Brief: A group of three friends are looking for a fun-filled long weekend in the Big Apple in September. They want a hotel that’s central but won’t break the bank, and need tips on booking attractions in advance.
Verdict: The winning agent put in extra effort, offering a choice of hotels and excursions for an action-packed weekend.
I looked up the agent’s details online and found the website exceptionally attractive with lots of pictures and detailed information. The agent was very polite and asked what I was after, then offered to do some research and call back later.
Within an hour, she rang with two packages – three nights at the four-star Excelsior Hotel for £2,305 including flights from Heathrow on September 21, or the Flatotel for £2,443, although she said we could move the flight date. She emailed details and pictures of the hotels straightaway, and suggested we could add a visit to the Empire State Building for £17, hire a bike to tour Central Park for £37, take in a Broadway show or buy the CityPass for £56.
She was exceptionally helpful in finding the best deal and gave me lots of information on the hotels’ facilities and how far they were from other attractions. I would have every confidence in booking with her.
Winning agent: Julie Turnbull, personal travel consultant
"I’ve worked as an agent all my life. I started in a retail shop, then went to a call centre, and started homeworking when I joined Hays in 2007. I really enjoy the flexibility, plus I still love putting together the right holidays for people, and finding them whatever they want."
There was some useful information on this website, but I would have liked more about packages and pricing. I spoke to a friendly agent who knew the city well, but seemed puzzled when I asked to book tours in advance. The agent emailed a quote that day for the three-star-plus Holiday Inn Midtown Manhattan for three nights at £2,298, including Virgin flights on September 14.
Despite the initial response, I also got details for the Top of the Rock, and others, although I didn’t get prices for all of them. The information was very helpful in the end but I would have liked more than one hotel package.
The Co-operative Personal Travel Advisors
I was very impressed by this agent’s enthusiasm for New York, both in the online profile and during our call, so I was expecting really good service. The assistant was very knowledgeable about the areas that would suit us best and offered advice on booking excursions in advance, saying it was a good way of beating the queues, and suggesting a Sex and the City-themed tour.
I was really impressed up to this point, but apart from an initial email saying it could take up to four days to send me a quotation, I never received anything more – a real disappointment, given such a promising start.
Want to know how you could have scored 100%? We look at some options to make Mystery Shopper's ideal itinerary
New York is the classic city break destination with soaring cityscapes and plenty to do while you’re there.
With so much on offer, advice from a well informed agent can make all the difference for time-pressed tourists. Mystery Shopper was looking for excursions, offering the perfect opportunity to boost commission.
What to see
The Big Apple has more landmarks than you can shake a stick at so the best advice for clients is not to try and see them all.
First-timers always want to go up the Empire State Building, but the Rockefeller Centre (Top of the Rock) has stunning views and isn’t as busy.
The Statue of Liberty is also a must-see; take a ferry from Battery Park then stop at Liberty Island and Ellis Island for a fascinating insight into New York’s history.
Do Something Different offers a combo ticket to Ellis Island, and either the Top of the Rock, or the Empire State Building, and a hop-on hop-off city bus (adults £58, children £43).
Shopaholics can wander through Macy’s, Bloomingdales and down Madison Avenue, or try the Sex and the City tour (£29, Attraction World).
Off the beaten track
Encourage clients to soak up the atmosphere in different parts of the city, from the glamorous Upper East Side to bohemian Greenwich Village, stopping off for food in Little Italy or Chinatown. For a unique view of the city’s lesser-known areas, walk along the High Line, a public park on the site of a disused freight railway line.
Virgin Holidays offers three nights’ B&B at the three-star Comfort Inn Manhattan with Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow on September 28, from £2,165.
Funway Holidays offers three nights at the three-star Holiday Inn Midtown Manhattan, from £2,235 including United Airlines flights on September 14.
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