Hardly a week goes by that I don’t recommend the services of a competent travel agent in one of my columns. And the conventional wisdom — which is that a real travel agent can make your trip better — has gone unchallenged for years, if not by me then by my readers. Until last week.

Bob Barstow, a long-time reader of my stories, e-mailed me to question the validity of that claim.

In many, if not most of your columns, you give an impression about travel agencies that I just have not found to be true.

You imply that the business is full of agents dedicated to the travelers well-being, and will go out of their way for their customer. In all my years of traveling, both business and personal, I have yet to meet this agent.

Barstow suggests agents just book trips — and not always as efficiently as you can online.

Every single one I have worked with has done their job of arranging my booking — no more, no less.

For example, no agent has ever done a recommendation on which resort property I might like better. They have never asked what my interests are. I have even told them what I am looking for, and the best I get is a list of hotels that “would work for me.” When a flight has been messed up, no agent has ever done more for me than I have been able to do for myself on site.

He cites his most recent trip as an example.

Barstow used an agent to book a trip to Hawaii. “I asked him to look for flights that I could use my miles to upgrade to First Class,” he remembers. “He said he couldn’t do that, that I would have to handle it. Which I did, but when I made the arrangements, the Northwest Elite contact asked me why my travel agent didn’t do it in the first place. When I asked my agent, he said he couldn’t do it because it was travel agency policy not to use miles.”

Then, on the ground, his disappointment with his agent deepened.

Both properties were Sheraton – on Hawaii and Oahu. I gave the agent my Starpoints number so I would get credit for the stays. He said, no problem.

Upon arrival at both properties, neither had the number in their system. I am still arguing with Starpoints for the credit. Because I paid the travel agency for the reservations, I am having difficulty getting credit for the stays. My receipts from both properties only show incidental charges, not the full amount I paid.

When contacting the agent, he has been no help. I get the impression that he really doesn’t care — we’ve taken the trip, he’s gotten his commission, case closed. He’s polite when I call, but gives the impression it’s not his problem.

Barstow’s question — and I think it’s a valid one — is, where can he find the go-the-extra-mile service travel agents are supposed to offer?

Are there any agents out there who care to answer?