Pros & Cons of Using a Travel Agent vs. Booking Online

by Karen Farnen, Demand Media
    Travel agents often have access to good deals.

    Travel agents often have access to good deals.

    These days, you can book travel online at any time of the day or night. If you're good at it, you might nail exactly what you want. But not all travel planning is created equal. Booking a flight to your friend's wedding is child's play compared to booking a three-week trek through seven countries in Africa. Both buying travel online and using travel agents have advantages and disadvantages. Which is better depends on you and your travel needs.

    Agents for Advice

    When you use a good agent, you have someone to turn to with all of your questions on what to pack or how much things cost. A travel agent can help plan your trip and recommend transportation, hotels and places to eat. If you aren't familiar with the destination, a travel agent can advise you on everything from visas to sightseeing. You especially need an agent to help plan cultural trips, such as African safaris or visits to ruins, "Forbes" magazine travel writer Larry Olmsted advises.

    Agents for Deals

    Travel agents can often get you special deals or upgrades on cruises or hotels for example. Although many agents charge fees to book airline tickets, cruise lines usually pay the agent, costing you nothing, according to Kiplinger.com. Cruise lines often also give top agents a discount, which they can pass on to you. Agents who belong to trade groups get other bonuses they can pass on, such as free airfare. In foreign hotels, some agents can get you such upgrades as free breakfast or drinks.

    Agents for Solutions

    A travel agent is especially useful for complicated trip. She can point out potential hazards and arrange your tours in advance so you don't hit a dead end or wait in ticket lines. If a monkey wrench falls on your vacation, she can come to your rescue mid-trip, using her experience and relationships with service providers to solve problems. A travel agent has a lot better chance than you of booking a hotel room during a convention, according to Forbes.com. Some agents can even find frequent-flyer flights during hard-to-book times.

    Online for Savings

    Although travel agents sometimes save you money with deals, you often can get a better price when you book online yourself. If your agent only looks at the industry reservation system, the best airline fares may not even be visible. In addition, agents often charge fees to book an airline tickets. Some charge more than $250 to plan an international vacation, according to SmartMoney.com. Additionally, travel providers often pay agents on commission. This means your agent isn't motivated to get you a low price.

    Convenience Both Ways

    If you book online directly through airlines, cruise companies or other providers, you don't have to wait for the travel office to open. Online agencies such as Expedia or Orbitz even let you compare multiple airlines on one site. However, according to Kiplinger.com, some airlines, such as American, are taking their business off the third-party sites. This trend can make it more time-consuming to compare prices online. If having someone else do the work is your idea of convenience, a travel agent can save you time and energy.

    About the Author

    Karen Farnen has been writing online since 2009. She has taught piano and English as a second language. Farnen has a Bachelor of Arts in French with a music minor from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Science in education and a Master of Arts in French from California State University-Fullerton.

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