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Travel Agent Info

Berkeley, CA
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604 posts
11 reviews
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Travel Agent Info

There has been a lot of discussion on this board as to travel agents, with some some viewing them as white knights and others as crooks. But there isn't a lot of specific information that would allow you to judge for yourself based on your own needs, so I thought I'd give specifics from my own experience that might be useful. This is based upon having a fairly tight schedule for 4 of us, about 17 days on the ground, stopping in HMC, Hoi An, Hue, Sapa and Hanoi, staying at better hotels, using board favorite Tonkin. There seems to be no question that if you have enough time to change arrangements without impinging on your trip and plan on staying at cheaper hotels, doing it yourself makes more sense than paying an agent. That said, here's our experience.

Hotels: There are numerous sites against which you can compare the price the agent is giving you against what you could get on your own. Tonkin's aggregate cost for the hotels they booked was only slightly higher than if I had booked each separately with the cheapest agent for that hotel. If it had been any more I would have gone with the cheapest rather than convenience.

Sending credit card info to reputable agents does not seem to be a problem. I did so for a hotel booked by Vietnam Stay and last year for hotels in Thailand and Cambodia without a problem. I just made sure that other travelers vouched for the agents on the appropriate forums.

Air: We flew HMC -Danang and Hue-Hanoi. The face value of the ticket was 1,804,000 Dong, about $112. Tonkin charged $140, a $28 commission, for a total of $112 for the 4 tickets. Frankly, I think this is high for 4 tickets, which barely take more effort to write than 1. On the other hand, we had specific flights that we wanted to take to maximize our time, and might not have gotten those flights if we had waited until we arrived. For $112 I think I'd take the risk next time.

Train to Sapa: Tonkin charged us $60 a round trip for the King Express. It was nothing special in the way of service or accommodations. We were not told that this service arrived back in Hanoi officially at 5am, and actually at 4:30 am, until just before we left for Vietnam. We were not happy with this. These trains can be booked cheaper in VN-however, they are often sold out days or weeks in advance. You have to balance the commission cost against certainty if you don't have the ability to radically change your plans.

Transfers and tours: Except for 2 transfers, Lao Cai-Sapa and Hanoi airport, we made our own arrangements on the ground. These transfers cost about $10 apiece more than than the locally arranged returns. We booked tours on our own at rates substantially lower than offered by agents.

Service: Just because you have an agent handling details doesn't mean you shouldn't be vigilant. The first set of hotel vouchers from Tonkin had the wrong dates. I immediately emailed them and got corrected vouchers within a few hours. I don't know if it would have mattered in VN, but I didn't want to give any hotel an excuse for denying our booking.

Vietnam Stay failed to reserve the first day of our 3 day stay at the Victoria, Hoi An. When we arrived, they were full. The voucher had the correct dates. When informed, VN Stay immediately made a reservation at Palm Gardens, an equivalent hotel. While inconvenient, at least we had a place for the night.

On the other hand, when our first choice hotel in Hanoi turned out to be full, Tonkin recommended Hanoi Elegance 2, which, while not very plush, was a lot cheaper and much better located. With the nicest staff and free internet in the room, this was a good steer from Tonkin that I probably would have missed.

To sum up: With the airfare and train commissions and the slightly higher hotel costs, using Tonkin probably cost us less than $200 more than booking everything on our own. With no assurance that we would have gotten our preferred flights if booked when we arrived, I figure it was probably worth it for our first trip. On the other hand, I'm not sure I would have felt that way if we had booked all our transfers and tours, which cost substantially more than easily arranged local alternatives.

I hope this isn't too long and is useful.

CRB-CXR/VVCR, Khanh...
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1. Re: Travel Agent Info

You have re-iterated what others have said.

Travel agents should be satisfied with a maximum of 10% commission / service charge as is common in developed countries.

Furthermore, few, if any, travel agents could make it in other countries as they totally lack training. In other words these 'order takers' do little more than make a telephone call.

Errors or omissions are inexcusable and since most clients are travelling from a great distance, these 'oversights' are significant.

Sending credit card information is standard, sending facsimiles (copies) of the front and back of credit cards is NOT, nor is charging 3% user fee's - both against their credit card merchant agreement.

[mosquitobait (at) fastmail.cn]

nunya
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6,873 posts
24 reviews
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2. Re: Travel Agent Info

hi talb

great way to some it all up $ great review .

hanoi elegance is a great hotel , the staff are just so lovely !

for $200 for 4 people for 17 days , i think you done great , that works out at $2.94 a day .....i'de be more than happy with that , knowing everything was going to be booked !

im sure you would pay more than that at home , as im posative we would here at home ....

glad it all went through with only the one hotel hiccup .

cheers

batt

Connecticut
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273 posts
3 reviews
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3. Re: Travel Agent Info

talb, Thanks for a very helpful and informative post. Would love more details about your trip.

Hotels: Did you stay at both Palm Gardens and Victoria Hoi An? Can you give some details and which you recommend?

Tours: Which tours did you take and how did you book them once you got to Vietnam? Did you take any private tours? How were the guides?

