Cost: Contrary to popular belief, a travel agent won’t always cost more. In fact, it’s possible you will pay less than booking a vacation yourself because agents might be aware of promotional offers and occasionally have access to exclusive deals. Some agents will charge a per-hour fee for their time in planning a trip. Agents can earn commissions on some bookings, but it’s not nearly as lucrative as it used to be because airlines don’t pay commission. In general, however, using a travel agent will often cost about the same as booking it yourself, experts say. But you save a lot of time and could get great advice that makes your trip more enjoyable.
Time: Some people enjoy trip planning, while others consider it an arduous chore. Research for even a simple trip can consume hours. Part of what you’re paying for with a travel agent, assuming you’re paying extra at all, is for someone else to do the research and present you with options, making the process less time-consuming for you.
Advice: How valuable would it be if an expert could tell you to stay at hotel A but avoid hotel B, or choose the great snorkeling excursion but skip the lame biking tour? Counseling you on what to do and which services to choose, based on personal experience or that of colleagues and customers, is where a travel agent can shine. Besides counsel on bookings, a travel agent can advise you on such issues as exchange rates, travel insurance, crowds, weather, competency of tours, areas of a town to avoid, travel visas, vaccinations, passports, tipping etiquette, packing lists and trip cancellation penalties and restrictions. A travel agent can sort out which airlines charge for checked bags or roomier exit-row seating.
Troubleshooting: A travel agent can be your advocate before, during and after your trip. If something goes wrong with a canceled flight, missed connection or something more serious, you have someone on your side who probably knows the system a little better.
Choosing an agent: You can find one through word of mouth, via friends, neighbors and relatives. There also are ratings of travel agents from Consumers’ Checkbook and Angie’s List, which require subscriptions, and Yelp.com, which is free. Also, keep an eye out for agents who are members of the American Society of Travel Agents. Members are required to adhere to a code of ethics and are offered continuing-education programs. Some travel agents are certified travel counselors, which means they have at least five years of experience and have completed an educational program.