Sunday, February 11, 2007


I wrote about my difficulties in planning the Big Trip to force myself into action, and indeed I got my DXB to MNL return flight from good old Do-Nada a few weeks ago. Actually, I probably shouldn't slag them off -- they're no worse than any other travel agent. Living here, you’re kind of stuck paying ridiculous amounts of money to escape. I remember a trip in 2001 when I met my mother in Germany. Her ticket from the States cost about $300 while mine cost $1000. And there’s really no way around it. If we want out of here, we have to pay. But I digress.

Between getting that 'big' ticket and now I've done... well, not exactly nothing, but nothing productive toward getting myself out of here and into the waters of SE Asia. I did arrange the DXB outward trips for the two people who are coming to meet me along the way, and I also asked a lot of advice from the regulars on the Lonely Planet forum board, but otherwise, I hadn't accomplished much.

However, I’ve been having dreams about cats lately (which means I’ve been shirking my responsibilities), so I decided to finally face up to the nightmare of finishing my travel arrangements for the Big Trip. The whole on-line shopping/booking/buying thing I find overwhelming, and in general I would rather talk to a human being than spend hours slogging through the maze that is the Net only to get conflicting and confusing info everywhere I look. So I figured it was high time to pop back down to a travel agent for a chat.

So as I said, I had gotten my DXB to MNL ticket at the usual place, but even I know better than to try to get them to book a long, complicated trip for me. They’d charge me premium prices even if I could get them to actually work out the flights and get back to me on them. So I strolled through my little section of town (Karama) to a shop I had seen that advertises a lot of Asian flights. I thought it looked promising, so I went in.

Not being a complete fool, I eyeballed the staff and then plunked myself down at the desk of a lovely Filipina travel agent, figuring since I was doing most of my trip to and from her fair country, she’d be likely to be a) interested and b) sympathetic to my relative poverty (I am, after all, taking between 12 and 16 separate flights over seven weeks). I asked her to look at Manila-Bangkok-Jakarta-Manila for me (thinking even I could manage to book the smaller, local flights on line -- HA! but that's another thread--) and she punched in some numbers and printed off an itinerary. Then she looked at me thoughtfully and said “You know, these are much too expensive. You would get a better price if you bought them in country. "I can't. I'm meeting people who have tight schedules and I can't waste valuable dive time". "OK, then how about booking them on line?” Net maze again. Ick. “How much for your trip?” I asked, thinking it couldn’t be too bad. After all, flying around Asia is cheap, right?

The figure she gave me made my jaw drop. So I spent today hunting up airlines and fares and making connections all over the place, and she was right: what would have cost me $2043 in her shop has ended up costing me $389. Really.

By being frank with me, she lost out on a nice, fat booking and maybe a pat on the head from the boss. Instead, she let her fish get away by doing me a huge favor. Hardly seems fair. So what does she get for her candor?

First, she gets my gratitude and admiration, for whatever they're worth. It is so surprising and refreshing to find a bit of honesty and real helpfulness here, since this town is famous for crummy customer service. Having done my share of retail myself, I know that if you give a customer what they want, they will be back again and again. So, second, she gets me for life. Any trip I make in and out of the sandlands will in future be made with her. I will not list her details here in case her employer doesn’t share her views on customer service, but I will happily pass them on to anyone who asks, and pin them up on the university bulletin board (teachers take a lot of trips). Finally, I think I’ll take another stroll down the street, this time with a box of chocolates. OK, so it’s not a fat commission. This time.


Blogger MamaDuck said...

Congratulations! I just came over to leave a sarcastic comment on your last post, and here you are! Good grief, that's a hell of a price difference! Point taken. When do you fly out?

10:59 PM  
Blogger nzm said...

FANTASTIC - well done!

You'll probably find that travel agents in Dubai don't get a commission - they work for straight hourly rates, so that's why she had no hesitation in what she did.

And she'll be personally rewarded by your choccies!

Have a fab time!

12:44 AM  
Blogger Keefieboy said...

Huzzah! And Happy Valentine's...

6:04 PM  

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