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Travel agents—who even uses them anymore?
Before the age of the internet, travel agencies were a big business. Although most of my childhood vacations were road trips, I remember going to our local travel agent with my mom a few times when we had bigger trips that required airline tickets. My mom picked out the dates and told the agent what she wanted. The price was set, but we picked the schedule and paid for it. The agent printed our paper tickets, and we were in and out in no time with brochures of things to do at our destination. We didn’t have the luxury of pouring over reviews by thousands of people online, or monitoring the prices for months to pounce when a sale happened.
Even though my parents have a computer with internet access, they still to this day use a local travel agent for all of their travel. However, most people have migrated to internet bookings. We sometimes peruse Trip Advisor for reviews of resorts, but more likely use Google or poll our Facebook friends for recommendations. And there is nothing wrong with that! But there are a few instances where using a travel agent is beneficial, even if you booked your flights or hotel using miles and points.
This post is not an advertisement for a specific travel agency, so read on!
A good travel agent is invaluable if you are going to book a cruise. For starters, many agents give up a portion of their commission from the cruise line to you in the form of an on-board credit. You can use the on-board credit to pay for tips, excursions, alcohol, souvenirs, etc. The total price of the cruise is the same as if you booked directly through the cruise company, but you get the added benefit of extra money to spend on board.
Your travel agent can recommend the right cruise line, ship and itinerary for your family. In addition, a good agent helps you book transportation to the port and familiarizes you with the cruise line’s policies on tipping, alcohol, etc.
Note: You can use a site like Cruise Compete to compare on-board credit offers from various travel agencies, but picking an agent solely based on on-board credit amount does not necessarily equate to good service.
Disney and Universal Resorts
For me, using a travel agent to stay at an onsite resort at Disney or Universal is a no-brainer. Why? Most agents will continue to re-book a hotel reservation if the price is reduced based on a promotion. This happens all the time!
If you are like me and you like to book way ahead, most of the time you are booking at the rack rate for Disney and Universal hotels. In the months leading up to your stay, often the resorts will have specials. If you book on your own, you have to keep track of future sales and re-book yourself. Disney does not automatically adjust your rate based on a promotion. However, a good travel agent will take care of that for you.
This service has benefited my family a few times. Before our first Disney Cruise, we stayed at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort for a few days. Our travel agent was able to re-book our reservation twice for lower prices! And, the same thing happened with our Aulani reservation for our Hawaii vacation.
In addition, travel agents can help book airport transportation, dining and ride reservations for the theme parks. What a time saver!
Complicated and Last-minute Trips
Two of my kids have dual citizenship, and that adds a layer of complexity to some trips. When we traveled to Russia, we had very little notice (less than two weeks before most of our trips). We had to book last-minute flights and get expedited visas in a hurry. We would not have been able to pull that off without a travel agent.
Many travel agents have contacts and access to things that we don’t have. We had trouble finding a flight for one of our last-minute trips to Russia after we had been searching online. But, when we turned it over to a travel agent we were somehow booked for a lower price than we expected. I’m still baffled at how that happened.
Tip: You may need to use different travel agents for different trips. I use one agency for Disney trips, and a totally different one for trips to Russia. The agency we use for Russia has native Russian speakers and is located near a Russian Consulate in the U.S.
Group Trips and Special Events
If you are traveling with a big group needing 10 or more rooms, a travel agent is useful to negotiate group rates and discounts. When that many people are involved, it’s better to leave the logistics to someone else so that you can enjoy your trip.
Also, some travel agents specialize in certain events, like the World Cup or the Olympics. Many times, these special events have official travel agents that control ticket sales and hotel packages.
Short on Ideas and Time
If you want to book a vacation but you have no idea where to go, a travel agent can provide you with many ideas. He or she will ask about your travel preferences and budget and provide suggestions based on personal experience or client feedback.
This is a great alternative to Google searching for your next vacation if you’re short on time. I personally love researching vacation ideas and reading reviews, but not everyone has the time and interest for that.
What about miles and points?
Yes, Miles For Family is still primarily a site for traveling on miles and points. But, that doesn’t necessary exclude using a travel agent.
I have paid for many cruises and hotel stays with multiple credit cards and gift cards to use travel rewards. Specifically, I’ve used the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture cards, which accumulate points to erase travel purchases (see this post). I’ve also used Disney Rewards Dollars and Disney gift cards (most of the time purchased at a discount—see this post). My travel agent has happily agreed to accept payments from multiple sources and gift cards for a single trip.
Using a travel agent is advantageous in certain situations. If you’re not using one for a cruise or an onsite Disney vacation, chances are you’re leaving money on the table. Travel agents get paid commission through hotels and cruise companies, so in most cases, using a travel agent will not cost you extra money (read more about that here).
Readers–do you use a travel agent for your trips? Why or why not?
Travel agents—when are other circumstances when we should use your services?
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Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.
Finley Moreira says
My wife and I would love to go on a cruise sometime. It was interesting to me that you mention how a travel agent is helpful when planning a cruise since they can point you to the right cruise line. Seeing as how I’ve never been on a cruise before, this would be a huge help to me.
I have used Tracy @ Small World Vacations for all of our Disney Cruises, and I’m so glad I found her. We received onboard credit, she puts us in the middle of the ship where I like to be, reserves our Main Dining times, and sends us alerts to sign up for excursions, payments, etc.
I’m glad you found a good travel agent!
Emily Flemer says
I think a travel agent is great for a type of vacation you’ve never been on. Before I went on a cruise, I didn’t even consider deck numbers but our travel agent did. And I’m so glad she did too. Also, when we went on that cruise, the final payment was accidently missed and it had to be rebooked. Our agent took care of it 100% and paid for the difference. They even can tell you the differences between cruise lines that maybe you wouldn’t know unless you had cruised all of them. I definitely see where it can be an advantage, but 80% of the time we don’t use one.
@Emily–glad to hear you benefited from using a travel agent on your cruise. We have used one for all of our cruises, too, and she has been a big help.
I want to share some additional comments we’ve gotten from Facebook groups about this article so that everyone can benefit:
Leah from Flips, Flops and Adventures: “I love anytime people help educate on how travel agents work and what they can do for you. So many people still think we are doing something “tricky”. And don’t realize that when they book with Expedia or other websites they are using an online travel agent without getting the personal service and benefits.”
Tracy from Travel On a Dream: “I think one big advantage too is that we are independent from the cruise lines, hotels, vacation package companies so we offer an unbiased opinion. The cruise line will always tell you to add their insurance and transfers or Disney will always say the dining plan saves you money, but that’s not always the best option for you.”
Karen from Magical Travel: “In addition to what Tracy said (I wholeheartedly agree), and especially when it comes to Disney, there are lots of details that you may not be aware of that can directly impact your experience, and some of the little details can change quickly. A good travel agent stays on top of those, and can help you adjust your plans to find the vacation that works best for your needs and your family – without you having to spend the hours on research yourself. Choosing a Travel Agent with a solid, supportive agency behind them also gives you access to the deeper knowledge of a whole group of agents with a wide range of expertise.”
I think using a travel agent for cruises makes all kinds of sense. Like you said, it usually ends up being cheaper and you will get individualized service. It’s true, some agents are better than others. That’s why it pays to check with several before letting them handle all the arrangements for your dream trip.
To me, a travel agent is similar to a blogger. While a reader can find most of the information we publish by simply Googling it, they won’t get personal attention and advice tailored to their specific needs. And that’s worth something, I think.