When the Expert is No Longer an Expert

Mauree Miller

We just returned from vacation.  Why is it that the anticipation for vacation seems to last for such a long time, but the actual time you spend away flies by?  Maybe my next project could be to stop time—nah, scientists can’t do it, so I certainly can’t either.

We start to plan a major spring vacation in December, while in the throes of winter doldrums. The activity of planning an escape for the spring makes me see visions of the promise of good things to come. But, as with many projects, there are hassles in the process.

For the past several years, we have used a travel agent for major trips. Initially, she was very helpful, suggesting hotels and making arrangements based on her experience in the industry. After a few trips, we found that we could take care of things on our own without her help.

For this last trip, we visited Paris and Vienna. We  planed to book a wonderful hotel in Vienna where we had stayed previously, which had been recommended by the travel agent. This time, her price quote was rather high. What do you do when something seems off? You check it yourself. We went online and found a deal at this hotel where you could get a free night after a 3 night stay. Why wasn’t that part of our arrangement? We went back to the travel agent, who told us that this didn’t apply to our room level and our breakfast package also made us ineligible for the promotion.

Her answer didn’t feel right. Maybe she was correct, but wouldn’t it seem that for a returning guest staying in an upgraded room, there should be some type of a promotion, if not that specific deal? So, we checked it ourselves. My husband called the company that owns the hotel and found that, even with our room upgrade and breakfast, there was a special promotion, and he was able to book the same room at $1000 less than the travel agent’s booking. When we told the travel agent, she stumbled all over herself to find excuses for her lapse and said that although we did get the lower rate, they probably made an error. I doubt it. 

Then, there was the flight between Vienna and Paris. When we go between cities, we only use a one-way ticket because we come home from the last port of call. The first time we did this, the cost of a one-way ticket was very high, but the travel agent found that a round trip ticket was significantly cheaper. She had the brilliant idea to book the round trip flight and throw away the return ticket. We’ve done this ever since, thanks to her ingenuity. But, she was less helpful when it came to booking seats on the plane on this last trip. She said seats were not assigned in advance. We didn’t like the idea of having seats assigned at the airport, since this could lead to hassles. Isn’t the point of vacation to stay clear of hassles?  We tried to obtain the seats on our own, but couldn’t do it either. The day before we were to fly to Paris, we had the good idea to ask the hotel concierge whether he could do anything to obtain the seat assignments in advance. He realized that the French airline partnered with the one in Vienna, so the seat assignment could be made through this partner airline. He was really helpful and booked our flight, saving us possible aggravation at the airport. The travel agent had years of experience—she should have known about the partnering, or done a little more research to find out.

I’m not sure what’s going on with the travel agent. We accomplished what she failed to accomplish. Generally, relying on expertise is often a good way to go. But, if the expertise no longer seems like expertise, it’s time to move on. 

            If an expert is helpful, that’s great.  If not, find another expert, or do it yourself.