FAQs – About Booking Travel
Q: What is a travel agent?
- A travel agent is a seller of travel and tourism services on behalf of airlines, car rentals, cruise lines, hotels, railways, and package tours.
Q: What’s the difference between a human travel agent and an online agency?
- A human agent is one that relies on a person agent for most transactions.
- An online travel agency (OTA) is largely automated and conducts most of its transactions online (like Kayak or Orbitz) with no human interactions.
Q: When should I use a travel agent?
- When you want a professional to assist you with your travel arrangements.
- If you don’t have the time to pull together a complex itinerary and need a person to do it for you, or if you need someone to help you while you’re on the road.
- If you want access to special fares or prices that only an agent has, or if you need the expertise of an agent for a special event or trip, like a destination honeymoon, or anniversary cruise.
Q: What is a Virtuoso agent?
- With global connections and unparalleled expertise, we save you valuable time and transform do-it-yourself trips into extraordinary customized travel experiences. From weekend getaways to trips of a lifetime, count on us: your Virtuoso travel agents.
- Virtuoso travel professionals specialize in completely customized vacations for their clients in addition to a full range of travel services. Whether you spend your vacation on this planet or beyond, trust a Virtuoso affiliated travel advisor to make a world of difference. The world’s finest travel agencies and advisors are Virtuoso.
Q: How much does an agent cost?
- Always ask about the cost of an agent before you start planning. Many upscale agencies may charge by the hour or a percentage of the overall sale, and a few even require a retainer to be fully accessible to their clients. Many will charge a plan-to-go fee, which is often waived when you book your travel. Such fees ensure “tire kickers” don’t eat up valuable agent time. Find out before you sit down to plan your dream vacation.
Q: How is my travel agent compensated?
- A travel agent’s advice isn’t free, even if you don’t pay anything for it upfront. It helps to understand how your travel agent is paid.
- By you. When you buy something through an agent, you will probably pay a transaction fee of anywhere between $50 and $100, depending on the type of booking. This covers only a fraction of the agent’s actual costs. You should not believe that, because you paid a booking fee, the agent is only beholden to you. Our Fee here
- By the travel company. Airlines, car rental companies, cruise lines, and hotels sometimes compensate your agent with various types of commissions and bonuses.
FAQs – About Travel Documents and Paperwork (Before You Go)
Q: What's a visa and when do I need one?
- A visa (not to be confused with the credit card) is an endorsement on a passport that allows you to enter, leave, or stay for a specified period of time in a foreign country.
- When you need it: If you’re visiting a country with a visa requirement. You may also need a special kind of visa called a transit visa if you’re stopping in a country on your way to another one.
- When you don’t need it: If you’re traveling to a country with a visa waiver, including frequently-visited European countries, such as the UK, France, and Italy or Southeast Asian country like Thailand who has an agreement with the US government pertaining to US passport holders.
Q: What’s a passport and when do I need one?
- A passport is a government document which certifies your nationality and identity for the purpose of international travel. Roughly 3 in 10 Americans have a passport.
- When you need it: Almost any time you cross the border.
- When you don’t need it: When traveling domestically, and when taking a “closed loop” cruise, which is defined as a cruise beginning and ending in the U.S.
- Note: When entering Canada or Mexico at land border crossings, or Bermuda and Caribbean nations at sea ports-of-entry, you can use the less expensive US Passport Card.
Q: Where can I find reliable information about my passport, visa, or ID requirements?
- The US State Department. The State Department, the government agency that deals with foreign affairs, has a website that is widely regarded as the final authority on paperwork requirements for Americans going overseas. It’s also a useful resource for information about security, and the political climate in a foreign country.
Q: How do I get a visa?
- It depends on where you’re visiting. For most countries, you can apply for a visa at any of their foreign embassies. Some countries require you apply at their embassy in your country. Most visas can be processed by mail. A few countries have online visa applications. For example, Australia only requires you to fill out a form online and pay $25 by credit card. The less touristy a destination, the more complex the process tends to be. If you’re traveling somewhere exotic (Vietnam), you might want to contact a visa service to make sure the process goes smoothly and the paperwork is valid. Here’s an example
Q: I don’t have a passport. When should I get one? How about now?
- If you’ve booked an international trip, there’s no time like the present to get your passport. It can take up to six weeks to get a passport, but during busy periods (just before the summer travel season, for example) it can take significantly longer. Considering that an adult passport lasts 10 years, what’s a few extra months? At least you’ll have the passport, instead of waiting nervously by the mailbox for the document to arrive. Don’t let that be you.
Q: I need to renew my passport soon. When should I do it?
- Again, the correct answer is: now. The State Department recommends that you renew your passport at least nine months before it expires. The reason? Some countries require that your passport be valid at least six months after the dates of your trip, and some airlines will not allow you to board a flight if that requirement isn’t met.
Q: My passport is damaged or mutilated — do I need a new one?
- Yes. When in doubt, get a replacement. I’ve heard of cases where a passport wasn’t accepted because it was damaged.
Q: My passport is full. What should I do?
