It’s easy to assume that, in this DIY age of booking travel online, the only people who use travel agents are older and not tech-savvy enough to book trips on their own. But that assumption would be wrong: In its new 2015 Traveler Decision Making Study, the American Society of Travel Agents found that 41 percent of millennials have employed the services of a travel agent in the last year. And according to the same study, 92 percent of people who have worked with a travel agent say they’re likely to use one again.
“A lot of people like the do-it-yourself approach, but for certain trips it does make more sense to get a travel agent,” said Anne Banas, editor of SmarterTravel.com.
If you’re just booking simple flights from point A to point B, perhaps along with a hotel stay, doing it on your own is a no-brainer. But when you’re dealing with a more complicated trip, says Banas, you’ll save both time and money if you bring in the expertise of a professional.
If you find yourself in one of these situations, a travel agent can make life a lot easier:
When You’re Planning A Group Trip
If you’re coordinating a trip with multiple people, having a travel agent as your point person is invaluable, said Barbara Vong, a travel consultant at Wright Travel Agency in Sausalito, California.
“Everybody has one main contact, and we can handle everything from booking airfare, making room reservations, adding travel insurance. We’re a one-stop shop, and it can save a lot of headache when you’re trying to coordinate with many people,” said Vong. And because agencies like Vong’s do so much volume, they can often hook groups up with extra perks. She recently arranged a destination wedding trip in which she negotiated a free cocktail party for the group, for example.
When You’re Going On A Once-In-A-Lifetime Trip, Like A Honeymoon
If there’s a lot of pressure on a trip, like a honeymoon or a retirement celebration, working with a travel agent can take the pressure off.
“With a honeymoon, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and you naturally have a lot of other planning to do, as well,” said Banas. “One way to make your life a lot easier is to let a travel agent take care of that part.”
Vong added that she’s often able to score free upgrades for couples who book their honeymoons through her. Such extras can really add up. "It's kind of like having your own personal travel concierge," said Vong.
And whether it’s a honeymoon or a major trip that includes multiple destinations, it takes time to research destinations, make bookings and ensure everything will go smoothly. “I always tell people, if you have the time to do it on your own, go for it. But it’s a job in and of itself. Especially if you’re doing a trip in a place like Southeast Asia, it can get difficult to look up every place and figure things out,” said Vong.
When You’re Going On a Complicated Or International Trip
“If you’re going to a far-flung locale and you’re not a seasoned traveler, a travel agent can be an invaluable resource,” said Banas. “For example, if you’re planning a trip to a place like India, that can be a culture shock and difficult to book, especially if you’re not someone who has traveled a lot.”
It can also offer you peace of mind to know that if something does go wrong when you’re halfway across the world, there’s someone back home who can help you navigate things. Mike Weingart, president of Air Land Sea Consultants in Houston, says that he has helped countless clients deal with hiccups abroad.
“I’ve had people call me from Mexico with a problem over their reservation, and before they’re done having a drink, I can have it resolved for them,” said Weingart. Compare that, he says, with some online travel agencies that don’t even provide telephone numbers for contact in case something goes awry.
You could also score better deals working with a travel agent, because they have access to inventory and data that’s not easily searchable or even available online. Vong says she recently found a charter fare from a wholesaler that was on the same commercial flight her client was looking at online -- but it was hundreds of dollars cheaper. “Wholesalers will buy blocks of seats on commercial flights for their travel packages, and they only sell to travel agents. I was able to find a better deal that my client didn’t have access to,” said Vong. Those tickets may not accrue the same number of frequent-flyer miles other fares do, if at all, and may not offer any rebooking flexibility, but they are cheaper.
When You’re Unsure Of Where You Want To Go
Sometimes, a little experience can go a long way. If you don’t know whether you’ll have a better time in Bali or Thailand, or which Caribbean destination will give you the most for your money, talk to a travel agent who can steer you in the right direction.
Reading online reviews and guidebooks can only get you so far. “A travel agent can ask questions about your preferences, your budget, how much time you have and suggest the best options for you,” said Weingart. “We have years of experience that you can benefit from.”