Using a travel agent may seem old school when you can research nearly any destination online. But nearly one in four U.S. travelers rely on travel agents, according to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), whose members tend to prefer titles such as travel adviser, vacation planner and travel consultant. The adviser's job: Provide insider knowledge that reduces your stress, cuts your costs and helps you enjoy a memorable trip.
The more complex your itinerary, the more valuable their services become, says Sam McCully, senior vice president of marketing at Avoya Travel in San Diego.
“If you’re going to New York for the weekend and you need a plane or a car, you can easily do that on your own,” he says. “But when you’re planning a multicontinent trip with multiple trains and multiple planes, you need someone experienced who can help you navigate the land mines .”
Here’s what travel advisers say they can do for you.
1. Save you money and time
It sounds contradictory: Travel advisers charge a fee, but they can also save you cash — $452 per trip, on average, according to ASTA. Fees typically range from $50 to several hundred dollars, ASTA says, depending on the complexity of the request. If the agent books you a flight to Cleveland, say, it can cost as little as $25, but if you’ve asked her to plan a six-country multigenerational vacation through Europe, she’ll obviously charge more. Some consultants charge a flat rate; others, a percentage of the total trip cost. The prices vary from company to company.
The fees are offset by the travel planners' getting you bigger discounts than you can find on your own. Advisers are deal hunters, McCully points out — they know where to look, and they often have preferred rates and insider info. Many of them are affiliated with a network such as Virtuoso (which has 16,000-plus agents) or Signature Travel Network (more than 7,000 agents). “The larger they are, the more buying power they have,” says Kimberly Wilson Wetty, whose New York City firm, Valerie Wilson Travel, is a member of Virtuoso. That means that agents in those networks can score cool perks for clients, such as free breakfasts, Wi-Fi and hotel-room upgrades. And if you’re crunched for time, consultants can save you about four hours in trip planning, from conducting research to booking rental cars, tours and flights, according to ASTA.