More travelers today consider a travel agent or advisor.
Travel agents have been declared a dying profession for more years than I can count. We’re still around, whether the term is travel agent, advisor, or consultant. So many travelers now consider a travel agent that the biggest problem now for most agencies is hiring more advisors.
Many travel articles and posts talk about the wisdom of finding someone to help you with a complicated trip. That’s good advice. Even should you have time to do internet research, consider a travel agent. They have resources and experience that average travelers do not. They also have connections that can make a trip as seamless as possible.
While no one can predict the future, consider a travel agent when booking a complicated trip. They know which companies are reliable and trustworthy.
There are also little details agents familiar with a destination know that can make a big difference. They can help with the following questions. What museums use advance tickets (more than you’d think). How to get to and from the airport. (Depending on where you stay in London, the expensive fast train to Heathrow may not be the fastest way into town. On Hawaiian multi-island vacations, what appears to be a 15-minute flight may take half a day (by the time a traveler checks out of a hotel, deals with transfers, rental cars, and long airport lines).
The travel agent time needed to save you time is reflected in the fees.
Now, depending on the time involved, yes, fees can be substantial. If an agent needs to spend hours, even days of work planning a trip before departure, they can and should charge for their time. Many agents have differing fee schedules accordingly.
Other times, when a travel advisor only books a trip with flights and hotels or books a package tour, but travelers are comfortable on their own for everything else, agent fees are likely to be more modest.
Ironically, the less expensive a trip, the more agents may charge. Because quite frankly, if airlines pay commissions these days it’s usually NOT on the lowest coach fares, and budget hotels either don’t include commission in their rates or pay very little. Whereas more exclusive properties want agent business and will not only pay but often include free extras travelers can’t get on their own.
The second kind of trip — when you only need a hotel or even just an airline ticket.
Major chains provide special treatment. Even airlines provide bonuses.
It is frustrating for many of us in the business that even friends and regular clients don’t consider asking for help with a nice weekend getaway. Even though these hotels — Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Marriotts, and Intercontinental, for example — even many independent properties will treat clients of preferred agencies much better than those who book direct. These major brands provide perks ranging from free breakfasts to hotel credits to upgrades or early check-in/late check-out. And whatever some airline and credit card programs say, hotels WILL treat someone better if a human agent reaches out rather than something booked online with no interaction.
Similarly with airline tickets. Again, since airlines want to sell business class and premium economy tickets, they are more likely to compensate preferred agents for booking them, which could mean a lesser service fee. And while international premium tickets may have more discount options, a good agent MAY be able to find a lower fare than seen online, even for domestic tickets, thus more than offsetting any fee. Or agencies may have deals with free preferred seat assignments in economy class, which can save a lot of money.
Travel agents have systems and phone connections that can speed recovery when there is a systemwide meltdown.
And anyone who’s watched the news this winter knows the system can meltdown pretty quickly, whether it’s the weather or crew issues, so even the simplest trips can turn into a nightmare. Can travel agents solve every problem? No. But with a canceled flight, agents have access to reservation systems to look for alternatives. So there’s a chance to find alternatives with the exact airline or perhaps with another carrier. Plus, even when the first airline won’t transfer a ticket, there are times when buying another ticket and dealing with potential refunds later is the best alternative. Especially around holidays or important events.
In addition, many agents have special phone numbers for better access. Last Christmas, when Delta had five-hour-plus wait times, a client called me because her daughter, who had booked on Delta.com, had a problem. At that time, it was taking me an hour or so to get through to Delta. But while she offered to pay me “whatever I wanted,” I sprang into action. Real travel agents are treated much better than individuals. The reservations and sales agents who deal with travel agents ask first for our agency’s IATA number; if it doesn’t match, they won’t help. If it does, they bend over backward to solve problems.
So, if any travel columnist, friend, or metasearch booking site tells you the days of travel agent favors are over, they are simply wrong. Good agents and advisors go the extra mile for their passengers. And the airlines and their personnel go out of their way to help registered travel agents and advisors help travelers in trouble.
Janice Hough is a California-based travel agent a travel blogger and a part-time comedy writer. A frequent flier herself, she’s been doing battle with airlines, hotels, and other travel companies for over three decades. Besides writing for Travelers United, Janice has a humor blog at Leftcoastsportsbabe.com (Warning, the political and sports humor therein does not represent the views of anyone but herself.)