Need to pivot your trip plans but don’t want to deal with the extra time, money and hassle of rebooking flights and accommodations on your own? That’s just one area where a knowledgeable travel agent (also commonly known as a travel advisor) can help. Read on to discover the other benefits – as well as the downsides – of using a travel agent, so you can confidently decide whether or not a travel agent is worth it for your next trip.
The Pros of Using a Travel Agent
Travel agents can save you money – and get you other perks
“In some cases, you’ll actually get a better deal by working with a travel agent,” says Jackie Steele, travel expert at MagicGuides. “This could be in the form of a cruise onboard credit (free spending money to use on the ship), access to special agency/group rates, or even just learning about a discount you qualify for but weren’t aware of.” The best agents will even keep an eye on new discounts as they’re announced and apply them to your trip even after you’ve booked, he notes.
Travel agents handle all the details
Hotel room? Booked. Dinner reservations? Made. Tour tickets? Ready to go. A travel agent handles every detail of your vacation itinerary. “The traveler still gets to be involved in the fun part of dreaming up ideas and providing their travel wishes, while we take and perfect them,” says Jessica Parker, founder of Trip Whisperer.
Molly McShea, owner and travel advisor at McShea Travel, points out that travel agents can also help with timing logistics. “Travel agents know how many days should be spent in each destination, which tours go together, and how many things you should do in a day,” she says, adding that crafting an itinerary can be challenging if it’s not something you regularly do. Additionally, travel agents can help you choose the best time to visit your preferred destination(s) based on seasonality and your budget, and sift through travel insurance policies to find the best option for your needs.
Travel agents can provide local expertise
“A travel advisor’s industry connections and relationships provide added value to their clients,” says Valerie Edman, a luxury travel advisor and agency owner at Cultured Travel LLC. She says when working with a travel agent, travelers gain access to a global network of connections including:
- In-destination specialists who work exclusively with travel advisors and can connect travelers with unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences they wouldn’t otherwise know about
- Exclusive experiences not available to the general public
You’ll avoid surprise fees
When deciding if a travel agent is worth it for you, remember this: A reputable agent can guarantee you won’t encounter any surprise fees on accommodations and activities once your trip is booked.
You’ll have someone to troubleshoot unexpected travel issues
A travel advisor is essentially your personal vacation concierge. “Because they’ve been around for so long, agents really know what to look for,” says Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and journalist. “Travel agents are among the first to know about flight cancellations and delays, making it easy for them to rebook itineraries right away.”
The Cons of Using a Travel Agent
It might not be your cheapest option
There are some instances when it makes more sense to plan your own trip. “If you’re planning a quick flight from New York City to Los Angeles, it’s easy enough to book it yourself online directly or through a third-party booking site,” says Elliott. “If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip or bucket list honeymoon, that’s when you call the experts.”
You’ll have less flexibility in your itinerary
The upside of working with a travel agent is having someone plan an epic vacation for you based on industry knowledge and local expertise. But this can also be a downside in the event you discover an activity you’d like to do or a restaurant you’d like to try that isn’t on your pre-planned itinerary. If you alter your plans, you risk losing money; plus, the time it takes for you and your travel agent to coordinate your change of plans may not be worth the hassle.
You still have to do some research
It’s important to find an agent you can trust, which means you still have to do some of the vacation planning. For this part, Parker recommends picking up the phone. “Lots of people avoid or don’t pick up the phone as much anymore,” she says. “That’s where you get the high-touch service, tone of voice, excitement or concerns to manage.” She advises to look for the following red flags:
- No fees: “Travel advisors are charging planning fees more now or increasing them, so the client knows more confidently than ever, we work for them, not the suppliers with the best commissions,” Parker explains. “There are a lot of things that are non-commissionable and the advisor’s time and expertise shouldn’t be given away for free, either. That’s the best way to show an advisor takes their business seriously.”
- Limited options: If you work with someone who is inexperienced or has an incentive to book you with a certain supplier, they may not be prioritizing your best interests. “It’s important to check if they are with a larger consortia, accreditations and network, typically listed on their website and signatures,” says Parker. “That level of mindshare doesn’t come with a lone advisor unless they have many, many years of experience.”
- Slow response times: If communication is delayed, that’s a sign they may be too busy to plan your trip – but again, this is something you can avoid by having the right conversations early on.
Edman suggestes starting your search with the American Society of Travel Advisors. “ASTA-verified travel advisors are committed to the highest industry standards and have verifiable industry knowledge so consumers can feel confident in working with them,” she says.
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