TRAVEL BUDDY: EPISODE 4

Top Travel Tips

 

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Welcome to Travel Buddy

In the latest episode of the Travel Buddy podcast James discusses travel tips and the various options available for booking trips. He walks us through the different ways to book trips, such as through online travel agents (OTAs) like Expedia or Switchfly, direct bookings with hotels or airlines, and using credit card rewards and loyalty points. James also covers the importance of being proactive in planning and researching before booking a trip, including contacting hotels or tour operators ahead of time and knowing the terms and conditions of bookings. He walks through the value of experience and support provided by OTAs like Switchfly, which can help with customer service issues and act as a go-between for travelers and providers. Overall, the conversation provides insights and recommendations for travelers on how to navigate the process of booking and planning their trips.

Transcript

Welcome to Travel Buddy, presented by Switchfly. In this podcast, we talk about all things travel, rewards, and loyalty. Let’s get to it. 

James Ian, welcome to another episode of the travel buddy podcast. This is episode four, and we are talking about travel tips. So there’s a big, huge wide world of travel, lots of different things. We’ve talked about loyalty. We’ve talked about the economics of gift cards. We’ve talked about a lot of different things, but today it’s, this is more about the mechanics of traveling, like booking. 

A trip and what do you do and how do you do it? Because it is kind of confusing. Sometimes if you need to book a trip, like, let’s say we’re going to Rome in the fall and I’m booking a week long trip with my family. How do I, what do you even start? You know, you’ve got like a window to the Internet. You’ve got Google.

You’ve got, you know, okay. Places like Expedia or you go direct to some kind of travel provider on the ground somewhere. You’ve got hotels and Airbnb. You’ve got experiences at different places like Airbnb experiences or whatever. You’ve got credit cards. You’ve got loyalty points. You’ve got, you know, it’s just, this is, this is hard.

So. Give me a little bit of the lay of the land of if I want to travel, what are the different, um, ways to do so and maybe like some pros and cons really briefly of like kind of surveying this, this place of, of picking a trip and booking it and, and what am I looking for here? 

Yeah, so just to back up real quick. One of the, like most things in life travel is best when you take an active role in what you’re doing and where you’re going, that means instead of just, and I’ve done this once or twice where you find this fantastic travel deal, I can fly halfway around the world to Australia or, Italy, wherever crazy flight deal, you book it. And then you don’t think about anything for six months. And then you’re like, Oh, shoot, what do I do? Don’t do that. really it, the more time you put in upfront, the better your time is wherever you’re going, whether it’s, across town or across the world. Um, in terms of, you know, the number of options you listed out, let’s kind of break those down one by one at the start. When you say Google, that’s pretty much a gateway to the internet at this point. I mean, that, that almost feels like the internet sometimes, but really what we’re looking at is a combination of like three or four things. Um, at the top, you have your online travel agent. That’s anyone that, you know, including us Switchfly. Um, so there is a nuance that is booking a trip experience car rental, but they’re not the provider. Um, so, you know, that’s the difference between an Expedia and going to a Marriott or a Marriott or Hilton, excuse me. Um, there’s two flavors of OTA. There’s open and closed group. Um, open is going to be something where you can see the prices online. You know, your Expedia, your Priceline, et cetera. Um, closed group is going to be much more like, you know, Switchfly. That’s where we, um, sit specifically for reasons we can get into that toward the end. Um, but it’s also where you’re going to see your credit cards. You know, this is where points live. And the prices might be those like member only rates. Um, if you’ve ever gone to one of those big wholesale clubs, it’s well known for travel and then try to get a price match from, you know, maybe a hotel and they’re like, we can’t, that’s why, um, they’re by having it closed, they’re able to get a certain level of control on pricing and packaging. That may not be repeatable or replicatable, um, in the open internet and then kind of on the back end. We also have direct, um, close group also includes something like a credit card or, you know, these others, you know, I mean, my alumni association might have like specific insurance rates. They might offer travel to, um, that kind of thing. And then lastly, we have direct where, you know, if it’s Brandon’s, you know, 50, 000 plus hotel chain, I go, I booked directly through Brandon or Ian. Um, that’s what that means. You know, they, they’re the ones that own the physical building, the tour, whatever, whatever it is you’re buying, they’re the ones making it. Um, and ultimately that’s going to be where a lot of the status plays come in. Um, you know, the reward points, et cetera, credit cards may offer reward 

points, um, you know, based on bookings and differently, you know, like mine gives me five X points on flight and direct to book hotel. Um, so yes, that can be beneficial.

