You’re planning a trip. You’ve chosen the dates, and you have an idea of where you want to go. Now, should you do the planning yourself or go through a travel agent?
There was once an expectation that travel agents would disappear with internet growth. Booking flights is easy to do online, as is searching for hotel deals, but travel agents have access to deals we may never see. Not every trip needs to be planned through an agent, but if you prefer not to sweat the details, it may be worth it to use a travel agent.
A good travel agent has probably visited the location you want to see, or has a list of clients who who already went on that exact trip. A travel agent can share this experience and can anticipate the problems you may encounter.
Travel agents will use their expertise to get discounts you may not find online. If you don’t like the nuts and bolts of planning, using a travel agent will save you the headache of making sure you have worked out all the details of your trip. The agent will make sure your accommodations match up with your itinerary. If you're seeking a package deal, travel agents can take the stress out of comparing notes. Maybe you want to do something exotic. If you want to visit the Galapagos Islands, a travel agent can make that possible with little stress and much peace of mind.
Travel agents have relationships with chefs, hotels, cruise lines and tour operators, which can net you some extras. Travel agents may score you spa time and credits for meals and drinks. If you're planning on a cruise, the travel agent may even have a deal that gets you an onboard credit.
You can use an online travel agent or a brick-and-mortar agent. Brick-and-mortar agents are making a comeback, but online travel agents often have reviews that are easy to compare. Individual travel agents may work with you to personalize your tour and make sure you have the experience you are seeking. Make sure your agent takes time with you. The American Society of Travel Agents or the International Association of Travel Agents Network are good resources for reliable, local agents.
Travel agents make sure you don’t have unpleasant surprises like unexpected resort or tourism fees. If there are cancellations due to weather or other cancellations, a travel agent can redo your itinerary with little stress and effort on your part. Also, if you have a theme vacation in mind but only have a vague idea of how to carry it out, a travel agent can help turn that vision into reality.
Going It Alone
If you’re willing to do all the planning and organizing, it can be cheaper to plan your own trip. Also, if you’re planning a short trip without a lot of details, you’re probably better off doing your own legwork. An agent may steer you to a hotel or resort that offers the agent the best commission. That doesn’t mean you’ll get the best deal or experience. Your itinerary may be less flexible if you use a travel agent. You probably won’t be able to stay an extra day at a location with which you fall in love.
When booking online, you can save more money, be flexible about what you see and do and make changes on the fly. It’s easy to comparison shop. You don’t have the pressure of someone trying to sell you something.
Designing your own itinerary may force you to do more research about your destination, which may give you insight on activities to do and landmarks to visit. You control what you do. You can also ask friends and family for recommendations, which can be invaluable. Once you get some experience putting together your own trip, you may have a better idea of what to do and what not to do on your next trip.
If you need to cancel, you’d better do it in advance if you’ve made the arrangements yourself. Changing flights and hotels can get expensive and time consuming. Be prepared to make changes. Make sure you have printouts of all your reservations so if you are questioned, you have proof.
If you’re doing the planning, it’s best to choose countries with good safety records. Conversely, if you're visiting a location where safety is a concern, using a reliable travel agent makes sense.
Karen Gardner is a former feature editor and writer and is now a freelance writer. She looks forward to doing her family's taxes each year, and likes to write about home finances and money subjects for the rest of us.