If you travel a lot, planning your trip is probably a matter of old hat and might even be an exciting challenge for you (Fun Fact! If you look up “Has fun planning multi-segmented trips from scratch” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Joe). But if you aren’t a frequent traveler, all those options for, say, flights and hotels and rental cars and things to do, or for cruise ships and ports and excursions, might be overwhelming. Do you need a travel agent to help you with all of this? Well, maybe. Read on…
First, let’s get into the basic basics…
What does a travel agent do?
From Sokanu: Travel agents (TAs) simplify the “planning a trip” process for their customers in addition to providing consultation services and entire travel packages. They may book flights, cruises, rental cars and hotels, as well as resort stays and events. Agents cater to a wide demographic, serving both individuals and corporations. They may also concentrate on a special segment of the field; many agents specialize in leisure travel, business trips, or location-specific journeys to Europe, Africa, Asia [ETA: or Walt Disney World].
How much do travel agents charge their customers?
Typically little to nothing. TAs usually get a commission from hotels and airlines for booking customers for them. So typically you’ll just pay for the actual cost of your trip. The most common fee customers sometimes pay covers the multiple hours the TA spends in researching and building an itinerary, but it’s rarely much – no more than a couple of hundred dollars.
What are the pros and cons of using a TA?
- Money savings – besides their services usually being free, TAs will know about current and upcoming packages and promotions for flights, hotels, rental cars, cruises, etc. that you may not know about. A good TA will also let you know if a better opportunity comes about that you can switch to.
- Special opportunities – your vacation destination could have activities or special events that you might not know about, but your TA will! (well, definitely should!)
- Time savings – A TA will be able to do all the research based on the parameters to give him/her, so you don’t have to. That could save you hours!
- The control issue – Letting someone else make your vacation plans, even with getting input from you for certain aspects might be more difficult for some people than others.
- You can’t make the changes – this kind of goes hand in hand with the control thing but if a TA makes your reservations, only (s)he can make changes to the said reservations; you can’t. That shouldn’t be too bad but if a TA isn’t available, say, on weekends, and the change you make is time-sensitive, that could cause an issue.
- Your vacation planning is only as good as your TA. Many TAs are awesome, but just like any other profession, there are always a few bad apples. (S)he may not call you back in a timely manner, doesn’t look for better packages, etc.
Can a TA help me if I want to use hotel rewards/points?
- Technically yes, but you may have difficulty finding one who’s willing to. Granted, if you have an ongoing relationship with them, or if the trip also involves some components that are paid for with money, they may be willing to help you. Or they may charge a fee for doing the work involved in the points booking, since they won’t get a commission like they would if you paid with cash.
What if I can’t find a TA to help me book my flight with miles?
- Many TAs won’t be willing/able to help with booking an award ticket because they don’t know the ins and outs of the same. After all, thanks to codeshares, you may be able to use your Delta points to make reservations on KLM, Virgin or both (on top of Delta, of course) depending on where you’re flying. A TA may or may not know a whole lot about that (or at least not as much as someone who does it all the time). If that’s the case, you may want to use an award booking service instead. Click here for more information.
How can I find a reputable TA?
Most TAs get more clients by word of mouth. In fact, it’s been said that one of the best “thank-yous” you can give a TA is to point clients his/her way. So the best way to find a good, recommended TA is by asking friends or family who have used one. Of course, you may not have a friend/family member who has a TA to recommend. That’s why so many people use the internet to get info (and there’s nothing wrong with that, either).
***Huge thank-you to Darlene K. for her assistance in writing this post!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary