Whether you have a real passion for travel or you only pack your bags on occasion, there’s work involved in planning a trip.
With Google at your fingertips, it’s easier than ever to make your own travel plans. But is “DIY” travel planning always the smartest (and most frugal) move?
It makes good sense to plan your travel when you have a simple itinerary. But many people swear by using a travel agent – even when they could book a trip on their own.
Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of working with a travel agent, how travel agents are paid, when it makes sense to use a travel agent, and how to find a good one.
Advantages of Working With a Travel Agent
Even if you haven’t used a travel agent to book a trip, there’s a good chance your parents or grandparents have used their services.
The role of travel agents has evolved over the last few decades, but recent research shows an increase in business for travel agents in the United States. Revenue generated by the travel agency industry continues to grow and is expected to be over $17 billion in 2020.
So if you think travel agents are a thing of the past, think again.
There are many reasons to consider working with a travel agent when you’re ready to plan your next trip. Travel agents can:
1. Save you time
There’s a good chance you’ve spent the equivalent of at least a few days of work researching a trip itinerary. While the internet is a DIY travel planner’s friend, you might also find yourself trying to optimize every single detail of your travels.
You can experience information overload by:
- using multiple sites to search for deals
- reading online reviews
- getting travel tips from family and friends.
When you have too much information to sort through, you may second guess yourself or get “analysis paralysis” and hold off on making reservations.
If you believe the old saying “time is money” – consider what you could be doing instead of spending all of those hours researching and booking travel.
The money you earn from a few extra hours at work or a side hustle can often make up for any fees you may have to pay a travel agent.
2. Add value
A good travel agent isn’t just someone who books your itinerary. They make suggestions and provide advice while working to fulfill the goals you have for your trip.
Travel agents have access to a variety of perks, promotions, and exclusive events that may interest you. They might negotiate discounts or upgrades to your travel package at no cost to you.
In the end, you may save money and have experiences you would never have considered without working with an agent.
3. Reduce your stress
You’ll always feel some level of stress with travel, but an agent can certainly reduce it!
After discussing your goals for an upcoming trip, your agent will get to work researching your options. Then, you get to decide what plan works best without spending hours searching online.
Good travel agents read the fine print and share relevant information with you. They understand travel requirements, restrictions, and details such as whether you’ll need a visa or vaccinations.
A good agent also knows the difference between an excellent deal and outstanding marketing.
There’s a lot to manage when you book complicated travel plans or when you’re traveling to a new country for the first time. If you get anxious about travel, finding an experienced agent can help make the whole process much easier.
4. Advocate for you
There’s a lot that can go wrong to disrupt travel. Canceled or overbooked flights, problems with accommodations, and illnesses or injuries are common problems travelers face.
Your travel agent can troubleshoot issues and advocate for you when something goes wrong. They may even be proactive and present options when they realize there might be an issue with weather or some other situation related to your itinerary.
While others will be advocating for themselves when there is a concern, you can benefit from your travel agent’s connections and relationships in the industry.
Drawbacks of Using a Travel Agent
While there are plenty of good reasons to consider working with a travel agent, there are a few cons to keep in mind too.
1. Travel might cost more
When you’re already paying for an expensive trip, you might decide to skip using a travel agent to save money.
While you may have to pay service or booking fees, remember that you’re paying the agent for their time and expertise.
Their prices are usually reasonable for the service they provide, but only you can decide if extra money an agent might charge is worth it.
2. Limited use of travel rewards
Travel agents may not make award reservations for you because of the extra time it takes to search and book an itinerary. And if they do agree to use your frequent flyer miles or hotel points, you may pay a surcharge.
But that isn’t true for all travel agents or all bookings. If you want to use travel rewards, ask the agent if it’s a possibility before they start researching for you.
3. It still requires time
Unless you have a lot of trust in an agent or a reasonably straightforward itinerary, you’ll need to make time to communicate with your agent and review your travel options.
How Travel Agents Get Paid
Agents make money in different ways depending on the travel they are booking. For some itineraries, agents get paid by commission from partners in the travel industry. If this is the case, you probably won’t pay extra to use a travel agent.
Many agents now use booking fees or service charges when they plan trips that don't earn them a commission. These fees can vary between $25 – $200 or more per person, depending on the agent and the complexity of travel plans.
If you’re looking for advice only from an agent, they may charge an hourly consulting fee.
Don’t be shy about asking a travel agent what they’ll charge you to book a trip or to give you travel information. Open communication is key to building trust and developing a long-term business relationship.
When To Use a Travel Agent (And How To Find a Good One)
Even if you’re a travel hacker or enjoy doing your own trip planning, there may be a good reason to consult with an agent for certain travel plans.
You might even research your trip and then work with an agent to see if they suggest different options or find better deals.
If you’re short on time, lack travel experience, or if you’re open to suggestions on where to go and what to do, using a travel agent makes sense. Many people use agents to book cruises, trips overseas, or travel for groups of people.
An agent might be able to find you more options if you’re traveling during peak seasons. And spending a few extra dollars to see what value an agent can offer is a smart move if you’re planning a “trip of a lifetime” too.
Finding a Good Travel Agent
If you’ve decided to give a travel agent a try, you might be wondering how to find someone who’ll be a good fit.
A quick online search for “travel agents near me” will probably give you the names of at least a few agents you could meet with in person. You can also ask your family, friends, and co-workers for names of great agents they know.
If you’re a member of AAA, you can use one of their local travel consultants. You can also work virtually with a AAA travel consultant who’s an expert in a particular type of travel or planning vacations in specific locations.
The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) runs a website called Travelsense. It is also an excellent resource for finding travel advisors to help plan your next trip. Many advisors will work with you virtually to plan travel too.
When you talk with an agent, ask about their experience as an agent and their own travel interests. If they’re an independent agent, also learn if they have affiliations to any larger agencies.
Here are other things to consider when narrowing your search. Does the agent:
- Answer your calls or return them in a reasonable amount of time?
- Ask about communication preferences and then use the methods you prefer?
- Explain service or consulting fees you’ll be charged before you spend time talking about trip planning?
- Ask about your goals and budget early in the conversation? And do the travel plans they create meet your goals and fall within your budget?
- Provide support for you when you are traveling in case anything goes wrong?
- Explain refund and travel change policies?
You’ll quickly build trust with an agent who is excited not only about your travel itinerary but about serving you. Great travel agents get plenty of referrals from happy clients!
Final Thoughts on Working With a Travel Agent
If you pay someone to deliver your groceries, clean your house, or mow your lawn, you’re paying for something you could likely do yourself.
Most people who use those types of services are happy to pay for them to make life easier and “buy back” some time in their busy schedules.
If you can easily plan and arrange your travel itinerary, go for it. You don’t need to use a travel agent every time you’re heading out of town.
But remember, working with an agent can save you time and aggravation – especially for more complex trips or for situations like group travel. Your travel agent might find deals you’d never know about from searching online yourself.
While you might pay a fee to use a travel agent’s services, don’t assume this is always true. They're compensated in different ways, so make sure to ask about fees.
A reliable agent will prioritize your interests and goals and develop a strong relationship with you. They want repeat customers who also refer family and friends.
So DIY if you want and when it makes sense, but don’t discount the expertise a travel agent has and how they can positively impact your trip planning.
Vicki and Amy are authors of Estate Planning 101 – a Crash Course in Planning for the Unexpected -coming soon from Adams Media.