Agents talk trip stacking - better known as double booking - in unpredictable COVID times

Agents talk trip stacking in unpredictable COVID times

TORONTO — Maybe it’s because travel opportunities haven’t picked up in Canada like in the U.S. – owing to Canada’s still-standing advisory against non-essential travel, among other hurdles.

Or maybe it’s because Canadian travel agents are – true to their Canadian nature – more circumspect about a booking practice that could frustrate their supplier partners.

Whatever the case, trip stacking – better known to many as double-booking – hasn’t become the go-to strategy for Canadian travel advisors in these unpredictable pandemic times, not quite like it perhaps has in the U.S.

At the Virtuoso Travel Week event conference earlier this month, two of the four U.S.-based travel retailers taking part in Virtuoso’s ‘Fall, Festive and Future Travel’ panel discussion said they have trip stacked, or double booked, clients with more than one booking for the same departure date, to maximize the chances that at least one trip proceeds as planned despite rapidly changing travel restrictions.

“They don’t call it the ‘COVID coaster’ for nothing,” said Josh Bush, CEO of the Philadelphia-based Avenue Two Travel. “We’re looking at trip stacking. Our clients deserve a trip. In one case we have clients booked on a Silversea cruise, and on a trip to Hawaii. They’re going to do both but we’ll shift the dates for one of them.”

Bush added: “We’ve gotten really good at Plan A, B, C, D and E.”

Another panellist, Woodside Travel owner Gary Johnson, said his Seattle-based agency has been doing double-bookings for about a year.

On the other end of the panel discussion, Erina Pindar, Managing Director, SmartFlyer, said her company tends not to double book. “We’re only booking what open” in terms of destinations, she said. “Predictability is important these days.”

The reaction of Canadian retailers that Travelweek spoke to ranged from “this is the first time I’ve heard about this” to “I would want to check with my agency owner as cancellations never look good.”

Total Advantage Travel & Tours president Robert Townshend said: “I tend not to do it because it’s not worth the hassle and extra work. You’re also messing up the tour operator’s inventory which I don’t think is fair to the tour operators.”

Air Canada Vacations’ Senior Director, Marketing & E-Commerce, Selma Filali says ACV hasn’t noticed any discernible uptick in double bookings.

“While we haven’t seen the specific issue of travel stacking among our bookings, we do recommend that agents encourage their customers to book in advance in order to avoid worrying about limited availability and take advantage of our great early booking rates. This is easier than ever, thanks to our travel protection plans that have them covered in case of the unexpected,” said Filali.

She notes that ACV’s perks for booking early, available until Sept. 6, include the CareFlexPlus protection plan at 50% off, giving clients the flexibility to transfer their 2021/2022 package, change their departure date, destination or hotel up to seven days prior to departure, or cancel with a full refund up until 25 days prior to departure.