Should You Still Use A Travel Agent?

This content is made possible by our sponsor; the views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Before everyone carried the Internet around in their pocket, travel agents were a near necessity for a successful trip. Your agent would usually know the area you wanted to visit and help you get the best upgrades and deals. You could pick up your tickets and itinerary at the travel agency and head to the airport, knowing your whole trip was planned to perfection.

Now, with smartphones and tablets at the ready, it’s a lot easier for anyone to look up flights and read hotel reviews. But is it always smarter?

Sometimes, using a travel agent is still your best bet, although the cost savings and extra convenience may not be as great as they once were. A well-connected agent can make sure your trip goes smoothly and stays affordable. Plus, they’re available for an emergency call if you run into a problem.

A simple weekend getaway may not require an expert’s knowledge, but a complicated international journey can often benefit from it. On the other hand, if conducting your own travel research is part of the fun for you, you may want to remain a plan-it-yourselfer.

Here are some things to consider:

How Travel Agents Can Help

One reason to use an agent is to avoid stressing over every single detail of a trip and whether you’re getting the best possible deal. Agents often have access to online booking platforms showing travel suppliers’ inventory and pricing that may not be available to the general public, according to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).

However, “the best travel agents aren’t just ticket bookers,” said Erika A. Richter, ASTA spokesperson. “When you decide to use a travel agent you are going to be working with someone who specializes in customer service.”

A travel agent can come in especially handy when your itinerary needs adjusting. They know the different airlines’ and hotels’ policies and how to reach the right people quickly. Not long ago, for example, one ValuePenguin staffer called his agent immediately when his flight was cancelled, and the agent was able to get him the very last seat on the next flight.

If you have a specialized itinerary in mind, such as visiting a new-to-you theme park or a taking your first cruise, an agent who knows the territory can be a huge timesaver, even if you have to pay a fee for the assistance.

But bear in mind that some popular destinations now offer extensive trip planning help through their own agents, with no extra cost involved. For example, Walt Disney World vacations are known for requiring exhaustive pre-planning, and the options are always changing. Mickey Travels experts are based all over the country, providing complimentary, individualized itineraries and other advice to Disney travelers. They know what the families with small children should consider, which restaurants are best for high-end foodies, and how early you need to book activities so you don’t miss out.

What You’ll Pay

At one time, travel agents earned their living from the commissions paid by airlines, hotels, and cruise lines. When those commissions started drying up 20 years ago, many agents began to rely on consultancy or planning fees paid by travelers or their employers. In 2016, 76% of ASTA agency members said they charged service fees.

“Some planning fees range from $50 to several hundred [dollars], depending on the complexity of the trip,” Richter said. “You’re paying for their knowledge and also the extra perks that they can score for you. That planning fee will come back to you in one way or another.”

Proponents of the fee-based model say it liberates agents from worrying about their commissions and allows them instead to focus on creating the best travel experience for the client. For basic leisure travel, many travel agents charge fees of $50 to $100.

You can still find some agencies that work on a commission basis and don’t charge fees. Other commission-based agencies will charge a refundable fee to discourage you from taking an itinerary they’ve devised and shopping around for better prices on your own. If you book your trip through them, you’ll get the fee back.

If none of your friends or family can recommend a good agent, ASTA offers, a travel agent finder that provides information on vetted ASTA members. There are also other sites you can use, such as Virtuoso or Signature Travel Network.

The article Should You Still Use a Travel Agent? originally appeared on ValuePenguin.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

More Related Articles

Sign up for Smart Investing to get the latest news, strategies and tips to help you invest smarter.