It wasn’t too long ago that booking a flight online wasn’t possible. Some airlines offered a direct consumer line so that individuals could call via phone to set up their trips. Others required a travel agency, making the use of a travel agency paramount.
But when the internet went mainstream for consumers, about 20 years ago, suddenly, a travel agent seemed irrelevant. Flight and hotel prices were lower than ever, and you could book a flight to almost anywhere and on nearly every trip. As time went on, booking travel accommodations became as simple as typing your starting and arrival destination and pressing “book.” Just like that, agencies that had been around for decades started closing their doors because they couldn’t compete.
Where Are the Travel Agents?
If you suggested to a 21-year-old college graduate that they use a travel agency to book their graduation trip today, chances are they wouldn’t know what that is. And if they did know what a travel agent is, they’d probably roll their eyes. Where did all the travel agents go?
Well, they didn’t disappear, but they’re certainly fewer and farther in between. When booking sites like Expedia, Travelocity, and Booking.com hit the web, it forced a lot of useful travel agents out of business. Suddenly, consumers could book their flights, hotel, rental car, restaurant reservations, tours, and more without getting out of bed.
Booking sites like these have dramatically reduced the amount of time it takes to plan a trip from days to just hours or minutes. They’re intuitive, transparent, and stress-free. Users can bargain-shop from their pajamas and discover premium insights with the click of a button.
However, travel agents are still out there, and many avid travelers swear by the advantages of using one. But if you want to use a travel agent for your next trip, you may need to do a little digging to find one. Travel agents have overwhelmingly moved online, which means you can’t always walk down Main Street to find your local agency anymore.
The thing about today’s travel customers is that they’re going online to do the transaction anyway. The first thing they’ll do to find an agent is doing a quick Google search, which might bring up a few local results and plenty of online results. Today’s travel agents know they can cut down their overhead and still deliver an excellent customer experience by communicating over phone and email without meeting face to face.
If you’re having a hard time finding online agents, it might be because many travel agents prefer to be called advisors, consultants, or counselors. If you’re searching for “travel agents” online instead of one of these more familiar terms, you might not find the best search results.
Additionally, many travel agencies now specialize out of necessity. They’ve found that if they focus on one niche, they’re more likely to gain customers. For example, an agency might specialize in Egypt tours and accommodations or trips to specific Pacific islands. In this way, they can master a niche and attract a higher clientele because they’ve established themselves as experts in a particular region.
Is It Worth Using a Travel Agent?
The answer to this question is a little more complicated than yes or no. It’s more a matter of weighing the pros and cons.
· Why You Should Use a Travel Agent
For some, the use of a travel agent can be highly advantageous. As experts in the industry, travel agents can sometimes offer luxuries, discounts, and individual value that you can’t get through online bookings. Here are the advantages of using a travel agent:
· When you’re booking a costly trip, such as a destination wedding, honeymoon, or distant family reunion, a travel agent can help you find discounts, and consumers can’t easily find themselves. They might have professional coupons, bulk buying options, or even luxury accommodations not available to the everyday consumer.
· It’s a huge time saver if you’re booking a long, involved trip. A travel advisor offers the peace of mind that you’ll get reasonable prices and guaranteed bookings when you need everything to go perfectly.
· Travel consultants can be beneficial during a travel crisis. If you lose your luggage, experience a natural disaster, get stranded, arrive at an overbooked hotel, become injured, or undergo any other stressful situation, your agent will be your advocate. You can rely on someone who knows the industry to help you correct a bad situation and get home rather than dealing with the fall-out yourself.
- Best of all, travel agents don’t usually charge you. The landscape is changing, so you’ll find a few odd ducks who ask for a nominal (typically affordable) fee for their services, but most get their commissions from hotels, airlines, and other vendors in the travel agency.
- As mentioned previously, many travel agents specialize in one destination. If you’re planning a honeymoon trip to Paris, for example, a niche-specific agent can show you all the inside features of Paris you wouldn’t have known about. It could be the most romantic experience you’ll have.
- You’re getting expert advice. The occasional discounts, luxury add-ins, and help planning a complicated trip are excellent, but most travelers value the professional input they get from those in the industry. Often, you’ll book one trip with a travel agent and learn a dozen new travel tricks that you can apply to future travel that you book yourself.
Why You Shouldn’t
Of course, there are reasons you wouldn’t worry about booking a travel agent. The key disadvantages include:
· Sometimes, it’s more hassle to find, hire, and negotiate with a travel counselor than it would be to make your bookings yourself. For example, if you’re flying from New York to Chicago to stay with your aunt for the holidays, you can be done booking your flight in a matter of minutes. You don’t need a rental car or a hotel, so it would be much easier to book it yourself. Even if you needed a flight and a hotel, these two bookings are simple enough that it might not be worth bothering an agent.