But then lastly, you know, I also get a certain number of points if I book direct through one of the major hotel change. Um, and I also have status and oftentimes, you know, whether it’s flight, hotel, car. Um, they’re going to offer you the best, um, use of your status and rewards by booking directly through them. So then, you know, then it kind of becomes this multi step matrix to really decide, you know, what’s the best deal. What’s the experience I’m looking for. Um, cause we all know, you know, there’s a difference between the base room and the penthouse suite and then what’s my budget. Um, you know, what are those other economic or underlying factors where. The intangibles that are going to be person to person. 

 What are, what are some things you would recommend somebody do as they’re kind of starting this process? Say I’m, I’m jumping online, whether I’m going direct to the, the, hotel’s booking page or through an OTA. Um, what what should I be looking for? What should I be doing as I’m kind of looking at options here? 

Yeah. Um, again, the biggest thing just to be annoying because this comes up so often. Um, especially as we even talk to like our customer support partners at Switchfly is really know what you’re looking to get. it’s not just, where am I going in a city? any large metro is going to have amazing parts to it and parts that you probably never want to visit. Make sure, you know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for. Once you’ve zoomed in to where you want to go. That’s where you start looking at, like how many rewards points do I have? What status do I have or not have? and what are the direct to book options? there’s, it’s so hard to give a universal answer here. it’s really going to be, it depends depending on what’s the inventory like, oftentimes, maybe you can see a room available on one site or one network, but you go direct and maybe it’s not there due to a variety of factors. but assuming that you’ve done your homework, it really comes down to the dollars and cents of what experience are you looking for? and, is there a subsidy available through points, whether that’s through your employer credit card, some third party network, as well as rates and rewards, if you’re booking with points, you’re probably not going to get reward points on top of it. Whether you go through, um, like a Switchfly partner that may have, you know, employee rewards, they might have credit card offering offer points that we’ve can process. It’s pretty uncommon, or even just directly through the loyalty programs. It’s fairly uncommon to get status on top of that. Um, unless you’re paying a premium on our upgrade. So once you’ve done your homework, you’ve looked through the policies, you know, really again, trying to be the hero of your own story here. Um, that’s really where you can start coming down to the brass tacks of like. You know, if it’s 20 bucks more, but you get the status. Um, upgrade or it gets recorded, maybe worth it. Um, if you’re able to save a couple of hundred bucks on a trip by going through a closed network or using some rewards points, that’s really where it’s like, uh, how much is, you know, how much is the upgrade or, you know, access really worth and, you know, it just comes down to a personal decision. 

So James, I’ve, I’ve found the hotel or maybe narrowed it down to hotels that I’m looking at, um, in the part of the city I want to stay at. I’ve read, uh, you know, I’ve read through the amenities provided and the type of room I’m getting. I’ve, I’ve checked Google maps and looked at, looked at research on the area and it’s right near where the, the museum I want to go to and all these other things. Um. You know, what, what then, like I’m ready to buy, I got, you know, I got a handful of points when to spend, I got a budget that, that these things are all kind of vaguely within my budget, uh, then what am I doing? What, what, how am I comparing the cash versus the points? How, you know, what, what do I need to be looking at? 

Totally hear you. Um, this is where we really start to come down to, like, step by step by step, you know, flight, obviously, you know. Be aware of time zone changes, be aware of, you know, any stipulations, just, just know what you’re getting into, um, you know, as well as the ability and the flexibility, um, and this is going to be a common theme, you know, there’s like the cheapest rate is usually a non refundable locked in. If you know, for absolute certainty that you’re going there, cool. Um, if you have any questions or there’s any concerns. Like think about that before you press purchase. Um, unfortunately we do see a number of people where they’ll book the non refundable rate, whether it’s air hotel activity, and then for some reason may need to change it.

And they want to up, it’s like, that’s like, that is what that is. Um, we’ll do our best to support and, you know, don’t want to promise anything. Sometimes we’re able to come to a, um, agreeable resolution for both parties, but at the end of the day, you are purchasing something and that is. Forming a contract, you know, there is an agreement you click on, um, or that you sign when you do this and. You know, really be up front with yourself about, is this something I’m willing to do, or is it worth the extra couple of bucks to, you know, pay at hotel, you know, like there’s always 17 different ways to do it. Um, assuming that we’ve purchased everything, the next step you want to do is make, be mindful of. Is there any kind of unique circumstances to the trip? Um, like if we fly, we flew a red eye, um, internationally recently and got in at 8 a. m. Well, I had to, I contacted the hotel person on here directly to make sure that there was a room availability for the morning. Um, something that can commonly happen specifically to hotel is that if someone gets in after midnight.

