Planning an accessible vacation is often no walk in the park for wheelchair users. Just the prospect of doing all that research can be off-putting for many, and if you don’t have much experience making accessible travel arrangements, you could make costly errors that might negatively affect your experience. Yet, many travelers with mobility challenges have never considered using an accessible travel agent. I have a sneaking suspicion this is because many people don’t know how we do our jobs or how we can help you. Here are some (accessible) travel agent secrets that we would love for you to know so we can start working with you!
1. You can make monthly payments for cruises. Cruises can sometimes be expensive, and even cost prohibitive for many travelers. However, they are commonly cheaper per-night than flying to a city, staying in a hotel, and paying separately for food and entertainment. The psychological trick is that travelers only see the total cost for a cruise vacation, and that number can be off-putting. What many travelers don’t know is that when you work with an accessible travel agent, he or she manually makes payments for you whenever you like. The only required payments are the initial deposit and the final payment, which is usually due 90 days prior to the sailing date. The ability to budget for monthly payments can make cruising a lot easier for many people.
2. In most cases, you don’t pay anything extra to use a travel agent. Many travelers have no idea how travel agents make (or don’t make) an income. Most of us work independently, meaning we are not employees of a large travel agency. That also means we earn no salary, and our income is derived solely from commissions. When you book a cruise or hotel room, for example, you pay exactly the same whether you book with an agent or directly with the cruise line or hotel. We get paid a percentage of what you pay, but directly from the cruise line or hotel. That commission is our compensation that allows us to provide you with certain services that cruise lines or hotels can’t offer. This is especially important for travelers who have special needs for mobility aids or accessible accommodations. On the flip side, we do not get paid to conduct research for you when you’re asking for quotes or prices for trips. Many agents will charge a planning deposit before embarking on extensive trip research, and if a trip requires a considerable amount of ongoing planning and coordination, you can expect to pay an hourly fee to compensate your agent for his or her time and expertise.
3. We can sometimes help reduce your cruise fare after booking. Cruise lines have fare sales all the time. Some are better than others, and you may book a cruise during a non-sale period. It’s disheartening to see a huge sale start a month after you dropped a deposit for a cruise. However, if you book your cruise with a travel agent, many times he or she can get sale prices (for which your sailing is eligible) applied to your booking retroactively, as long as yo haven’t made the final payment. For example, my best friend and I are booked on a Holland America cruise in September 2019. We were originally in an interior stateroom because an accessible balcony stateroom would have cost $1,200 more. A few months after I made our booking, Holland America had a sale, and I was able to upgrade to a balcony stateroom for only $400 more. I was aware of the sale because of notifications I receive as an accessible travel agent.
4. We have established relationships with accessible tour operators around the world. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen wheelchair travelers ask about options for accessible transportation and tours at their planned or intended destinations. Many might not be aware of the rapidly growing number of accessible tour companies around the world that can assist travelers locally with these things, and many more. I have personally worked with no less than 26 accessible tour companies in as many countries, and as agents (and world travelers ourselves), we are constantly on top of different possibilities for with regards to exploring new places in your wheelchair.
5. We can help you when things go wrong. Part of our job as travel agents is to help our clients when things go wrong. Those of us who book airfare (personally, I do not) can work more quickly with airlines in case of delays or cancellations. If you show up at a hotel and your room is unacceptable, we can work with the hotel management or your local accessible tour operator to get problems resolved. We can provide guidance with regards to purchasing travel insurance policies and how to file a claim if you get sick or injured while traveling.
6. We work hard to provide you with first-hand advice. I have been an accessible travel agent for 18 months, but I’ve been traveling almost full-time as a wheelchair user for three years. In 2018 alone, I visited 23 countries, flew 130,000 miles on ten different airlines, spent 129 nights in (supposedly) accessible hotel rooms, and worked with a dozen accessible tour operators. I paid for all of this out-of-pocket, as contrary to popular belief, travel agents do not travel for free. However, this allows me to share with you accessible travel recommendations from personal experience. For example, in May 2018, I conducted site inspections of 10 all-inclusive resorts in Cancun and Playa del Carmen in Mexico that supposedly had wheelchair accessible rooms. Only five turned out to have an acceptable level of accessibility, and I never would have known this had I not paid to go there and see those rooms in person. Most travel agents take advantage of familiarization trips and extensive training provided by cruise lines and resorts so we can determine what might work best for you.
7. We train extensively on a variety of cruise lines, hotel chains, resorts, and more. I cannot understate how many resources travel agents have these days to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of cruise lines, hotel chains, all-inclusive resorts, and more. For example, I’ve completed the highest levels of training for Princess, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity, and Disney Cruise Lines. I’ve also conducted ship inspections and taken personal cruises on ships with Carnival and Norwegian Cruise Lines. This means that if you tell me where you want to go, your budget, and your travel personality, I can tell you off the top of my head which cruise line would best suit your needs – and often which specific ship. I also know the accessibility levels and services of each cruise line, and how to provide you with mobility rentals due to my status as a Certified Accessible Travel Advocate through Special Needs at Sea. Our training and experience can save you many valuable hours of research.
Are you ready to book your next wheelchair accessible travel adventure? Contact me at Spin the Globe/Travel so we can get started!