Travel Agents? People Still Use Those Guys?

Stephen Vanderpool is a writer for NerdWallet | Travel, a site for adventure on a budget.

Why would I use a travel agent when I have the Internet? I can search for my own deals, book my own trips, set up e-mail alerts for discounts, research destinations and even teach myself the languages and customs of other cultures. Don’t sites like Expedia and Frommer’s essentially invalidate the concept of a travel agent? Surprisingly, no. In 2011, travel agent bookings accounted for a third of the US travel market. That’s huge! Despite the speed and convenience of Internet travel resources, travel agents remain useful even to today’s cyber-savvy vacationers. We’ll outline how travel agents work to save you money and in what situations you may want to employ their expertise.

Travel agents vs. the Internet: FIGHT!

The Internet is the infinite library. Its volumes easily exceed the capacity of the most brilliant human mind. Billions of voices from every corner of the earth contribute to its immeasurable tomes and databases. When you can plug in and access virtually any conceivable scrap of information, consulting an individual may seem unnecessary and redundant. 

But believe it or not, travel agents have access to information that exists outside the realm of cyberspace. Not only do agents gather information from the same sources that fuel booking sites like Orbitz and Travelocity, but they also receive daily faxes and e-mails containing exclusive travel deals you won’t find online. By using a travel agent, you can tap into a highly valuable stream of information unavailable to competing budget travelers.

Additionally, agents have connections and experience talking with industry professionals. They can make direct phone calls and bargain for better deals. Theoretically, you could try this yourself, but don’t count on making much headway.

Won’t agent fees cancel out potential savings?

One reason travelers are often hesitant to utilize an agent is cost. They don’t want to pay for a service the Internet could provide (to an extent) for free. In reality, travel agent fees are generally minimal, and oftentimes they won’t charge you at all. A good chunk of an agents’ revenue comes from the wholesalers, hotels and resorts with which they do business. Obviously, inquire about fees up front. If the cost is negligible, take advantage of the service. Remember, agents can compare Internet pricing with insider information. You can take comfort knowing you will receive the very best deal.

When is a travel agent appropriate?

The question becomes when to use a travel agent. If you’re booking a flight from San Francisco to Seattle to stay with a friend for a few days, you’re better off hopping on Kayak and booking from home. A travel agent probably won’t be worth the time and effort. (Fun fact: The best time to book a flight is 3:00pm EST on Tuesdays. The best time to fly is early on Wednesday mornings.)

There are a number of instances in which a travel agent can save you both money and headaches. The more complex, lengthy and expensive your trip, the more use you’ll get out of an agent. International travelers would do well to seek consultation. Agents can provide invaluable guidance in navigating new territory and offer assistance in booking with foreign establishments. If you can find an agent with expertise in your chosen destination, you can ask for tips and advice based on first-hand experience.
Travel agents are good at dealing with uncertainty. If you can’t decide on a destination or what to do when you get there, an agent can serve as a wellspring of insight. Agents provide structure and suggestions, directing you to the establishments, entertainment, services and facilities that best suit your needs and interests. Remember, travel is their area of expertise. They know what’s good for you.

Travel agents are also extremely valuable when it comes to group travel. Group booking can quickly descend into chaos, especially if everyone is booking his or her own accommodations. Let a travel agent keep you organized. Instead of trying to reserve rooms, flights and tours across a multitude of names and credit cards, use your travel agent to simplify and consolidate. Should complications arise, your agent can sort out the mess.

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