The hotel usually by policy will cancel the room if no one shows. Um, so when you’re making the booking, I’ve definitely would put it anywhere in a notes field, you know, arriving at, you know, and just be very upfront that there’s an exception, um, and always. Always try to contact or communicate as directly as possible, um, that goes for hotel tour operator, you know, any car rental, any of these things, um, you know, share a flight number, share an estimated time of arrival, contact information, and just be up front with them. Um, you know, hotels have been over backwards to accommodate where they can, but, um, there’s also a pretty clear what, what non refundable means, um, you know, non cancelable. Versus, you know, something that, and, you know, obviously you should pay a few dollars more, a few percent more, but, um, sometimes, you know, that minor little upgrade can save you from a world of inconvenience. 

On our

honeymoon, we went to Paris to a five star hotel and we got there early and our room wasn’t ready and we fell asleep at the lobby and they were not happy about that. So definitely follow James advice to call the hotel and make sure there’s a room. 

So what kind of things should I be? I’ve bought, I, I, I got you. I, I, I, I clicked the user or the terms, you know, I booked the room. I went with, uh, maybe the, the mid level where I can make some changes, but not cancel. Um, so ready to go. Go to Beadaholique. com for all of your beading supply needs! Bags are packed, stepping out the door. Uh, what am I forgetting? What are some things that I need to make sure I have with me? 

I mean, if you’re going international, definitely print copies of everything, you know, that’s your path. It is easy to get a copy of your passport made, even if it’s just a photocopy. So you have the info available when you’re, you know, staying at an Airbnb, especially an Airbnb, um, for international, like a passport control.

If they’re going to want to see that, um, as well as even just like a hotel reservation, it’s easy to reference. You never know. It’s always the exception, but somehow we usually look into those where it’s amazing how just pulling out a printed out receipt can just solve 15 minutes of back and forth. Um, and then lastly, you know, just be familiar with where you’re going and what you’re doing.

Um, for car rental, I, I don’t, I swear every time I book a car, there’s someone ahead of me who thinks that they can book on a debit card and doesn’t realize that’s probably a multi thousand dollar card hold. Versus having a credit card to put that on. Um, or, you know, like if you’re another thing specific to car, you need your driver’s license, a proof of insurance. As well as, um, usually a credit card over debit. I mean, Hey, if you want to loan, um, one of our, um, carnal partners, a couple thousand dollars on a debit card, that is a personal choice. Um, but you know, the simple, the easy button there is definitely have a credit card available as well. Um, from there it’s, you know, keep track of where you are and. Uh, where you are in terms of day on your trip, you know, if you have a seven day trip, day five is a tour, um, be mindful of that in terms of whether any, you know, health or travel changes. And again, contact the tour. That’s the other reason that it’s great to print all this out. You know, you never know when there’s going to be an internet outage or, I mean, especially even in the U S we’ve had hotels lose power, you know, these weird things and it, it’s always when you need the information the most and you can’t access it. So having a hard copy of, you know. Contact information, you know, where you’re going, when, um, if you know someone who’s ADD or excuse me, OCD, like I do, sometimes you end up with a like a day by day, um, travel planner, super helpful. I’m not that I’m not gifted that way. Um, and not saying that you need to be, to have a successful trip with that, you know, think like that.

And even if you only do. 50 percent you’re going to have a much smoother process because the last thing you want to do is spend an hour on the phone with customer service somewhere. Um, even if, you know, even if it’s the best in class, which will have customer support, you don’t want to spend your time, you know, dealing with customer service, trying to solve a problem. You, you go on a trip to get away from problems, um, you know, recharge and just enjoy yourself. And that’s, you know, again, investing the time up front, you’re going to get the, um, this 401k type returns when you’re, you know. Wherever you’re trying to get to doing whatever you’re looking to do, um, versus having to call someone else and, um, you know, ask for a lifeline, which again, we are here to support, um, definitely do not want to make this sound like it’s, um, you know, everyone’s for themselves, but at the end of the day, you know, you’re the one on location.