· You can generally find all the information you need about planning a trip online if you don’t mind putting in the research, rendering expert advice unnecessary. Some people prefer to be thoroughly knowledgeable about a destination and the accommodations there, so researching and booking your trip might be preferred.
· Travel agents have many “ins” with travel companies, but not with airlines. They can’t get you a discount on airfare, and they might not expend every effort to do so because they don’t have a vested interest in saving you money. You can easily find low-cost airfare online. With sites like Skyscanner, CheapAir, Scott’s Cheap Flights, and Google Flights, you can observe flights for the best price. Most of these third-party booking sites also have an alert option, so they’ll let you know when flight prices drop. It’s not that travel agents won’t use these tools too—they might not be as diligent.
· It’s hard for a travel agent to see your full vision for a trip because they’re not you. You can describe your dream vacation and everything you’re looking for, but ultimately, they’re still just guessing what you might like. You might not like what they’ve booked for you, and it can be a hassle to get those bookings changed.
· Travel agencies usually don’t offer any points or rewards systems that you can apply to future travel like many booking agencies do. Hotels.com, for example, gives you a free night for every ten nights you stay, but only if you book through their website or app. Additionally, you can’t apply travel credit card points to a travel agency. They require a direct charge, so you won’t be getting those savings if you book with an agency.
The use of a travel agency could be very good or utterly unnecessary—it all depends on your situation.
Finding a Great Travel Agent
If you’ve weighed the good and evil and decided that you should be using a travel agent for your next trip, your next significant task is locating an advisor who offers the best value to you. It might require a little research on your part, but you can build a relationship with a travel expert and forever book the trips of your dreams. Here are some tips for finding the perfect agent to help you.
· Know What to Look For
The title “travel agent” doesn’t necessarily mean an individual is a real expert that will hook you up with great deals and insider info. Do your due diligence and choose the right agency for your needs. You should check out the following:
· An agent should be certified with the American Society of Travel Agents, The Travel Institute, and the Association of Retail Travel Advisors. They don’t have to be associated with all of these, but they should have at least one professional connection. It’s a good sign if they’re affiliated with AAA, as well.
· Consider staying local. Not only are you supporting a local business, but you get face-to-face interaction, which can help you get what you’re looking for.
· Ask questions about fees, timelines, insider info on a particular destination, and other issues that arise. Watch the way the agent answers. Is she an expert on the subject matter? Does he seem distracted or unfocused? If you feel uncomfortable during the interview, look elsewhere.
· Online reviews are helpful when deciding whether to hire an agent. The experience of others can be invaluable in your decision.
· Find Online Agency Listings
You’ll probably have the most luck by going online. Several online listing sites feature reputable travel agents. For example, the site Host Agency Reviews has a comprehensive list of “Hosted” travel agents that show who’s performing well and has excellent customer reviews. You can also find travel agents listed on the following sites:
- ASTA.org (American Society of Travel Agents)
- ARTAOnline.com (Association of Retail Travel Agents)
Other sites feature top-quality realtors, but these are some of the most commonly searched. Any Google search will produce lists of travel agents but know that you can trust these resources.
· Get Referrals
Ask friends, family, and coworkers if they’ve ever used a travel agent and who they recommend. Chances are, someone you know will have experience using a travel agency, or they’ll know someone who has. You should still research the agent carefully, even if he/she comes highly recommended, but that’s a great place to start.
· Check Your Local Listings
Brick-and-mortar travel agencies are less common, especially if you don’t live in a big city, but that doesn’t mean they’re gone. There are still a few, and many of them have been around for decades, making them premier experts in the industry.
Check local listings or call information to see if there are any excellent agencies left in your area. The advantage with a local agent is that you can meet them in person and see how you feel before hiring them.
· Research Your Destination of Choice
A specialized travel agency is arguably the best kind. Since they have just one destination to focus on, they’ll be filled with insider info and great deals. Often, vendors in a touristy area will cut exclusive deals for local travel consultants to promote the economy of the destination. Plus, your agent can book activities or luxury accommodations that you can’t find elsewhere.
To find an agent that specializes in one destination, use keywords like “travel agency in [insert destination name],” “travel advisor in [insert destination name]” or “tours in [insert destination name].”
Conclusion: It’s Worth Looking into Travel Agencies
A little exploration into travel agencies can’t hurt, and it might transform your travel experiences. It’s worth checking out a travel agency if you do your due diligence and find an advisor that understands your desires and aligns them with the right bookings.