Often regarded as the easiest ways to book a trip, online travel options have become so numerous and overwhelming that people are turning to travel agents for the convenience of one-stop shopping.
Agents Simplify Your Life
A travel agent does the legwork for you from booking trains, flights and hotels to finding the best deals and securing upgrades. They can get show tickets, make dinner reservations, and even recommend options you might not have thought of. Saving you time, they sift through the options and suggest only the ones that meet your preferences and budget.
Best of all, a travel agent can prevent headaches. Cancellation policies and hidden costs never have to be a surprise. And in the event that you have a problem during your trip (i.e., canceled flight), they can act as an advocate on your behalf to resolve any problems.
Bottom line, travel agents help you get the best value. It’s not always about getting the cheapest deal, but about having trips that live up to expectations. The key is finding the right agent for you and helping them understand your needs.
What to Look For
Travel experience – An agent who has actually traveled to the place where you want to go will have first-hand knowledge of things to see and do and the best places to stay at your destination.
Specialty – You may want an agent who specializes in certain types of trips. Does the agent specialize in luxury travel or adventure tours? Does he or she work with families? Is the agent a cruise expert?
Certifications – Travel agents are not required by law to have any particular certification. Still, a number organizations provide guidelines to help you pick out the reputable agencies. The IATA (International Air Transport Association) certification requires agencies to meet a stringent set of business standards. CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) certifies cruise specialists. Also, certain states offer a seller of travel license.
Affiliation – While some agents work as employees of a travel agency, independent contractors with their own agencies often work under the auspices of a partner or host travel agency in order to share resources, contacts and expertise. Both types of agent can be equally good. If you are working with an independent agent, find out who the partner travel agency is.
Philosophy – What is the agent’s philosophy on travel? Asking this ensures that the agent is a good match for you. For instance, if you cringe at the thought of roughing it in anything less than a four-star hotel, an agent who believes a hotel room is nothing more than a place to sleep may not be the best for you.
Travel agents try to avoid shoppers who seek free information, then go elsewhere to book. To get an agent to work hard for you and offer options you may not be able to find anywhere else, assure them that you are serious about giving them your business.
Also, the agent needs your input in order to offer informed recommendations. Let the agent know what kind of experience you expect, what type of hotels you prefer, and your budget. Tell him or her what you liked and did not like about your past trips. This way the agent will be clear on your priorities.
Understanding Your Needs
A good travel agent will ask a lot of questions. Even a request as straightforward as a trip to Paris should be met with a myriad of questions from which airport do you prefer to whether you prefer museums or shopping.
How does the agent respond to your concerns? Make sure he or she is receptive to what you want and makes suggestions based on your expectations, – not based on what the agent wants to sell you.
Sometimes an agent may not be worth the effort or money. Take notice if an agent does any of the following.
– Won’t return calls or answer emails in a timely manner. A return call within 24 hours is reasonable. A call within a few hours or immediately is even better.
– Tries to steer you to certain travel suppliers that do not line up with your priorities.
– Rushes you through your meetings or calls. You should be able to spend as much time as you need to discuss your trip and ask as many questions as you want.
– Claims to be an expert on every product and every destination in the world. This is unrealistic. The sheer number of destinations and options available means a travel agent’s expertise must be focused to be truly valuable. The best agents are often specialists in a certain product, such as cruises, or in a destination, such as the Caribbean.
It’s a good idea to find out the fees up front. Agents may charge a fee for each product, such as the flight, charge you one flat rate, or be paid solely on commission. But if having a wonderful vacation is more important to you than getting the cheapest deal, expect to compensate the agent for his or her time, advice, and work. In the end, the fee is often a small price to pay compared to the value you get.