s ever heard of.
•If you’re going on a special sort of trip, look for a specialized travel agent. Egypt’s major players all do the rundown of Egypt trips (classical, safari, beach, desert and religious), but there are a handful of specialized names operating in each particular field. Head to an agent who has knowledge of your destination and is familiar with the places you want to go.
•Be sure never to compromise on your requests and don’t let an agent push you toward a package you don’t really want. Remember that travel agents are essentially salespeople working for commissions. Keep your own interests in mind.
•Always shop around for the best price; you’ve got nothing to lose by doing this. At the end of the day, a good bargain means you have more to spend on your holiday.
•When you do finally settle on an agent and your package, keep these little details in mind:
1. What, exactly, does the price quoted include? Will there be any additional fees that you’ll have to pay?
2. Will the agent take care of all your travel plans or is there anything that you’ll have to do yourself (for example, agents may or may not do preliminary paperwork/visas before the trip starts).
3.Ask for a written offer (and read the fine print closely!) before handing over any money. Always ask for receipts, customer copies and itineraries.
It’s a Deal
When it comes to choosing an airline, shop around. Although it may be easier to just ring up your national carrier or that of your destination, it’s almost never cheaper to go that route. Instead ask a travel agent (or a few) and definitely invest a couple of hours browsing online to compare rates. You’ll probably get a better deal if you opt for a package in which air travel is included. And while much more comfortable, especially if you are traveling with a family, direct flights are generally not as cost-effective as splitting the trip into two roundtrip sections. If you’re alone and have time on your hands for delayed connecting flights, go for the cheaper deal. If you don’t, the pennies you’ll be saving just won’t be worth the hassle.
Ideally, everyone would like to take their vacation during holiday season, but that’s always when prices rocket sky-high. If you’re not bound by any commitments, try to choose a low season both for airlines and the destination you’re visiting. Weekdays are generally (though not necessarily) a cheaper time to fly than weekends and not-so-popular very early-morning or late-night flights might be discounted.
Try and book as early as you can, especially if you get wind of any promotions an airline is offering. Airlines sometimes run offers a few months before a high season then jack up their prices as the holiday approaches. Make an early reservation and rest assured that you’d get a good price and more importantly, a seat. Always, always confirm tickets. It never hurts. When you do arrive at the counter, ask if there are special upgrades available. When they are not full to capacity, carriers sometimes offer to upgrade for a little extra fee.
It’s always best to get to the airport with time to spare. With growing security concerns, airport staff are now required to take stricter measures and checking/searches now take much longer. Also, getting there early guarantees you’ll get your seat. Airlines often overbook, which means not everyone with reservations will have a seat on the flight. This is especially true during peak seasons, when it’s basically first come first served.
If you travel the same route frequently, you may want to keep going back to your carrier of choice. Of course price is a major concern, but if rates are comparable with other airlines, fly with the people who make you more comfortable. Consider punctuality, safety and customer service record as well as luggage leniency. Employees at the counter have been known to make a few exceptions and give upgrades (or at least put on a bright smile) for people they see traveling regularly with their company.
If you’ve managed to land a great deal, there’s no point in racking up extra costs that can be easily avoided. Those who tend to pack everything but the kitchen sink for a weeklong trip will know that extra baggage doesn’t just mean more packing and more stuff to carry around; it could also get very, very expensive. Airlines charge the world for every extra kilogram, so be sure to take just what you need. Leave the rest of your suitcase empty for your purchases ― no one goes on holiday without coming back with loads of shopping. Average weight allowed is usually 20-23 kg checked in per person plus 10 kg in carry-on. As an added perk to travelers, EgyptAir has bumped that to 46 kg on certain routes.
Most airlines have restrictions as to carry-on shape and size; stricter airlines also allow you just one carry-on item and sometimes consider laptops, camera bags and babies’ rucksacks as your one handbag. Check everything first so you won’t have to leave anything behind or rearrange clothes at the airport.
•To decrease risk of lost luggage, mark your bags clearly with your contact info, rip off old tags (so your bags aren’t routed to your last destination) and always use the labels your airline provides. Never leave luggage unattended, and carry valuables in carry-ons. Choose durable cases that won’t get easily damaged.
•Get to the airport early so your baggage is loaded onto the same flight you’re on. Allow plenty of time between connecting flights.
•If you get to the conveyor belt and all the bags arrive except yours, notify the airline immediately. Also head straight to the counter and place a complaint if anything is damaged. Note that many airlines/airports absolve themselves of responsibility if you don’t make your claim before leaving the airport. Be sure to give a detailed description of your lost items so your airline can find them easily and leave detailed contact info so they can reach you.
•Ask for the name and number of the official you should track your bags with and don’t neglect to follow up. You’d be well advised to know the airline’s missing luggage policy. You can get this in writing and it will show you your rights and what you should do to get them. If you aren’t making headway with the contact you’ve been given, report this to your travel agency and don’t hesitate to ask for a more senior official.
•If your luggage doesn’t arrive on the next flight or at all, airlines are obligated to pay you compensation. You may need to provide receipts for lost items, and valuable items (such as jewelry) may not be covered at all. Also expect depreciation in evaluation.
•To get a better reimbursement rate, look into travel insurance, which shouldn’t set you back too much. Keep your receipts, then declare and pay for valuable items such as electrical goods and jewelry.
•If you’re on an overbooked plane and there’s no room for you, don’t lose your temper. It’ll get you nowhere. Instead work with the people behind the counter to get you on the next flight. You may be eligible for compensation in the form of food, transportation and hotel vouchers, but not necessarily. Ask if you are entitled to reimbursement or a refund.
•If your luggage has left but you aren’t going anywhere, take contact info so you can track it. If you’re really pressed for time, ask to be put on another airline. et

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