User-friendly sites like Orbitz and Expedia make booking your travel a breeze. You can sign up for price alerts, receive notifications when deals hit the market, and modify itineraries yourself. So why do travel agents still exist?
Travel agents are holding strong because they have professional insider tips, access to exclusive deals, and can save you hours of time during the booking process. Let’s take a look at all they can do.
Agents Save Time
Expedia published a report showing that the average traveler visits 140 websites in the 45 days before travel. In the six weeks before booking their tickets or itinerary, the average traveler accumulates an average of 22.95 hours of digital travel media. That’s a lot of time spent staring at your computer.
If you find mulling over departure times, airports, and researching visa requirements a ton of fun, then go for it. But if you get a headache from too many options, consider handing the job over to an experienced agent.
Travel agents think of everything. For example, if a family of four searches for flight tickets together, an online site will show them four equally priced seats. However, there might be three seats at a lower price, making it better to buy those separately, adding in the fourth ticket at a slightly higher price. Agents know how to tweak the results to find these kinds of deals.
The popular belief is that if you book online, you’ll save money. Yes, if you find a good deal, you’ll save on agent fees. However, most agents are connected to a secret network of promotional offers and insider deals. They can search across the board faster than you can search individual online platforms. Perhaps flying into an airport an hour away and renting a car is cheaper than flying directly into your destination. Agents know which seasons to travel, which days to fly, and how to pick the best seats.
The American Society of Travel Agents found that the average agent fee is around $36 for booking airline tickets. Agents can charge more for extensive trip planning, often $100-$200. Some agents earn only commissions from their bookings, at no extra cost to you. Make sure to discuss these fees upfront with your agent.
Even if you have to pay extra fees to your agent, you usually end up paying around the same as booking online. Plus you get personalized tips, save on hours of research, and have someone to help if things go wrong.
Many agents offer installment plans, locking in the early bird price with a small deposit. Then you have weeks, even months, to pay off the remaining balance. This helps you avoid hefty credit card fees, thus making bigger excursions more financially manageable. Even if you have the funds at the time of booking, let the agent take away the pressure, letting your money continue earning interest.
Still on the fence about a trip? If your agent finds a good price, they can hold it for 24 hours. This is different from popular travel sites that offer free cancellations within 24 hours (most agents offer this, too). Holding the fare for 24 hours gives you the necessary time to finalize your plans, avoiding the hassle of charging your credit card and then calling up to cancel.
When To Use an Agent
If you’re still unsure if an agent is worth it, here are some areas where they take the lead.
- International travel: Agents have extensive knowledge about visa and passport requirements, which areas are safest, and can help devise an action-packed itinerary when you’re hopping from country to country.
- Cruise packages: They know all the specifics, such as which cruises allow kids, which offer fitness classes, and which serves the best wine.
- Honeymoons and destination weddings: Save hours of labor by getting an agent to help coordinate everything—flights, rental cars, luxury hotels, horseback riding photoshoots, you name it. Devote your time to planning your new life with your new love, not agonizing over the cheapest flight deals.
- Group travel: Agents are pros when it comes to sending off the whole family on vacation. They have just the right package for trips that include Grandma and Grandpa, middle-aged relatives, and kids of all ages. They have access to group discount rates that you can’t find online.
- Disney trips: There are plenty of books, blogs, and advice websites that teach how to navigate the chaos of Disney successfully. But do you really have time to sort through all that info? Agents are known for putting together fun-filled Disney vacations at a competitive price. Why not save your time and resources for playing with the kids?
When to Ditch the Agent
Even though an agent can save you hours of research time, they aren’t always the best option. Here are some top reasons to go ahead and book your own travel plans.
- Airline loyalty: An agent will search for the best deals, snagging whichever airline offers the cheapest fare. But if you’re loyal to a frequent flyer program, then go ahead and book on your own. This also applies to flights booked with miles—you’re better off doing this yourself.
- Search engine limitations: This applies to both agent searches and your searches. For example, Southwest and certain small, regional airlines don’t use booking engines. You have to go to their site directly.
- Higher commissions: A travel agent might push you towards booking a hotel that earns them a higher commission, even if they have no experience with that hotel. Sometimes you can find popular options by searching TripAdvisor reviews.
- Trip cancellation: In the past, agents were the ones who handled cancellations. Now more airlines are offering better cancellation policies, or you can buy flexible fares and travel insurance at a reasonable price. Many credit cards offer travel benefits, such as trip delay or trip cancellation. And certain airlines, like Southwest, allow you to cancel up to ten minutes before departure, for any reason (offering airline credit that expires in one year).
- Rock bottom prices: If an airline offers a crazy deal, jump on it! Don’t waste time going through an agent; rock bottom prices go fast!
Ultimately, you have to decide if you’re going to spend hours researching the best deals or leave it in the hands of a professional. If the price is around the same, save yourself the headache and pay an agent to do the hard work. But if you want total control of your plans, without the influence of anyone else, then do it yourself.
Either way, pack those bags, renew your passport, and have a fantastic adventure.