You’re the one on Island, wherever you. Wherever you’re supposed to be standing, um, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to have a travel agent sitting right beside you, um, unlike the commercials, but, um, by doing a little work ahead and also, you know, maybe write down customer service, um, email and phone number if it’s available. Um, that’s something that by being a closed network, Switchfly is really able to control. Um, not only are we able to offer best in class pricing packages, et cetera. Um, we’re also able to guarantee or maintain a specific, unexpected level of service and support, which means that, you know, something does go bump. That we’re here to help. Um, I know that that’s made a world of difference before we even get on this. I think we’re all kind of talking about different, um, plans, partnerships, whatever, um, that we’ve leveraged in the past to be able to kind of get out of a jam, um, because, you know, flight cancellations, just the complexity that is life rarely seems to, um, go down. It, it only seems to get a little more complicated year over year. And just again, having all those ducks in a row. It will save you immensely 

You know, I think a real quick tip is like, uh, if you, for your itinerary or you’re talking about your, your OCD, some people plan that out, but if you just give a few bullet points to chat GBT and say, Hey, here’s my like day schedule, you know, like roughly it can print out a really nice itinerary. We’ve done that before.

And you could print that out and give it maybe to the hotel, like concierge or staff, just let them know where you’re going to be for the week or something that could be helpful.

fair enough. Um, and there are a lot of tools like that where you can even start asking it. And I mean, we’re starting to see like full fledged, um, like conversational, like trip planning. Um, all through AI, like it’s not a bad place to start. Um, you know, there’s, there’s so much information out there that it, it’s almost, um, it can be overwhelming.

So even just having chat GPD to kind of help synthesize the start of like, you know, Hey, I’m going to Miami this time of year, um, with a family of four. What, what kind of activities should I think about? It’s again, all things are subject to failure, but, um, it’s a good, it’s a good starting point. Um, the other thing too, is, you know, just to ask around like a Switchfly. I swear there’s not a continent, or excuse me, there’s not a country or continent in the world that we can’t get, you know, like on the ground experience from, um, obviously we’re a travel company. So there’s a bit of a bias there. Um, but you know, that’s the other thing too, is like, who’s around you, you know, who do you know, who do you trust? Um, because you’re able to, you know, recently we had a friend asking for, um, some people she knew that was traveling out of country about Peru. We go down there a time that we were able to give her a couple of pages of notes and probably saved someone, you know, a week worth of like hard earned lessons, um, that other people had to figure out. And it’s just, you know, a shared document that we’ve kind of curated over time. And that those are everywhere, whether it’s, you know. Someone, you know, or a blog online, um, that really, again, it’s just own, own your experience, you know, read the terms conditions of the agreements you’re signing and then contact the, um, the hotel provider operator ahead of time.

Um, if there are any concerns or even not, um, you know, rarely do we get just a nice email saying, Hey, looking forward to this. Um, but you know, that’s okay too. Then, you know, and then when you get home, the other thing you can do, if it was a good experience is give a review or share, um, a lot of these operators, especially on the experience side are very boutique, um, they live and die by the reviews.

And, you know, like who leaves a one star review on a zip line tour in Hawaii, right? Like that, you know, you’re able to share experience, kind of relive it a little bit. They’re able to, um, grow and, you know, sustain their business so that hopefully the next time you come back. You know, they’re there and you can have an even better time knowing, you know, Oh, shoot, that’s actually the better view or, you know, whatever that looks like. So, I mean, really, you know, that’s, it’s as simple as that. Um, but it all starts with, you know, who am I, what am I looking to do? And the little less fun question, like what’s my budget from there? You’re able to, you know, start doing some homework, um, either moderating prices or, you know, actively looking at some of these. Other opportunities, whether it’s a card, um, a closed network, like a switch, live partnership, um, or direct. And then we can kind of just start working down that flow chart to, you know, contact ahead of time if they’re, you know, if they’re, or just even contact the hotel with your, um, estimated time of arrivals, just so there’s. Some kind of record with your contact info, um, you know, they’ll contact you too. Right? Like they want to chart, they obviously want to stay. That’s when they make money, um, from there, you know, make sure you have the necessary documentation, um, be a, you know, passport info, license, car insurance, credit card, um, maybe even have a backup credit card.

