Travel Blogger: Do you need a travel agent?
Updated: Mar 19
Back in the day, I was a travel agent. I worked behind a CRT that covered half of my desk, and I had a phone clamped between my ear and shoulder all day long. I was talking to clients and contacting travel vendors.
I worked in a relatively small town, but even so, there were seven travel agencies. On any given day, I might book a cruise, sell 20 airline tickets, reserve 3 hotel rooms, and put together a trip for a group of fraternity brothers.
It was fun and exciting. Travel, even vicariously, brings its own wonder.
My skills included knowing who flew where. I could tell you which hotel was likely to honor unusual requests, and I knew where to break an airfare to save you money. I could tell you the current specials or when the next ones would start.
In short, I could efficiently take care of all of your travel needs, and there were no fees for my services.
But then things changed. Airlines, hotels, and travel vendors reduced their commissions. The internet made it possible for travelers to book reservations and buy tickets on their own.
Many travel agencies closed their doors. One site reports there were 124,000 US travel agencies in 2000, but that number was down to 74,000 in 2014 (1). Individuals became their own travel agents.
Booking travel for yourself can be fun or not…
On a trip to Colorado, a storm blew in, and I decided to stay another night at my hotel. I spoke to the desk clerk to add a night, and she advised me it would be cheaper if I booked it myself online. No problem; I went online and booked another night. But, there was a problem. When I checked with the desk clerk, my new reservation was for a different room type. She could not fix it, and I would have to change rooms.
The new room was nicer, and the rate was the same. I didn’t have much luggage, so the move was easily made. Still, I suspect if I’d used a good travel agent, the whole process would have been better.
There was also the spring break I took my kids to Chicago. We took the train from Kansas City as a new adventure. I bought Amtrak tickets, City Passes (a pass to many of Chicago’s attractions), researched train/bus tickets, and booked a hotel. It took me hours to put the trip together. It was a successful trip, but the guidance of a travel agent might have helped. Maybe we should have taken the train one way and a plane the other. Perhaps an agent could have made a more central hotel suggestion. I’ll never know.
The year I took my kids to Disney World, I did use a travel agent. Between my kids and my job, I didn’t have time to put all the travel details together.
The travel agent found good flights, a hotel my kids adored, and the right park tickets for our needs. And, she charged me a fee.
That’s right; she charged me twenty-five dollars for her services. It was a reasonable fee. My only concern was she didn’t tell me there was a fee before we started. Just so you know, when I expressed my concern, she refunded my money.
After telling you I wasn’t prepared for the fee, I did a little checking. One internet site stated, “If time is money, then think of them (travel agents) as your asset managers.” (2) Using this mindset, I shouldn’t have said a word about the $25. Angie's List indicates that if there is a fee, the fee is to cover “time spent researching and building an itinerary.”
If you like booking your own itinerary, I should mention using incognito mode on your computer. I know people who swear it saves them money, but internet research was conflicting. Some sites say using incognito mode is a must. It prevents cookies that store your travel inquiries. Other sites say those same cookies allow vendors to send you discount offers. Without definitive information, all I will say is, know it’s an option.
What is the takeaway?
A good travel agent is a wonderful thing to have. They are harder to find than they once were, so ask friends and associates for a recommendation. If your travel is more complicated than a night in a hotel, use your travel agent. And finally, a good travel agent will advise you of any fees in advance. Nobody likes hidden fees.
Now get your things together and go!