En español | Why hire a travel agent when you can book an airline ticket, a Caribbean cruise or even a grand European tour yourself? Because agents are still the experts, and, bottom line, they know more about travel and have access to more deals than your average vacationer. Phocuswright, a travel market research company, reports that for the first time in years, the number of people booking exclusively online has leveled off, while the number turning to traditional agents is on the rise, growing 5 percent for the fourth straight year in 2015.
With more people traveling and spending a lot on vacations, travel has become increasingly complex. Plus, "Busy people make mistakes," says Kathy Sudeikis of Acendas Vacations in suburban Kansas City, Kan. "They don't understand visa requirements. They aren't sure about the level of accommodations they book themselves." Travel agents become helpful navigators of those pitfalls.
Prices for agent services will fluctuate based on where you live, where you're going and how much work the agent puts into researching and planning your itinerary. You may pay as little as $25 for a simple domestic weekend trip; the average fee for a vacation with more moving parts (and people) is typically between $100 and $200. Expect to pay more for longer, overseas trips.
So how do you find the perfect agent for you? This is where the Internet comes in handy. Most agencies work as part of large consortiums, such as Travel Leaders or American Express. Searching by ZIP code, you can find agents' offices in your area. TravelSense.org also offers information and guidance for searches, based on the kind of trip you're planning. Any agent you choose should be a member of ASTA (the American Society of Travel Agents).
What an agent can do for you:
1. Save time
Agents cut through the kind of online clutter that leads to information overload. They research and facilitate every aspect of your trip, arranging for hotel or resort accommodations, air and ground transportation, car rentals and tour packages. They can advise you on travel and special health insurance protection, passport and visa applications, inoculation procedures and other foreign travel requirements.
2. Save money
Sure, it costs money to use a travel agent, but savvy bookers know all the tricks for finding lower airfares, plus they can use their inside connections to get you extras and upgrades. They might, for example, suggest flying to or from a different nearby city to save substantial bucks, or they may negotiate get a free room upgrade because they do plenty of business with the hotel or cruise line. At the least they may get you free Wi-Fi or parking, which on a multiday stay can add up.
3. Address your specific needs
Because agents travel to many of the destinations, properties and attractions they recommend, they can offer specific information about how to tour confidently and book appropriate accommodations, particularly if you are alone or have a disability or medical condition. Also, agents increasingly are specializing in geographic areas (Hawaii, Florida, Alaska), traveler demographics (family, multigen, honeymooners) or activities (adventure travel, spa vacations). Go to TravelSense.org to identify agents by specialty and location.
4. Solve your problems
Globe-trotting can be fraught with pitfalls, but an agent is a call away in the event of a stumble. When a flight gets canceled or a train is delayed, your travel agent will rebook you and any subsequent parts of the itinerary that are affected. "We know if there's going to be snow in Turkey or a strike in France," Sudeikis says. "We proactively react and rearrange flights and hotels."