Revenge of the Travel Agent: Jetsetter Announces Travel Planning Service (And Discounts for TechCrunch Readers)

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A few days ago at the All Things D conference, Marc Andreessen predicted that every wacky 1999 dot com business that failed would one day find success in a new incarnation. But what about businesses those dot coms killed?

Jetsetter is launching a personal travel planning service today that is essentially a travel agent 2.0. Thankfully, the earlier iteration of online travel sites so decimated the category that Jetsetter has a pretty wide open market opportunity here. A poll of its users found that 90% of them had never used a travel agent and wouldn’t even know where to find one.

The service is consistent with Jetsetter’s belief that there’s a market of affluent travelers who want curation. And as I’ve written before, I’m a big believer that hotels are not commodities and shouldn’t be booked like flights and rental cars. Jetsetter has long offered some of my favorite hotels around the world on its site, and recently unveiled a glossy iPad app that blurs the line between a travel magazine and an ecommerce booking engine even further. Now, it’s leveraging its network of more than 200 travel writers who source hotels to give Jetsetter members insider, local tips to make a vacation even more memorable.

What Jetsetter excels at is building trust in their recommendations, but critics have argued that if even a huge Jetsetter fan like me has only booked a handful of trips on the service, there’s no big business opportunity in all that trust. That’s not a bad point, and the answer may be layering more services on top of Jetsetter, so that I don’t have to wait for them to offer a trip to a place I want to go for me to give them my business.

The service isn’t cheap: It costs $200 for three hours of consultation and a detailed itinerary, that their specialists will book and arrange for you at no additional cost. You get $100 back if you book a hotel through Jetsetter.

Is it worth it? It depends on the traveler. Even if you don’t get the discount $200 is likely the price of an additional night in a hotel, and if the service helps you get enough out of your trip that you’re not wasting time on lame experiences, I’d argue it’s a good deal. But like most concierge services, it’s what you make of it.

I tested the service on my recent trip to Berlin. I sent the expert a pretty vague email explaining how I like to travel; essentially saying I didn’t know what I wanted to discover, but that I definitely didn’t want to do the usual touristy stuff and wanted to see a glimpse of the city’s emergent artsy urban soul. I got back an incredibly detailed list of suggestions from someone who clearly knew Berlin like a local, and we wound up booking a walking tour of the city’s hip Mitte district as a result. The walking tour was great and I don’t know how we would have found it on our own. We saw more of the city than we could have in three hours, got amazing local shops, pubs and restaurant suggestions and just enough of a touch of history to feel like we learned something. Most important, it gave us a base to explore the city more efficiently over the next few days.

But was it worth $200 on top of the several hundred dollars we paid the tour guide? Probably not. I don’t think that’s Jetsetter’s fault. If I’d taken more advantage of the service, having them build out a detailed week-long itinerary, it would have been a bargain. But I’m just not that type of traveler. For someone like me, a retainer-style travel service would be better; an “I’ve-got-a-few-days-in-Bangalore-all-of-the-sudden-Quick!-what-should-I-do?” problem solver that I could amortize at a fair hourly rate over several trips, as opposed to someone to build an entire trip for me.

Other trips that have been booked on the service include things like and GLBT-friendly trip through bed-and-breakfasts in Alaska or an “Around the World in 70 Days” trip in honor of a member’s 60th birthday. For something that elaborate, $200- or $100 if you book a hotel stay– is a bargain.

You know what would make it more of a bargain? A special TechCrunch reader discount. The first 25 people who email expert@jetsetter.com and put TechCrunch in the subject line will get the service for free if they book a hotel through the site. The service officially launches Monday, but you can go ahead and check it out here now.