Whether you’re new to travel or you’ve already checked off a few destinations from your bucket list, you may be missing out on perks or deals if you're not considering a travel agent.
Contrary to the myths, travel agents still exist and they can be affordable. A travel agent can offer many services and conveniences not found on a search engine.
An agent can also save hours of research and handle any setbacks that could potentially derail your vacation plans. Depending on how you travel, a travel agent could make sense for you.
When to consider a travel agent
Travel agents might charge a planning fee or a service fee, if they charge one at all. They may also earn a commission for the travel products they sell. The planning fee can range from $50 to hundreds of dollars depending on how involved your trip is, according to the American Society of Travel Agents.
If you take pleasure in researching your own vacation, a travel agent might not be for you. But it’s worth considering a travel agent if:
You VALUE CUSTOMER SERVICE
Travel agents provide a one-stop shop for customer service. If you experience a flight delay or an unexpected hiccup, you won't have to make several calls. Just one call to your travel agent and it should be handled.
"You could spend time on hold if you want, or you could text or email or call your travel advisor," says Erika Richter, spokesperson for the American Society of Travel Agents. "Oftentimes they know if your flight has been booked or canceled before you do, so they’ll have the alert and they’re already on it."
You have a complex vacation
A travel agent can point you in the right direction when it comes to the type of checklist — passport, visa, immunizations, currency — you need to create according to your destination. Travel agents can also educate you about the different laws and customs of a foreign country.
Stephanie Miller, blogger at The Scenic Suitcase, had to use a travel agent when she traveled to Cuba for educational purposes. Her travel agent advised her not to photograph the airport or any officials because she could be detained.
“When we landed, there was a tourist. She took a picture inside the airport, not even of an official, and they escorted her off,” she says.
You prefer a payment plan
Booking by yourself online generally requires an upfront payment. Travel agents can offer flexible payments if you're still saving for your vacation. They may also work with your payment preferences such as rewards credit cards and loyalty programs.
“We have the payment flexibility where you put down maybe as low as $50 for deposit, and then the remaining balance would be due about 30 days prior to trip departure,” says Cassandra Harris, a travel agent who runs the blog Travel Agent Diary.
You’re traveling with a group
Travel agents can help simplify group travel by handling different payments and requests for each traveler. They also may be able to offer heavily discounted group quotes based on their partnerships.
“They have access to more information than you do at your fingertips,” says Richter. “They have access to the Global Distribution System, [a reservation tool] which allows them to see more options for you and see inventory that you wouldn’t be able to see just on your own.”
You have special needs or requests
Some travel agencies specialize in travel for specific needs or interests — medical needs, special needs and specific recreational activities such as marathon running, fly fishing and more.
“We have a family that goes to Aruba every year and their daughter is in a wheelchair,” Harris says. “They know that the room they’re going to be in is ADA accessible, it’s going to be on the first floor. They don’t have to worry about anything.” (The ADA is the Americans With Disabilities Act.)
You’re celebrating a special occasion
If you’re planning an event like a honeymoon or a bachelorette party, you might prefer delegating the heavy planning to a travel agent. For example, for destination weddings, the bride and groom can eliminate travel from the planning process. It’s added help when you’re already preoccupied with planning a special occasion.
It’s your first trip outside of the U.S.
As a first-time international traveler, you may not know what to Google or which questions to ask. If you don’t know about foreign transaction fees, dynamic currency conversion and where to exchange currency to get the best rates, travel agents can prepare you for what to expect.
How to choose a travel agent
Take the time to find the right travel agent for your destination. You might even need more than one, depending on your preferences.
Make sure your travel agent belongs to a professional association such as ASTA, the International Air Transport Association and the Cruise Lines International Association. Some travel agents are also certified travel counselors and master cruise counselors.
You can verify this information through directories offered by some of these associations. For example, travelsense.org, operated by ASTA, helps consumers search for travel agents that are members of that organization.
Here's a quick checklist to help you choose a travel agent:
Check a travel agent’s credentials
Interview more than one travel agent
Compare a travel agent’s fees with your travel budget
Consider whether their expertise is a match for your travel destination
Read reviews and testimonials, and ask for references