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Just a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about travel agents going the way of the dinosaur, but they’re still here, and don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / FotoCuisinette

When to Use a Travel Agent to Book Your Trips

Is Using a Travel Agent Necessary Anymore?

Just a few years ago, there was a lot of talk about travel agents going the way of the dinosaur, but they’re still here, and don’t seem to be going anywhere soon. In fact, they even seem to be experiencing somewhat of a rebound, despite all the travel tools we have access to online, including sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak and many others.

When you have the ability to search for deals and book your own travel plans, why use a travel agent? This is a natural question, but the truth is that there continue to be distinct advantages to using a travel agent.

Here’s how to know when it’s beneficial for you, and when you’re better off booking things on your own.

A Travel Agent Isn’t Necessary If You:

  • Are just looking for a cheap flight to stay with family or friends in another state. It’s simple, you don’t need to worry about a hotel, and you can easily find the cheapest fare yourself and book online.
  • Want to book a weekend in Vegas or an all-inclusive ski trip. Those types of vacations are easily booked online as well.
  • Are booking a cheap cruise on a mass-market ship. It’s a no-brainer for that one, too.

In general, the more complicated and/or more luxurious your trip will be, the more benefits a travel agent can provide. Say you have an itinerary with multiple stops and a complex airline route. Or you want to take advantage of local guides, drivers or other experts. Or you’re planning a trip to a destination you know very little about in a far-off corner of the world.

In all of these situations, you’re usually far better off with a travel agent — if you don’t use one, there’s a good chance you’ll make a costly mistake.

Limiting Stress

If you’re faced with an overwhelming number of options, a travel agent can help you make the best decision based on your particular needs and budget. Agents often have information about less-traveled destinations that you may not be able to find online.

This can dramatically reduce your stress level, cut down on time spent doing research, and help you feel more comfortable about your choice. Another value of a travel agent is that if you run into any snafus such as a missed or delayed flight while on your trip, your travel agent can play a big part in helping to smooth out those bumps.

As a result, travel agents eliminate the stress such hassles can cause so you can focus on enjoying your vacation.

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They May Be Able to Save You Money, Too

What about the question many people wonder about — do travel agents save you money?

While some agents do charge an additional fee for their time and research, travel agent service fees are generally minimal (such as $25). Most earn their money from travel suppliers. Even if you do pay a fee, the travel agent will probably save you a lot more than that amount on your trip, which means you’ll come out ahead in the long run.

Nina Meyer, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, says that with the right agent you can save big, noting, “I have seen in the past people save anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,000 on a ticket.”

Keep in mind that the best travel agents act as travel advisers; they aren’t just there to print airline tickets for you. Some are very specialized, so if you’re looking for that dream golf vacation, a specialized theme trip like a polar exploration, or even space travel, a travel agent is definitely the way to go to save you not only money, but time and stress.

Insider Knowledge and Connections

Why use a travel agent instead of booking online? Many travel agents spend time traveling to particular destinations, which provides them with a wealth of insider knowledge (having “been there and done that”) you’ll be able to take advantage of. They also have clout and connections.

That means knowing the general managers at top hotels, restaurants, airlines, cruise lines, etc. personally. Most luxury hotels and desirable restaurants save some rooms or tables for VIPs who are booking last-minute — and often, travel agents in the know can get you in when you couldn’t do it yourself.

That can become even more important if you’re trying to go somewhere during a peak period.

When Booking Online Is a Better Deal

There are, of course, times when a travel agent just isn’t necessary, and in some cases, you may actually be able to get a better price when booking online yourself. You may want to consider the fee, if any, the agent is charging to book that airline ticket — if you can easily locate the fare, and she or he is charging you more than it would be if you booked it yourself, you probably don’t want to go with a travel agent.

In fact, if your agent is only looking at the industry reservation system, they may not even be able to see the best airfares. Generally, the closer your trip is to home, and the simpler it is, the more likely you are to be better off booking yourself. Keep in mind, however, the risks of booking with a third-party travel website.

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