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Should I Use a Travel Agent

9 Things We’ll Tell You About Travel Agents – A Response to this story Appearing in Women’s Day

Well maybe its really 10 things, because for starters, I didn’t find any of the money saving gems promised in this article, so from the get go the premise was misleading.  It turns out to be a one sided review fueled by inaccurate information. The only ‘secret’ the author seems to share is that travel agents get paid commissions and are offered incentives.  You know, how the sales industry works.

  1.  Travel agents make commission!  Its how they get paid.  What you may not know is they are built into the price of vacation packages and cruises.  By built in, I mean not in addition to.  In most cases travelers pay the same amount booking with a trusted agent, at an online site,  or directly with a cruise line or hotel.  And online agencies promising to save you money are getting paid the same way.  Key difference between the tow is that your travel agent builds a relationship with you, & offers expert advice on everything from climate, high and low season, accommodations, and dining.  They’ll tell you that the reason prices to the Caribbean are better in October is because its the rainy season.  When an agent is offering input about an option, its because they depend on your repeat business and referrals, so they are invested in your trip too.  Finally,when a travel agent spends an hour and a half researching a trip for you and you don’t book with them, they don’t get paid for their time — at all.  The online agencies are still making $$ with all the ads you see on their site.
  2. Travel agents can book all air carriers.  Even Southwest.  No, the air does not have to be tied to a vacation package.  The reason many leisure agents don’t book air is because the airlines don’t pay them.  So if a client just wants help buying airfare, many agents will research best price & schedule, and recommend they book directly with the airline.  If a customer still wants an agent to book, the agent does have the option to add in a nominal transaction fee.  This is only fair, otherwise they’d be working for free!
  3. Gasp!  your agent hasn’t been to every hotel or cruise they recommend.  But most agents are frequent travelers. They have a network of associates and clients.  They attend seminars, webinars, travel forums, and industry events.  They earn certifications demonstrating their product knowledge.  Take a cruise for example — online you’ll find which port a ship sails, the length of the cruise, and how the cabins are priced.  But what do you want to get out of a cruise?  An agent will help you figure out which line best meets your needs (its not about price if traveling with kids &  you’re looking at a cruise catering to retirees).  An agent knows what to expect on which excursions,  can offer advice about what to pack, and tips on getting through boarding and disembarkation process.  You can research it all online yourself, by “being your own travel agent”, but if a qualified agent can save you time and money, why not benefit by using their time and knowledge?
  4. Be flexible with your travel dates  – as long as you find a price and schedule that make you happy.  That published $150 fare to Las Vegas looks great, until you see its for a 6:00 AM return flight.  Being flexible with airports is a great idea too, if you live in Chicago or New York.  Most of the country has access to one major airport, or several hours of drive time, which may not be cost effective when factoring  in valuable vacation hours.
  5. The notion that agents are out there ‘pushing’ insurance is unfounded.  Its offered on online sites, directly with the cruise lines, and vacation consolidators.  Travel Agents can and often do recommend travel insurance as a way to protect your investment.  Some credit cards offer coverage but it may be secondary insurance, meaning it covers only what primary insurance does not.  Its good to know before you go if your health and auto providers cover you, even major medical or natural disaster, or if a supplement is worth the investment.
  6. A travel agent can be invaluable for a milestone trip like a honeymoon, but no, it won’t cost you more because you are using an agent.  Yes, it costs you more to have a car service than it does to ride a bus.  And a good agent makes these kinds of recommendations as part of their job.  Traveling to Mexico?  They might give a tip like using the resort photographer to capture a great pic for your holiday photos.  Taking a cruise?  Many agents will have a chilled bottle of champagne waiting in your cabin to thank you for your business.
  7. Online travel sites are ‘agents’ too, and therefore they don’t offer you any guarantees that a personal travel agent doesn’t.  They may advertise the service differently, but they are bound by the same restrictions imposed on everyone else.  Read the fine print in the two links the article provided.
  8. As an agent who frequently books hotel, I can tell you that this point is just flat out wrong.  Agents have access to all of the special rates the hotels or cruise lines offer, including AARP, AAA, military, state resident, etc.  The reason why those rate codes might not be used for a booking are simple:  their agency had a better price for you.  I have been able to give my clients better rates than even combining some of those codes many times.
  9. Finally, lets address hotel or online booking sites/airline loyalty programs.  If you want to use points to book a portion of your trip your leisure agent may be able to help you with that.  My experience has been that when you compare the end price point between a vacation package, and using points for part of the trip (air or hotel), the savings are less.  We frequently use hotel points ourselves, and we’ve used air miles points as well.  We find they work best when we’re driving to the hotel, or flying to visit friends.  Between restricted dates, and restrictions on the type of room you can book with points, you may not end up getting everything you want from your trip.  Its tough to beat a good package put together by an agent because of the deep volume discounts they get.

 

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