- Extra Visa Pages are no Longer Issued Effective January 1, 2016
- To mitigate the impact on frequent travelers, the Department began issuing 52-page passports to all applicants outside the United States starting October 1, 2014, for no additional cost. Applicants within the United States may choose a 28-page or 52-page book.
Q: What if I’ve lost my passport?
- If you’ve lost your passport while you’re traveling abroad, contact your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You can report your passport stolen by calling (877) 487-2778. You’ll need to fill out a Form DS-64, a statement regarding a lost or stolen passport. Then you’ll have to fill out yet another form to get a new passport, this time a DS-11, which is an application for a new passport.
- Note: once you’ve reported a passport missing or stolen, it won’t work. Ever again. So only report it if you’re sure it’s gone.
FAQs – About Money and Travel
Q: When should I carry cash?
- When you’re visiting a country where most transactions are still handled in cash. Many countries still favor cash transactions. The only way to know is to ask. Don’t assume you know the answer. Some African countries, for example, are virtually cashless, using cell phones to handle their transactions electronically. As I write this, Sweden is on the verge of becoming a “cashless” country. A good travel agent can offer guidance.
- Some businesses remain cash-only. Popular restaurants in urban areas and small vendors at farmer’s markets or flea markets, for example, only accept greenbacks. Their customers don’t mind settling their bills with paper money and the businesses prefer not to shoulder the extra cost and infrastructure required to accept plastic.
- To avoid credit card fees. Many credit cards impose fees on transactions that take place across the border. Take a credit card that boasts no foreign transaction fees. Cash is the other option. Bear in mind that withdrawing cash from an Automatic Teller Machine could cost you a pretty penny, too. (A 2 to 3 percent foreign transaction fee and a 3 percent cash withdrawal fee — that’s 7 percent just to access your money — yikes!)
Q: When should I carry a credit card?
- If you want to rent a car or check into a hotel, you will need a credit card (not a debit card). A merchant may refuse to rent to you if you don’t have a credit card. If you don’t carry plastic, you’ll need to make special arrangements in advance and pay a deposit.
- If you need the protection offered by a card. Some credit cards offer additional protection, such as secondary car rental insurance coverage. They may also extend your warranty on purchases. Also, if a credit card is lost or stolen, it can quickly and easily be replaced while limiting your liability. Some credit card companies will even overnight a replacement card to your hotel, check with your card by calling the toll-free number on the back to see if they offer this service.
Q: Should I use a debit card?
- Strictly speaking, a debit card is your ATM card, although some also can work as credit cards, offering some protections for purchases made. Remember, many businesses won’t accept an imprint from a debit card when you check in, so don’t try to travel with only a debit card. A debit card withdraws money directly from your bank account and it may have a daily limit. Banks normally charge a flat fee for each transaction. But some now also add a conversion surcharge when you access an ATM overseas, up to $5 per transaction, and 3 percent for the conversion. Ouch!
FAQs – About Travel Insurance
Q: What’s travel insurance?
- Travel insurance is insurance that covers accidents, trip cancellation, lost luggage and medical expenses while you’re traveling.
Q: Do I need travel insurance?
- The answer is yes if any of the following is true: If you’re spending more than $5,000 on a vacation. That’s known as a “big ticket” purchase, and it should be insured.
- If you’re a nervous traveler, and just need the peace of mind that comes with a policy. Even if you can’t recover all of your money, you may still be able to take advantage of certain benefits, like trip interruption coverage.
- If you’re cruising or taking a package tour. Cruise lines used to be flexible, when it came to allowing passengers to rebook missed cruises. Tour operators were also more lenient. Not anymore. A policy can protect you.
- If you have a complex or lengthy itinerary. If you’re on a tour with a lot of moving parts, then insurance could be useful. When one part doesn’t go as planned, the right policy can help you make a quick recovery.
- Anytime you leave the country. Medical providers outside the U.S. often ask for “upfront” payments for medical services that can cost thousands of dollars, and travel insurance can guarantee these payments. (This is also true for medical evacuations and repatriations, which can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.)
- If you’re on Medicare and are traveling internationally. You’ll want to consider a policy that includes medical expenses since Medicare doesn’t typically cover events outside of the country. Here’s an additional “read” that we have put together.
Q: How do I file a travel insurance claim?
- Call your insurance company before you file a claim. Ask what it needs from you, and if there are any restrictions in your policy that might make a claim unsuccessful (for example, some policies that cover medical problems require that you seek treatment within 24 hours of an incident).
- Read your policy. You should have done this before buying the insurance. Now you have to read the fine print with an eye toward answering this question: Will my claim be honored?
- Keep all receipts. In fact, you’ll want to retain every scrap of paperwork that could even remotely relate to a claim, including notes from any telephone conversations. Don’t throw anything away.
- Ask for everything in writing—bills, invoices, receipts, hotel folios. You can never have enough documentation.
- Get the cause of delay in writing, if possible. A lot of claims are rejected because travelers can’t prove a cause of the delay. So, if you’re held up, be certain to document the cause, preferably in writing. Finding out the reason long after your trip can be difficult—if not impossible.