If you thought travel agents were dead, think again. Sure, you could do it all yourself but do you want to and is it really better? It really depends. In addition to saving you time and money, here are some reasons people still use travel agents and the many benefits you might not have considered.
What is a travel agent?
A travel agent, sometimes called a tour operator, sells or arranges trips, tours or excursions for customers based on their special needs, budget and time constraints.
Before the Internet, if someone wanted to plan a vacation, they used a travel agent. Their main duties were to book your cruises, flights, excursions, hotels, honeymoons and more.
All you had to do was tell them what you wanted, your budget and pay.
From then on out, your travel agent was your liaison. If there was a problem, you called up your travel agent, and they would iron out the details and make it all better. That was then.
Travel Agents are not as popular anymore
Thanks to the internet, sharing economy sites like Airbnb, and review sites like Trip advisor, finding good deals, information and booking online is easier than ever.
As a result travel agency numbers have dwindled. In the early 2000s, there were over 120,000 independent travel agents compared to 50 000 in 2021.
That’s quite a drop; however, that’s still a lot. And that’s just in the US.
So why use a travel agent instead of booking online, and why are they still relevant?
People still use travel agents to book travel because they still offer value for some people.
For certain types of travel, using a travel agent can get you a better deal than booking online yourself or give you a happier
Here are more of the many ways a travel agent is helpful in this day and age of the DIY travel booking world.
Why Use A Travel Agent Instead Of Booking Online Yourself: 12 Benefits That Might Make It Worth It
1) Travel agents can save you time.
Finding a good travel deal on the Internet can be time-consuming, even for a simple trip.
A travel agent can act as personal travel advisors and do the heavy lifting for you quickly and efficiently, leaving you time to live your life, take care of your family or do whatever it is that you need to do.
If you’re a road warrior and travel a lot for business, a travel agent can help you find the best way to manage your travel activities; from finding hotels that have meeting rooms to booking tours so you can play golf with clients.
And for families with children, a travel agent can arrange vacation activities based on your needs.
2) Using a travel agent can help you stitch together a complicated itinerary
If you want to book an around the world trip or a trip that involves multiple stops in multiple countries, multiple guided tours, hotels, cars, trains or whatever else you can think of, then an experienced travel agent can help you stitch everything together more easily and faster than you could ever do on your own.
3) A travel agent can save you money, including on fees
I used to think travel agents were more expensive than looking up flight deals on my own, but that’s not always the case.
For one, a travel agent or consultant is privy to certain deals that aren’t available to the public.
Two, they can suggest travel dates and times you didn’t know about to save you money. For instance, maybe flying to Hawaii on a certain airline is cheaper on Monday rather than Thursday by almost 500 dollars. (This really happened to someone I know).
Some airline companies sucker punch you with hidden surcharges and other fees that increase the total cost of your trip that they don’t tell you about until you pay. Travel agents can help you avoid these hidden charges or at least make you aware of them.
4) A travel agent has a face and a voice: Google search doesn’t
Travel agents are real people you interact with.
In other words, agents can suggest things you hadn’t thought about; alternate routes, cruise lines, advise you on visas and act, well, more human than a search engine. They can guide you, rather than you leading a faceless search engine hoping to find the answers.
5) A travel agent knows which hotels are the best for cash-strapped travellers.
A travel agent has access to secret deals and preferred rates and can negotiate the price of a vacation.
6) Using a travel agent can help you avoid information overload and analysis paralysis
The internet is an amazing research tool. However, it does have its downsides, such as TOO MUCH INFORMATION.
If you’re like me, you start your travel research with the best intentions but then after a few nights of researching hotels, airline deals, mixing and matching dates, suddenly all that wonderful information turns into one big harry ball of confusion.
That’s right about when analysis paralysis kicks in. A travel agent can help you cut to the chase, so you don’t have to deal with all that.
Analysis paralysis is a condition in which a person becomes so caught up in planning that he or she can’t actually take action
7) A travel agent can share exclusive perks and give you access to VIP status
Travel agents are better connected and have special relationships with the travel industry than mere mortals like us who don’t have access.
They can sometimes get you free room upgrades, private guided tours, a better seat on an airplane, event tickets, line cutting and cheaper deals on premium airfares.
8) A travel advisor will work hard to give you excellent customer service
A travel advisor will usually work hard to find their clients the best deals and upgrades to make sure they keep coming back. If you are a frequent traveller, this can be invaluable because once you’ve established a relationship and trust, you can keep going to that person over and over again.
9) Agents can help solve problems if something unexpected happens.
If your flight is cancelled, you’re stuck someplace or face some other unforeseen problem; a travel agent may be able to help you find a better solution more quickly than you could on your own. All you have to do is pick up the phone and call them.
10) A travel agent can help clear up confusing fees and restrictions.
Many of the restrictions and fees imposed by airlines, baggage fees, hotels or car rental companies are not obvious to the casual buyer. A travel agent can help you understand them all so that you can make more informed choices.
11) Avoid frustration when planning a complicated travel itinerary.
Obviously, sifting through all the information can be very frustrating so it goes without saying that you can avoid a whole lot of frustration by letting someone else do most of the heavy lifting in planning your itinerary.
12) Help you choose a destination and activity
Travel agents are travel professionals and travel advisors.
If you would like to book a vacation but aren’t sure where or what to do, a travel agent can act as your travel advisor and help you choose between locations, cruises, activities and more. Travel agents also have inside information on the best times to go to crowded destinations.
Questions to ask before booking with a travel agent
Not all travel agents/consultants are created equal, so if you are considering hiring one, here are a few questions you should ask them.
- What are the fees? This will help you determine if it will be worth the investment to work with them vs. the time to do it yourself.
- What is their refund and cancellation policy?
- If need be, can the agent work entirely by e-mail? If one of the reasons you want to work with a travel agent is because of a lack of time, then you don’t want to be stuck on a phone for hours while they research your itinerary for you. You should also expect them to respond within minutes or hours by email and not days.
- If there is a problem with my booking while I’m on vacation, can they help me and how can I get hold of them?
- Are they certified, and by whom? There are no regulations that prevent anyone from calling themselves a travel agent. Please make sure they are certified and reputable. Depending on which country the travel agent is based in, they will have different certifications. In the US, a travel agent is usually ASTA certified (American Society of Travel Agents), but in the UK, it is ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents).
- Ask for references
- Check online reviews and search engine results.
- In the US, ask for Errors and Omissions liability insurance. Most US professional travel advisors carry errors and omissions liability insurance which protects them and you against the financial consequences of a travel agent’s mistake.
ONE LAST TIP: Always pay with a major credit card
How you pay the travel agency matters.
If you pay your travel agent invoice with a debit card, wire transfer, or check, your money is gone.
But what if you run into problems and need to challenge a charge or request a refund when a travel agent doesn’t fulfill what was promised?
By using a major credit card with consumer protection programs built-in, you have the full force of the law. If the company draws out the refund process, you can file a chargeback.