Just, just in case, especially knowing that like in the MX or discover may not be universally accepted. We’ve had it happen where you country hop. And one’s popular in one place, but the exact other, um, definitely be aware of that. Um, and then from there, you know, assuming that it goes well, leave a review, you know, um, it’s an awesome way to, again, to relive a moment and also help, um, a business.

Cause oftentimes these are people that live in, I mean, they literally survive off the experiences that y’all are paying to go on. 

So, I mean that’s, there’s a lot of steps there, right? Like we have. Uh, booking, um, even before that, just starting the search for travel, uh, narrowing down options and booking you have flight car rentals, hotels, activities, I mean, a whole smorgasbord of stuff, not to mention dealing with, you know, customer service.

If, if something goes wry or you need help with something, um, coordinating The local tour operators or the hotel or, uh, or anyone you might have to deal with along the way, um, along with all the financial considerations. So what does Switchfly, and other OTAs, what, do they do to tie all that together, and make it helpful for the traveler. 

So really you’re asking why an OTA, right? or why Switchfly and the real answer is experience matters. not only, do we curate and speaking specifically for us, because obviously that’s what we know the most about, experience matters, right? The platform is curated and the offerings are curated for a best in class experience. We, actively, suggest things based on who were, who is searching, what they’re looking to do at all the different signals. that could be a, that will probably be a podcast in itself. From there, we have, white glove support where if you call us, you get a person it’s not, 17, 000 automation steps or 24. to 48 hour reply time window, which is, which are both real things. and definitely not what you want when you’re somewhere that, Hey, I have a problem right now. I don’t want to sleep on the street tonight. especially when you’re looking at certain things, the more exotic stuff, like a short term rental. but anyway, get back into the why, and then, so basically we say we support people from page load to plane load. and that’s the return flight, not the arrival. And that makes all the difference in the world. especially for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit. And the farther you get from home, the more you really want even just that warm hug of having a support or a partner that is there to support you. and that support piece is a huge part of it. Not only is Switchfly able to, act on your behalf as the merchant of record or the online travel agent. we’re also be able to be the go between, working with a customer and able to contact the hotel provider, whatever. rarely, if you’ve been traveling along, if it’s been a long trip, you’re just tired.

You’re worn out. The last thing you want to do is have to just navigate the Dante’s Inferno. That can sometimes be these situations. 

And then, you know, 

I imagine, I imagine them talking to people all day like that. They, they get the, they know the language that the hotel speaks. Right. So

I’m sure that’s a benefit. 

Oh. And the other thing too, is Switchfly, you know, we have. As a brand over 20 years of providing travel, um, you know, 20 plus years of smiles and miles, as we say, but on the employee side, I mean, we have, I swear, centuries worth of travel experience, um, that, you know, all gets baked into not just the product, but the experience that the traveler has. Um, and then, you know, one step beyond that, in terms of our brands and partners that we work with, they can actually sleep at night knowing that there is someone to kind of step in and support if there is a bump, um, or something does, you know, pop up versus, you know, kind of the homebrew or, you know, uncle Steve’s discount travel dot biz, where, you know, you found this cream and right, but good grief.

Is it hard to find, you know, who does it? Cause that’s the other thing too, with some of these open OTAs. You know, it can be through a party one book to be a party two with, you know, a third party tour hotel flight. So then when I’m the, I’m traveling, trying to talk to the actual person doing the thing that I paid for, they’re going to tell me, you know, you get a lot of this, you don’t want this. You just want someone to, um, solve the problem. That’s really what we’re here to, um, make sure happens and take care of when it doesn’t. 

And for the record. It was James for the audio listeners, James was pointing in opposite directions. You get a lot of 

left hand, not knowing what the right hand is doing. Kind of thing to use that phrase. 

Thank you for 

no, it’s so, so key. I’ve done that. You know, I’ve had that experience before where I booked on some, you know, Marketplace thing, and then I ran into an issue.

So yeah, that really does happen. Um, James, Ian, this has been super, super helpful. Um, uh, there, like Ian was pointing out, like there’s just a million different ways that you could do this. And so having somebody there to help you is just so key. So, um. Yeah, just super thankful that you’re able to, to be there to support people, but also just to explain to our listeners how this actually happens and some tips that are, uh, can save you a lot of headache when you’re traveling. 

a hundred percent 

All right, gentlemen, thank you. Looking forward to next episode and we’ll see you 

Thank you, 

until next time. 

Thank you.

till next time. Later.

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