When last I wrote, I was heading to Mexico for a marathon weekend of site visits & feeling super confident that I had this Destination Wedding planning thing all figured out. That was all true until I attended our front-runner resort's wedding planning weekend. Prior to attending this event , I felt strongly about not using a Travel Agent with "ties" (aka certifications) to a specific resort brand/company. I wanted to work with a highly impartial Agent/Agency to help us narrow down & ultimately choose the best resort(s) for our wedding weekend. I am not ashamed to admit that my approach was a bit narrow (if not naive) and resulted in lot of unnecessary work & wasted time as we moved forward with our planning.
I believe in being very candid, so I will share that I felt like a real idiot for not having gone with a "preferred" Travel Agent in the first place - especially once I later realized most Agents hold certifications/preferred status with several resort brands and not just one or two. I really flip flopped about sharing this "hard knock" - ultimately opting to share this lesson with the hopes of helping others avoid my costly & time consuming mistake. I say "costly" because not only were countless hours wasted but our first TA charged a fee for her services. We paid the fee without hesitation despite reading in my Knot's Destination Wedding Guide that you should not pay such fees. We did so because, again, I really wanted to work with someone I felt was totally impartial to help us choose the best resort for our vision/needs & save me from further confusing myself. My fiance went along because according to him, I am steering this ship.
In chatting with other couples at the planning event in Mexico, we quickly realized the benefit of using an Agent who is "well connected (aka resort brand "certified" or "preferred") as opposed to one who is not. Thanks to their "connected" TA's, these couples enjoyed great perks like complimentary upgrades to amazing suites and were able to split their stay between respective top choice properties in that brand, over the course of the weekend. We, on the other hand, spent our entire stay at one property because our now former TA was unaware we could split up our stay (as long as the properties were under that brand/company). We also did not receive the same amazing room upgrade, which would have aided us in our resort selection. We further learned of certain wedding perks (e.g. free event, better discounted group rates, additional food/beverage credits etc...) these couples were receiving courtesy of their connected TAs. Couple after couple asked us which perk we were considering only to be met with our blank stares followed by an "oh, we didn't know about that" . By the end of the event, we realized just how clueless we were & that we had a lot to think about & discuss with our TA.
Since we were otherwise really happy with now former TA, we shared what we learned with her and asked if she could match the perks we learned about. Unfortunately, she was unable to do so, which forced us to have to "break up" with her. I hated having to do so & felt awful about it but my fiance (the all-business numbers guy) pointed out that we have to make the best choice for our budget & guests, and put personal feelings aside when it comes to making financial decisions regarding the wedding. While he is right, it did not make the decision any easier.
So you may be asking, what exactly did I learn other than "everything is better with preferred status!"? Here are the key points I learned & should have considered when initially picking a Travel Agent to help with our planning:
1) Do Your Homework - while it is important to interview your TA to assess fit and expertise (as mentioned in my previous post), it is just as important to do your homework on the various deals/perks available at resorts you think you may be interested in. While I checked out the deals & perks listed on respective resort websites, I neglected to do so from a travel agent/company perspective. Had I taken the time to look for perks offered through various travel agencies specializing in destination weddings, I would have realized that they aren't necessarily partial to one resort brand over another, and more quickly seen the benefit of working with a preferred agency from the beginning. This also would have eliminated the need to break up with our otherwise wonderful TA. Another homework point is to ask about next steps once you have locked in (e.g. signed contracts for your date and room block). Some TA's hand you off to a domestic wedding planning team that serves as an initial point of planning contact. These teams often experience high turnover and are greatly delayed in responding to your questions. Other TAs will hand you off to a wedding planning team in your wedding location (in my case Mexico) but remain in the loop as you work with that team to bring your vision to life. By staying in the loop, the TA can help move things along and ensure your concerns are being adequately & timely addressed. This also enables the TA to better advocate on your behalf should something you requested not be provided once onsite.
2) Get referrals - early on, I opted not to work with one travel agency because I had read more negative than positive reviews of that company's agents. After speaking with several happy brides at the event, I learned of some great Agents with that same company and was subsequently referred to one that several brides raved about. After speaking with the Agent, we realized the raves were truly merited & ultimately chose to go with that Agent because their company offered all of the perks we were looking for. This has decreased some of our wedding expenses & provided us with an even better discounted group rate than we were previously quoted.
3) It Never Hurts To Ask - in the event you find yourself in a similar situation, do not "hit the gas" and jump ship on your TA unless you are unhappy with his/her service in general. A good TA works really hard and aims to provide top notch service, so it is only fair to give him/her the opportunity to either match the offer you found or secure comparable discounts/perks. While this did not work out in my situation, it worked in a friend's situation. Her agent was unable to match the deal she found elsewhere, but was able to obtain discounts that were financially comparable to the deal she found.
I hope you find this helpful and avoid my mistakes! I also hope this does not offend anyone in the destination wedding travel industry. As previously mentioned, my goal is to help fellow destination brides make informed decisions and hopefully avoid pitfalls experienced by myself (and maybe others) along the way.