Transporation: How did you get between Hoi An & Hue? Car and driver? Who did you use to book & how was the drive & driver?

We are also on a tight schedule and want specific flights so we will no doubt use an agent to book in advance , but just not sure which one.

So much better to get details rather than a post that just rants or raves without any details or information so we can make up our own minds as you say. Thanks again.

Berkeley, CA
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604 posts
11 reviews
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4. Re: Travel Agent Info

CTLAw-Happy to answer your questions.

We did wind up staying at both the Palm Gardens (1 night) & Victoria (2 nights) due to the reservation mixup. Both hotels were very nice, with pluses and minuses. The Palm had a nicer pool, The V's was essentially just a rectangle. We had 2 rooms, and the V's were in a duplex rather than the 4plex at the Palm. The rooms were comparable, but the V's were almost right on the ocean, which was nice. The V also had a much more frequent bus to town which was convenient. If I were to go back, I'd choose on the basis of price because they were so comparable. (If you search the forum, you'll find other discussions). We did enjoy the beach more than the town, which surprised us.

In Saigon we stayed at the Majestic. (We liked staying in nicer places than we would in the US or Europe at what is still a lower price than a mediocre hotel in the West), Very nice colonial with large rooms, a pool, a nice staff and a very good breakfast. We had pool view rooms which were very quiet and looked out over the courtyard. Our kids twin room was even bigger than our double.

In Hue- Saigon Morin, another colonial, kind of a kid sister hotel to the Majestic. Our rooms appeared to have been recently renovated, and were large. The staff isn't as polished as at the Majestic-the doormen disappeared at times and when they were around they didn't seems to realize that opening the door was their job. But the staff was nice and the hotel is very well located and we liked it.

Tours were hit or miss, depending on the guides enthusiasm and English skills. Tours are easy to book in country and much cheaper than prebooking. In Saigon we took the Sinh Cafe all day city tour which was very good, about 10 people with an interesting guide. He liked talking about VN and answering questions. (In the afternoon, Sinh added 5 or 6 more people, making the van more cramped.)

The next day we took a day trip to the Mekong with Sinh, which was disappointing, partly due to the guides boredom and lack of English, and partly because we had done other river trips in SE Asia and this wasn't very different. But it was cheap, so we didn't lose much. I spoke to a guy from Portland, Or, who booked his trip thru Cathy Pacific vacations, and he said that his expensive private all day city tour had been awful. In Hue we went to the Mandarin Cafe, recommended on this board, and booked a couple of private tours. (with 4 of us it wasn't tremendously more expensive that individual tours, anyway.) We got a private boat down the river and then a van for the tombs. No guide, but sometimes we would tag along with a tour and hear what they had to say. We also booked a private DMZ tour with Mandarin for the next day (about $100 for van and guide). They wouldn't book the tour until they were sure that the guide that they recommend was available. The evening before they asked if we would mind taking 2 other couples along as the bus tour was filled. We agreed, making our tour only a few dollars more per person than the crowed bus. We had a big van with plenty of room, and the guide spoke good English and was from the DMZ. He was very informative.

It seemed that most of the tours had a set itinerary, whether done group or privately. Hotel tour desks asked tremendously more than Sinh or Mandarin Cafe for the exact same route. It may be that some people on the Board will know of specific guides, but baring that it doesn't appear that spending more necessarily gets you a better experience. It might be worth posting to see if there are recommended guides and how much they cost, altho there will be a lot of touts replying, I suspect.

Hoi An to Hue: I asked at the hotels how much they would charge so that I would know the highest price I would have to pay. Then I asked cab drivers who spoke English, not very many, and tour operators. Finally, an overflow driver for the Victoria shuttle to town got to talking to us, and we asked about doing the trip. He asked $100, but was very happy with the 1 million dong that we settled on. He stopped where we wanted, and the drive was definitely worth it. Because there were 4 of us we needed a van for a trip of any duration with luggage or if we had a guide. If there are only 2 or 3, a regular car can be used which is more available and cheaper.

I hope this isn't too long and is useful ( I tend to go on),

Semporna, Malaysia
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5,912 posts
43 reviews
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5. Re: Travel Agent Info

Excuse me, Talb. Would you mind letting me know how much you paid for Saigon Morin in Hue?

When I walked in, they told me US$90 or something.

Thanks,

land

melbourne
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611 posts
9 reviews
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6. Re: Travel Agent Info

Hi Talb

Thanks ever so much for this detailed reply. I have found this information to be very useful. We will be travelling in Sept and hope to stay at the Saigon Morin. We will definitely pay a visit to the Mandarin Cafe.

Cheers Marian

Victoria, Australia
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619 posts
8 reviews
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7. Re: Travel Agent Info

thanks for the detailed report. thinking of dmz tour by private car with guide, so good to hear of your experience through the mandarin cafe. good to hear info about the other organised tours too

sydney
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134 posts
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8. Re: Travel Agent Info

talb,

Your review was very well presented, will certainly keep it in my folder for reference to a future trip.

Thank U,

cheers,

sw

9. Re: Travel Agent Info

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