Who Should Plan Your Trip?

Rosalie E. Leposky

Many large companies have in-house corporate travel agents. Typically they keep a file of information on employees and company travel rules that may include:

            · Contract arrangements with certain hotel chains and/or individual hotels in communities the staff visits regularly.

· In lieu of contracts, a list of hotel room-rate limits by location and season.

· Smoking or non-smoking room preference.

            · The time of day when each employee prefers to travel.

            · Airline frequent-flyer card numbers.

            · Corporate and personal credit-card information.

· Passport renewal information and forms.

            · Rental-car size and brand preferences. The company may set a size limit, but allow employees to specify models within that limit.

Coordination Complexities

In companies lacking an in-house corporate travel function, individuals may make their own arrangements, or assign that task to a member of the office staff who is not a travel professional. The quality of the arrangements depends on the knowledge and organizational skills of the person making them – or on sheer good luck.

Complexities may arise when travel involving individuals from several otherwise independent firms work and travel together, and must coordinate their travel plans. More than one instance of double-booking (or worse) has occurred when each firm involved in such a joint trip assumes responsibility for the entire group’s travel arrangements, so that two sets of airline tickets are issued for each participating individual.

Especially prone to such confusion are consulting arrangements in which the consultant relies upon the client to arrange and pay for travel expenses such as plane or train tickets, rental cars, and lodging. If you’re a consultant working for the first time with a new client’s travel planner, assume the worst. The person handling your arrangements isn’t on your staff, isn’t responsible to you, and may not know what he or she is doing.

Keep reminding the planner what time you – or your client – selected for your arrival. Once I arrived in Baltimore on time, I thought, for a meeting. In fact, I was 15 minutes early – but without looking at the time I was scheduled to arrive, someone in Baltimore had moved the meeting time forward without telling me and others who were arriving on later flights. Even though I was early, I was chastised for being late.

I later learned that the schedule had been changed the previous day, when arrangements still could have been made for me to take an earlier flight, but no one bothered to contact me or several others who also were caught in this corporate time warp.

Specific Precautions

Here are some specific precautions to take if you must depend upon someone else to make your travel arrangements:

· Don’t rely solely on a telephone conversation when working with someone else’s travel planner. Insist on receiving an e-mail or fax that confirms the travel arrangements and the meeting location, schedule, and agenda.

· Remind the planner that you want to receive written notification of any changes by e-mail or fax. With today’s technology, common courtesy dictates that meeting participants be informed when plans change.

            · Determine what flights are available, and state your preference if you have one. Recently I didn’t and wasted four hours waiting in an airport for a connecting flight, when I could have had a better connection by leaving earlier in the day on a different originating flight. Even if you must leave a meeting early to catch an earlier flight, don’t be afraid to speak up. Meeting schedules can be changed, especially for a small group. Always ask the person planning your travel arrangements for information on all flights between the destinations involved. Then choose your flights at your convenience, not the planner’s.

            · Make clear your preference for a smoking or non-smoking room.

            · Determine in advance who is paying for what, get that information in writing, and carry it with you. Recently I was surprised to receive at checkout a hotel bill I was not expecting.

Double-Check the Planner

· If you are paying, make sure the travel planner and meeting organizer secure for you the lowest possible rates – a hotel’s corporate or convention rate, and a group discount for air travel and a rental car. Also determine whether you can do better yourself by using discount coupons; booking through a Web site such as Travelocity or Expedia; dealing directly with the airline hotel, and car-rental firm; or invoking your membership in an organization such as AAA that negotiates special member rates.

· If you buy an airline ticket on an auction Web site such as priceline, a new book – Frommer’s® Fly Safe, Fly Smart by Sascha Segan (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002) – recommends that you first research the fares being offered by the airlines and other Web sites. Then bid 25 percent below advance-purchase fares, or 40 percent below last-minute fares.

            · Unless you’re renting a car, ask to be met at the airport. Planners who must assign a staff person to meet you are less likely to forget or ignore your arrival time.

            · Ask about dress-code requirements for any special events. Recently I visited a manufacturing plant for which shoes with closed toes were required. If a staff member calling to confirm the trip hadn’t made an offhand remark about the need for such shoes, I would have missed the plant tour that was the primary reason for my trip.

· Make planners aware of any dietary or physical restrictions you may have.

            · Call the airline yourself the night before you travel to reconfirm your flights and obtain current luggage and identification requirements. Times have changed. On a recent trip, foreigners and Americans alike were using their passports as “government photo identification.” Florida, where I live, renews my driver’s license by giving me a piece of paper to stick on the back of the original license, which was issued in 1988. My passport picture is just two years old and still looks like me.

Rosalie E. Leposky is managing partner of Ampersand Communications, a news-features syndicate based in Miami, Florida.

For More Information

Expedia - http://www.expedia.com

Frommer’s – http://www.frommers.com

Priceline - http://www.priceline.com

Travelocity - http://www.travelocity.com

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