- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

Are you one of those airline junkies who not only do for themselves almost everything a travel agent does, but also often help friends and colleagues — or even people they barely know? Have you reached the point of frustration that eventually comes with anything time-consuming one does for free?

I’ve been close to that point for a few months now, for years having booked trips for others, checked them in for flights online, kept an eye on departure times and helped them redeem miles for “award” tickets. I suppose the frequency of those free services hasn’t become abusive quite yet, so I haven’t changed my ways.

But some other fellow junkies who also write about travel have had enough. They happen to be bloggers who, along with commenting on various airline news items, offer travel advice — including responses to e-mail inquiries about airfares, flight delays and resolving post-travel issues.

Last week, Brett Snyder announced the launch of “The Cranky Concierge,” which he called “the next logical extension” of his blog, “The Cranky Flier,” for travelers “who would like to have an airline dork watching over them to help with all aspects of their trips.” Mr. Snyder will provide services before, during and after travel.

If you decide to pay him as little as $30, he will begin by searching for the best flight options and fares and will give you “specific instructions on how to book” — but you have to do the booking yourself, as he points out that he’s not a travel agent.

In the “flight-monitoring” part of the service, on the day of travel he will send you updates with any information about delays, weather issues and other problems. “In testing, we’ve been able to notify travelers of delays long before the airlines update their own flight status” by “actively following the aircraft throughout the day,” he said.

“When things go wrong, we’ll look for all possible alternatives — no matter how unconventional — to get our clients to their destinations. If all else fails, we will find hotels, restaurants or anything else — within reason — to make the situation less stressful,” Mr. Snyder said. “If things still aren’t resolved when the trip is done, we’ll research what compensation our clients are owed. We will help draft complaint letters and identify appropriate contacts.”

The $30 covers all these services for a domestic trip for all passengers on the same itinerary, although if you contact Mr. Snyder one week or less before departure, the price is $60. For an international trip, the rates are $50 and $80, respectively. It seems like a great bargain if you make use of everything he offers.

“I do offer all those services, but my assumption is that most people will only use a couple of them. The chances that I help someone find a cheap fare, follow their flights, find them an alternative when things cancel, and then still have to do a post-trip dispute resolution are slim. I think I can make this work at these prices,” Mr. Snyder said. “Of course, we’ll see how it goes.”

At first, he’ll be doing most of the work, but “as we look to slowly expand, we will be looking for people to join the team on a contract basis,” he said. “In particular, we are looking for airline employees with flexible schedules who might be interested in earning a little more on their days off.”

Gary Leff, a fellow blogger who writes “View From the Wing,” said he already provides services similar to Mr. Snyder’s, but “in a nonpublic way.” For about three years, “I’ve had a retainer arrangement with some executives to do more or less this,” and “I’ve recently posted that I’m now doing this for award bookings,” he said.

Mr. Leff wrote recently on his blog about one “very satisfied customer,” even though his prices were much higher than Mr. Snyder’s.

“Pricing was $150 for the first passenger, $100 each additional passenger on substantially the same trip — because, as many of you know, finding more seats on the same flights really limits options and increases the amount of effort in finding the seats,” he wrote.

He began charging, Mr. Leff said, because he “became disenchanted with doing the legwork for all of the folks contacting me that I didn’t know, whose ‘awards’ I would make possible, but whom I would never hear back from with even a simple thank you.”

“Frankly, if I help a party of four book premium ‘award’ tickets to Asia, ‘Hey, can I send you a nice bottle of wine?’ might be an appropriate response,” he said.

Perhaps it’s time I set my own rates.

Click here to contact Nicholas Kralev. His “On the Fly” column runs every Monday.

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