As the country begins to reopen, we'll keep publishing news to help you navigate the state of travel today (like whether travel insurance covers the coronavirus), as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it's safe to start going more far-flung.
Confession: I’m a big fan of travel agents (whoops, sorry, travel advisers), even though I could technically book all my trips through websites and apps. And despite the fact that many of us might consider this industry old-fashioned and out-of-date, research shows that travelers, and millennials in particular, are once again turning to these specialists to help plow through TripAdvisor detritus.
Once you’ve come around to the idea of hiring a travel agent, ask these three questions before booking:
- Is this a domestic trip or one that involves traveling to a part of the world you’ve never been? If it’s the former you don’t need a travel agent.
- Can I get a better deal by using a travel agent? (This question requires you pricing out your trip with and without one.)
- Is this a big-budget, special-event kind of trip? If the answer is yes, go with a travel agent.
The Pros of Using a Travel Agent
They can find crazy deals.
This is literally their job. If they have been in the travel business for many years, they likely have supplier relationships in place that can help leverage better deals for you. Many travel agents specialize in locations (i.e., cruise vacations in Europe). Some travel agents offer package deals, with more savings passed on to you then booking the trip on your own—that is good news to your wallet.
They will be your advocate.
One of the best ways to utilize a travel agent is as an advocate should something derail on your trip. They can help you with lost luggage, in the case of natural disasters, if you get stuck in a location before your trip, etc. They are there to help you get your trip back on track.
They’ll take care of the little things.
I love my travel agent, and I love all the extras she provides when we use her services for a trip. For instance, when we traveled to the Bahamas, she made sure there was a nice bottle of champagne and strawberries in our room on our arrival, and she also upgraded our room free of charge. While this certainly is not a guarantee when you use a travel agent, there are a lot of added-value extras you can expect when you use a travel agent. Why? Because travel agents know you don’t have to use them to book your trip, and they want to say thank you.
They’re true experts.
Most travel agents have been working in the industry for years now, and it’s their job to stay on top of travel trends and upcoming hot destinations. When I spoke with my travel agent about a trip to Europe recently, she offered a few alternate destinations. I was not thinking about the destinations she suggested, but the alternatives offered great activities, culture, food, interesting boutique hotels, and more options for less money than my original destination.
They don’t usually cost extra.
It’s a myth that working with a travel agent will automatically cost you more; most get paid via commissions from the hotel or outfitter. Sure, some travel agents do charge a fee for putting together an itinerary, but most will credit you that fee if you end up booking the trip through them. Make sure you know all the potential fees before you use a travel agent, and do not hesitate to negotiate away.
The Cons of Using a Travel Agent
They’re not going to help with cheaper airfare.
Back in the day, you would use a travel agent to book every aspect of your trip. However, with so many options to find low-cost airfare, like Google Flights, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Skyscanner, booking your own flights is easy and cost-effective. Most travel agents cannot score discounted flights, and many travel agents will not even bother. Follow these tips instead.
They’re not you.
This may seem obvious, although it’s still important to consider. A travel agent not only finds you the best deals, but they also offer suggestions for activities, restaurants, and more. This is great if you’re someone who doesn’t like to research these things, but you run the risk of working with someone who doesn’t get your personal preferences (maybe they lean toward road tours rather than technical singletrack). Do your own research first, and come up with a list of activities that you want to do. Once you have that list, pass it along to your travel agent to see if they can rustle up any deals as they book.
How to Find a Great One
One of the best ways to find a reputable travel agent is to get referrals from your friends and family. Anyone that has used that travel agent for a previous trip and enjoyed their service is someone worth checking out. As with anything, I always suggest talking to at least two different travel agents to see who you feel most comfortable with. Remember, they are there to work for you.
Know your travel budget before you reach out to a travel agent. Likely, this will be the first question they ask you and will help steer them toward the best destinations for that budget. If you are traveling somewhere that’s specialized, like going on that once-in-a-lifetime African safari, find a specialist that knows that region inside and out. They will usually have the best deals and relationships with hotels and activity companies in that area.