adds site enhancements is launching The Travel Agent Finder. This tool is a searchable
directory of professionals, vetted by Consumer News Editor, Wendy Perrin,
where users can search by destination, area of interest, and/or preferred
type of accommodation. The object is to match the specifics of your next
dream trip to the travel specialist who can help make it happen.
  For instance, looking for a three-day jaunt to Mexico? Conduct the
search by selecting “Mexico” from the Destinations list, and then refining
the search by “Quick-trip beach resorts.” The tool comes up with four
travel agents, including one described as a “whiz when it comes to all
inclusive resorts,” and another who’s made “90-plus trips to Mexico.” Each
is listed with a website and contact information.
  The recommended specialists undergo a rigorous screening process that
includes a 27-question application, sample itineraries, extensive phone
interviews, and client references.
  Peter Frank, editor-in-chief of, answers two commonly
asked questions about travel specialists:
  When do I need to use a specialist travel agent?

  —complicated customized itineraries.

  —four- or five-star hotel stays.

  —first- and business-class airline tickets.

  —English-speaking guides.

  —special access to monuments, sights, or people.

  —cruises, especially with private shore excursions.

  —a special occasion

  How do I work with a travel specialist?

  Find the right fit: Consider personal rapport, in addition to expertise
and cost, when deciding which consultant to use.

  Don’t be phone shy: A travel consultant is making personal decisions on
your behalf (the type of hotel you’ll stay in, the sights to see or skip).

An initial phone conversation is essential for the consultant to understand
your personality and needs; further correspondence can often be done by
e-mail. Never delegate trip-planning to an assistant.

  Offer ample background: You will likely be peppered with questions
about your past trips, your expectations for this one, your hobbies, your
physical condition, and your travel companions, among other things.

  Establish a budget: Have an idea of how much you want to spend, which
you can estimate by doing some background research. Even if your budget is
tight, a good consultant can often be able to stretch your dollars.

  Expect a fee: You will likely pay either a fixed amount (typically from
$100 to $500) or a markup (about 10 to 15 percent) that is built into the
total trip cost. Sometimes the up-front service fee will be applied to the
cost of the trip if you end up booking it. Travel agents who book cruises
and tour operator packages often do not charge service fees since they make
sizeable commissions on the sale. You should not pay a fee for a trip that
has not been customized for you, nor should you pay before the consultant
has persuaded you that the value he or she can bring to the trip planning
is worth the extra expense.

  Plan ahead: Contact a consultant as far in advance of your trip as
possible and be prompt in offering feedback and requesting any adjustments
to the proposed itinerary, whether it be a flight time, an excursion, or a

  Be proactive: Consultants will replace a so-so guide with someone
that’s more compatible, switch you to a different hotel, or change the
pacing of your trip by tweaking the activities. Your travel planner will be
far happier to solve a problem midtrip than to first hear about it when you
come home dissatisfied.

  Value the relationship: Treat your consultant not as hired help but as
an expert. The consultants on our list receive dozens of queries every
week. Extra effort on your part during the trip-planning process—such as
a thank- you note or a phone call—will make you stand out form the
hundreds of clients these consultants work with each year.