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May 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Travel Agent v Internet - Part III

from the May, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Continuing our three-part comparison between what an Internet booking enthusiast can achieve and what might be offered if a trip was booked instead through a specialist travel agent. Once again, our intrepid subscriber, Jorge Moré (hometown) established what he wanted, then planned his own trip. Jennie Collister, the owner of Reef and Rainforest, based on Jorge's criteria, made her recommendations, selecting a different destination than Jorge.

The Caribbean: Jorge's Trip

The third challenge: picking a Caribbean dive destination for the first week of May that Moré, a big-critter lover, would enjoy, as well as Jeannette, his nondiving spouse, who would accompany him. He chose Cozumel, which he hasn't been to for a few years. "There are lots of options for us both, and great restaurants in town. I may see something biggish, but the attraction is the drift diving."

Moré chose the Aldora Villa because the couple stayed there last time and loved it. He selected the least expensive accommodation, the Courtyard Norte or Courtyard Sur, at $95 a night, for six nights. (Hmm, Jorge, we might suggest an upgrade to the Alexander Suite, at $110 a night, so that Jeannette has a little more space to relax while you're out diving.)

Searching for airfares on Google took time, because Moré was surprised by the cost of the flights and the inconvenient transits. "Aeromexico has cheaper flights, around $350, but these go via Mexico City, with a change of planes," he says. "Plus, the travel times are longer, like 10 hours outbound and eight hours inbound." Moré stuck with his preferred airline, United, but the outbound flight leaves Chicago at 5 a.m., and the inbound flight has a nearly six-hour layover in Houston and doesn't return to Chicago until 12:15 a.m. Still, at $617 per person --$1234 total -- he thought it the best deal.

Moré loved diving with Aldora Divers last time ("we dived with steel 120 tanks, so dive time was always around 90 minutes"), and he would book their $93 two-tank morning dives. Adding nitrox at $10 a tank, the bill would be $565.

For food, Moré says he and Jeannette would have simple breakfasts in their hotel room, and do a picnic a picnic lunch between dives, so he estimates $15 a day, per person, for those two meals. Dinner is what they'll spring for, he says. "The restaurants in Cozumel can be very good, especially if you walk a little ways from the waterfront. In particular, Kinta and La Cocay are first-rate. The fish of the day at La Cocay is $15.50, the chocolate torte, the most expensive dessert is $5.50, and a glass of wine is $4.50." He estimates $30 per person for dinner, $5 for tip. At $50 per day per person, that's $600 for the week.

Moré didn't research surface-interval activities because he doesn't intend to do any. "I am happy just reading and relaxing during the day. I prefer to go into town in the evening." As for Jeannette, what would she do? "She would be reading, going into town, and walking the beach," Moré says. "Are there any good beaches in Cozumel?" (We didn't get to ask Jeannette what she thought about her husband's picks.)

Other extras: $100 tip for the dive masters ($20 a day), $100 for airport parking in Chicago, $100 for airport/hotel transfers and other miscellaneous expenses. Add that to air, diving, hotel and food, and Moré estimated a trip total of $3,269 for the couple. (If they upgrade to the Alexander Suite, it would be $3,350.)

The Caribbean: Jenny's Trip

When Collister discovered Moré s wife would go, she picked the Ports of Call Resort in Providenciales, Turks & Caicos. "He'll likely see sharks, and Dive Provo is an excellent dive operation. Ports of Call is good value for Turks & Caicos, a pretty expensive destination. It is close to a great grocery store that has a salad bar and lots of prepared healthy options, and a great French bakery a block in the other direction. Since he will be out diving in the morning, his wife can walk to the store, pick up lunch things, and they can spend the afternoon together. Grace Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, and it's across the street and down a path past another resort." Jeannette can also benefit from Ports of Call's swimming pool and bar, fitness center, kayaks and floating chairs for the beach, and the next-door shopping center with shops and restaurants.

May 1 is the start of Ports of Call's summer rates (26 percent off for seven nights), so one week, double occupancy, in a garden-view room with a king bed and continental breakfast (but no airport transfers) costs $1,254. Dive Provo's shop is on site at Ports of Call, and five days of two-tank boat diving for Moré will cost $638, with nitrox fills an additional $100.

Collister found economy-class Delta flights from Chicago to Provo via Atlanta with decent departure and arrival times -- a 12:45 flight on May 1 lands in Provo at 7:40 p.m., and the 5 p.m. flight back on May 7 lands in Chicago until 10:48 p.m. Airfare for the couple is $910.

Collister says Turks & Caicos has some of the Caribbean's best restaurants, with excellent wine lists. Two top ones near Ports of Call are Caicos Café and Coco Bistro, but they're pricey -- an appetizer, entrée, dessert and a glass of wine at Coco Bistro averages $76, plus tip. Moré will have to up his food budget, to at least $80 per person, so $960 for six full days.

Add $300 for tips, airport parking, transfers, and miscellaneous expenses, and Moré's Turks & Caicos trip totals $4,062, about $700 more than his Cozumel trip.

The Caribbean Trip: The Verdict

Moré found Collister's trip attractive. "My wife would like the resort, and it's great that it has a grocery store, restaurants, and nice facilities nearby. If Grace Beach is as nice as she says, this would be a real winner, and my wife would prefer this trip to Cozumel. My preference would not be as strong since it would depend on the diving [which would be new to him; it's solid reef diving, and not drift diving like Cozumel, but he'd most like see many more sharks]. The cost for Turks & Caicos is higher, but this is a trip that is mostly for Jeannette, so the higher cost is OK." So score this one for the travel agent.

It's interesting that Moré picked the less-complicated Caribbean trip to book, because what Collister put together for him is easy for anyone to find and book online. But as we mentioned in Part I of the story, a good travel agent knows the places she or he is booking. It's their role to match the product with your needs, especially when you don't know that much about a place, or what your needs exactly are yet. And, when the trips get tricky -- flight changes with airport overnights, visa requirements, getting to and from the destination once there -- a travel agent may really pay off.

Moré said researching each of his two trips took him two to three hours online. "I didn't realize it took so much time. I have more respect for how the pros do this now."

-- Vanessa Richardson

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