A couple would like to spend a week in September staying for four nights in a South Beach hotel with a nice pool in Miami and three nights in the Keys, in Key West and Key Largo, with car hire.
Verdict: The winning agent combined great destination knowledge with customer service skills and an eye for good value.
View Mystery Shopper: Torquay travel agents tested on a Miami fly-drive in a larger map
33 Ilsham Road
The atmosphere in this shop was rather subdued. An agent took the details of my request and asked me to return a couple of hours later, by which time she said she would have been able to source some quotes. This made it difficult to build a strong rapport.
The agent came up with two perfectly good quotes, from £1,970, through USAirtours and Gold Medal, both flying with Delta on September 14 and including car hire.
I was given a business card, three brochures and two written quotes to take away, but I had to ask about insurance, airport parking and hotels, and the agent didn’t try to close the sale. This service was reasonable but felt a little lacklustre.
84 Union Street
This agency had an interesting window display and smartly dressed staff, but the shop was very messy inside and the furnishings needed updating.
The agent offered me a drink and seemed very efficient. She recommended Hayes & Jarvis and three of its featured hotels: Riu Florida Beach, Reach Resort and Key Largo Beach Club. These I was offered, with Delta flights and car hire, for £2,421.
I wasn’t offered an alternative operator and, although I felt Hayes & Jarvis was suitable, I would have liked more hotel information than its brochure provided. I was offered insurance.
The agent took my details, but suggested I called her rather than the other way around.
54 Union Street
The agent here was very good. She was friendly and enthusiastic, and asked really detailed questions about what we wanted. She used Thomas Cook Signature to offer us a package with Delta flights and car hire for £2,399.
In Miami, we considered the Riu Florida Beach hotel, but the agent instead recommended The Betsy, a luxury 63-room property on South Beach. In the Keys, we chose the Casa Marina and the Key Largo Grand hotels.
The consultant explained the Delta route was direct, and that the airline has wider seats than Virgin or British Airways. She gave me a brochure, a printed quote and her details.
I was impressed she remembered insurance, airport parking and an airport hotel, recommending an undercover (unnamed) hotel for value for money. I would recommend this agency.
Sainsbury’s, Nicholson Road
The layout of this well-presented, tidy shop made it feel bigger than it was. I was acknowledged immediately and the agent was friendly and enthusiastic throughout the service.
She used Thomson Tailormade to create a package including Delta flights, car hire and the Riu Florida Beach in Miami, The Reach resort in Key West and the Hilton Key Largo for £2,380.
The consultant seemed to know about Miami and the Keys, and I was impressed that she was able to throw insurance in for free within the quote. She also rang the operator and managed to get me another £50 off the price. She factored in an airport hotel, and gave me the Thomson Tailormade brochure to take away, plus a printed quote with her details.
I was impressed by the choice of hotels she offered, the free insurance and her efforts to get me a deal. An excellent service.
Winning agent: Laura McDonald, travel adviser
“I’ve been to Florida six times myself, and though I’ve never been to the Keys it really helps to have first-hand knowledge.”
- Miami is served by direct flights from Heathrow by carriers including BA, Virgin Atlantic, Delta, American Airlines and Continental.
- Miami is renowned for its nightlife, but there is plenty to do in the daytime too. Attraction World offers excursions including a Segway tour of the city’s art deco architecture, an Everglades Airboat adventure, helicopter tours and sport fishing.
- The Florida Keys are a popular extension to a Miami trip, with the islands offering a variety of experiences. Silver Palms Inn is a new boutique hotel in Key West, while a Holiday Inn opened in Marathon last year.
- AirTran Airways has launched a direct flight between Tampa and Key West, in addition to its Orlando to Key West routes.
- For more on Miami and the Keys see this week’s feature or subscribe to Gazetteers.com.
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