When should I hire a travel agent?

When should I hire a travel agent?

When should you put the computer down and talk to a real travel agent? I’ll tell you when to turn to a pro.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://www.thewomenstravelgroup.com/ Phyllis Stoller

    For exotic flights and if you will be unable to deal with issues yourself when you ate overseas a good agent is a gem!

  • Joe

    “Your honeymoon” would be a good place to start.

  • Dutchess

    I usually self book but when I went to Peru a couple years ago I booked a three week trip that involved many flights, connections, guides for the inca trail, and hotels. It was easier to have a local agent that would be on the ground when problems occurred. The agency I used was excellent. One of my flights was canceled and they had me rebooked and tours re-arranged so seamlessly I never knew there was a problem until after it was already fixed. They were expensive but they saved my but a couple times while I was there!

    Same thing in countries where there’s a language barrier or you need someone with local connections to get bookings done. When we went to Patagonia getting the tour guides to return calls or emails was impossible, an agency I found booked all of it for us and we had great service and made our more enjoyable.

  • LFH0

    Another reason use a travel agent is that travel agents may receive special perks that can be passed along to the traveler. This is especially true with cruise ship travel, where stateroom upgrades or onboard credits might be offered with an agent’s booking.

  • LFH0

    In some cases I would agree. However, if one has proficiency with travel, and either a complicated honeymoon trip or an obsession for detail, then that person might be better off booking themselves, as the individual can devote more time to getting the perfect itinerary than a travel agent can devote.

    That was true for our wedding some seven years ago. We had a destination wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico, and with the restriction that air travel would not be used. We sailed out of New York on a 2-week cruise to Cozumel. Then a ferry to Playa del Carmen, and four buses to Oaxaca (connecting in Cancun, Villahermosa, an an overnight in Veracruz). Afterwards, our honeymoon trip was by bus to visit Puebla, then two buses (connecting at Tuxtla Gutierrez) to visit San Cristobal de las Casas. Next, a tour bus to Palenque (visiting two parks and the Mayan site enroute). We hired a private van to take us to ruins at Bonampak, a lancha to runs at Yaxchilan and into Guatemala, and a private car to take us to Flores. We did a day-long minibus tour to the ruins at Tikal, and the next day went by bus into Belize to visit San Ignacio. Finally, we returned by bus to Playa del Carmen (connecting in Chetumal). After an overnight stay, we took the ferry back to Cozumel, and boarded another cruise ship to New Orleans, then Amtrak to New York. At the various ports of call on the two cruise ships we arranged ourselves independent travel (e.g., local bus travel between Progreso and Merida) or independent tours, never relying on the cruise ship tours. I would not expect any travel agency to have been able to arrange this trip as competently as I did. I did use a trusted travel agent to make the cruise ship bookings, but I specified to him exactly what I wanted. I used a local Mexican travel agent to book the bus tour between San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque. And I used a local Guatemalan travel agent to book the private van, lancha, car, and mini-bus tour between Palenque to Flores (including Tikal). In the end, almost everything was perfect (there was one small mix-up involving the mini-bus tour of Tikal, but that was fixed on the fly).

  • MarkKelling

    You are fluent in Spanish, I would hope?

    While you seem to have booked a great trip (sounds excellent on paper), this stew of connections sounds exactly like what a real travel agent is for. Glad it worked for you, but something this complex I would not trust to myself alone especially since I am not fluent enough in the local languages to handle issues that might occur.

  • LFH0

    I would say I am proficient enough in Spanish (basic vocabulary and ability to conjugate verbs in present tense). The long-distance segments (such as the overnight journey between Cancun and Villahermosa on the luxury bus) were reserved in advance using internet web sites, many of which are available in English. On the other hand, for the frequently-operated short-distance segments (such as Playa del Carmen to Cancun), I purchased at the ticket counters in Spanish without much trouble (it is helpful that ticket agents in Mexico generally position their computer screens so that both the agent and the passenger can look at the screen together, and the passenger can just point to the seat desired). Directional signs in many (but not all) bus terminals are bilingual, but announcements are almost always in Spanish only. Thus, even with travel-agent procured tickets, use of those tickets, without knowing a sufficient amount of Spanish, could be difficult, depending on the specific circumstances.

    I think a good agent could do this type of trip as well, but I don’t think there are that many of them. Most importantly, many of the individual segments are relatively low-value, and it would difficult for even a good agent to justify financially the time necessary to do the research, etc. Travel agents sell airline tickets because the process of doing so is fairly standard, and the value of airline tickets is sufficient to make it worthwhile. Other forms of travel are not so standardized, and may have such low value that the cost of the agent doing the research and booking may greatly exceed the cost of the ticket itself!

    I think a travel agent can be very helpful to people who don’t know what they’re doing, or to help in complicated circumstances. But, if the travel is in fact complicated, I think the traveler needs to have an active role in the travel planning, even if an agent is involved.

  • Alan Gore

    Don’t be that person who tries to remove his own appendix. Use a TA for any booking that the online site you use can’t handle directly, such as multiple cities, multiple carriers or open jaw flights. Use one also when the ground reservations get “sufficiently” complex, a word you will have to learn to define according to your own organizational capabilities.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I view the use of a TA like I do with any other profession. There are times when it makes sense to do something yourself and there are times when it makes sense to hire someone. Pick any field, Say medicine. There are times to get an OTC remedy and there are times to go to the doctor. It would be silly to go to a doctor for ever bruise, cut or scrape, and it would be silly not to see a doctor if something is beyond OTC remedies.

    For most reasonably seasoned travelers, it is unnecessary to use a travel agent for a simple domestic itinerary or domestic standard hotel.

  • PsyGuy

    I really have mixed uses for a travel agent. I use to use them all the time because the company I worked for had a dedicated agent, and there were no “fees” associated with using the agent. The agent often had perks, and discounts they could get,a nd you knew if you had a problem even with a simply domestic ticket you had a real person you could call to “fix” things. I really liked that set up, but it was free. When I left that company and TA’s wanted $50 minimum to book a ticket and more to do a complex package, thats when the savings and value evaporated. I could buy travel insurance cheaper than the TA’s fee. I found better options often on the internet for vacation packages, that couldn’t justify the use of TA. To use the medical analogy elsewhere in this forum, a TA isnt just like a doctor, they’re like having an exotic disease physician. GREAT if you ever get Ebola, but how often do you need to worry about Ebola.

  • Lindabator

    I devote a LOT of time for my clients – and the quirkier the itinerary, the more I like it (I know, one of the agents who actually LIKES doing groups and piecing together independent travel!)

  • Lindabator

    OH – I agree – the more YOU are involved, the easier MY job is — wish ALL my clients agreed!

  • Lindabator

    Agree about the air, but I get some FABULOUS pricing on hotels. :)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I used to use a TA for business hotel travel. He never once got a better price than I found online. Eventually, I just used him for air travel.