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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Should you use a travel agent?

Alisha McDarris


We never used travel agents. We always booked all of our own accommodations and activities after spending hours upon hours scouring the internet for the best deal or highest rated activities. And then we went to Mexico with the help of Molly, an experienced travel agent, and had a distinct light bulb moment: using a travel agent was awesome! It didn't seem in the beginning like she was doing that much -- just booking a few flights and a couple nights' accommodation -- but when it came time to travel and I didn't have to scour my email archives to find flight confirmations, print out sheets of directions and phone numbers or call to confirm airport pick-ups or hotel transfers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that even for the little things, I quite liked having someone take care of all the details for me. So the question became, should I use a travel agent? Is a travel agent for me? Well check out this interview with Molly to find out when it's time to use a travel agent (and when not to bother)! You might just be surprised!

Terradrift: What does a travel agent do, exactly? I picture them behind a desk with a headset surrounded by maps of far away places helping tourists book all-inclusive resorts.

Molly: Travel Agents are continuously in training for various worldwide destinations, traveling to visit resorts and cruise lines, and learning on their own time to be able to give recommendations for any given vacation option. We start by talking with you to understand what you are looking for, then we send a few options based on your requirements and desires. We price match various companies before booking to make sure we are getting the best possible price, then when it is time to book, we handle all the details. Restaurant reservations, seat assignments, preferred room types, frequent flyer reservations, you name it, we can handle it. Many agencies have a concierge that has contacts all over the world and together we help book tours and cruise shore excursions, and give our recommendations. The other added benefit is that when something goes wrong (which is rare, but can happen), we are behind you as your advocate. Some companies even offer 24-hour emergency services when you book through them.

Terradrift: OK, that seems like a lot, but couldn't I do most of that myself?

Molly: You could go online and spend hours searching reviews of resorts, or you could come to us and we would already know or could find out much easier, saving you time, money, and stress. Sometimes we even have access to discounts or specials through corporate affiliations that are not open to the public. You could do it yourself, but why would you want to when you could have an expert helping ensure you get a great vacation? An online website will not ensure your happiness, and if you have a complaint, good luck trying to reach a real person, especially when you have to call the airlines!

Terradrift: So what's the real benefit of using a travel agent?

Molly: The main reasons most people use a travel agent is to know you are getting the best price, be guaranteed a great vacation, and always be able to contact us with questions or issues. It is all about peace of mind. Do you want to spend thousands of dollars on a vacation that Tripadvisor is telling you is 4 stars but not really know anyone that has gone there or seen it first hand? There are so many details, especially with more intricate European and other global destinations, that if you have never been there before, you would not be aware of. We know those ins and outs. We know that taxi drivers in Rome will rip off tourists by taking you the long way unless you tell them the most direct route and say you have been here before. We know that in Mexico at public beaches you will need pesos in order to have toilet paper. Booking online will not get you the insider tips unless you spend hours and hours researching websites (of which half are opinions and not fact). Also for special occasions we will always offer an added gift or amenity when possible.

Terradrift: So do travel agents charge a fee? How do they make money?

Molly: Some companies charge don't charge anything extra for their services, but others might charge a nominal fee, perhaps around $35, for basic reservations such as cruises, all-inclusive resorts, or hotel, flight, and car reservations. If it will be a vacation that is much more detailed, such as an independent booking in Europe where we have to set up each transfer, flight, train, hotel, tour, etc. individually, then this might come with a higher fee due to the amount of time involved. In addition to that, most resorts, cruises and hotels will offer our company commissions for using them. Commissions vary, but this is normally the bulk of profit for a travel agency (which the travel agent, depending on the company, may only make a small percentage of). For airfare only, the airlines do not offer any commissions to the travel agent, so for airline tickets might charge a little extra per person for bookings. But when your flight is delayed or cancelled, we are automatically notified and are working on your behalf before you can get through that line at the airport to be rebooked. We usually get the last seats on the next flight much faster than the people in front of you in line, so that is a great benefit to using an agent. The cruise lines, hotels, and resorts will just keep this commission amount for themselves if you don't use an agent, so you are basically paying for one whether you use one or not!

Terradrift: Is there a situation when I shouldn't bother using a travel agent?

Molly: Honestly, for a condo or home rental, we don't get any discounts for these types of vacations, so it's usually best to book these on your own. The individual renters do not work with travel agents and want to work directly with the renter, so it can be tricky in helping with these reservations (i.e. AirBnB).

Terradrift: What's your favorite kind of travel to book for clients?

Molly: My favorite travel is the vacations that I do for people in the British Isles and Europe. I love doing the independent trips that are customized for each individual. They do take much more time, but in the end I love how they turn out!

Terradrift: Then what's your least favorite?

Molly: My least favorite would be Myrtle Beach trips; there is so much more out there to see besides Myrtle Beach! Especially when I can get you a better rate at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or a Caribbean Island!

Terradrift: How is a person supposed to know if they've found a good travel agent?

Molly: You should know right off the bat whether you've found a good agent. Always check to see how long they have been in the business, or if they have not been in it long, how much travel they have done on their own. Also, if they have the designation of "CTA" which means Certified Travel Associate, this means they have been in the business for at least 2 years and have gone through rigorous geography and destination courses. There are several other designations as well, so you can always ask them if they are a specialist in your given destination or cruise line! Another main factor is how responsive they are to you, how knowledgeable they are about the requirements (passports, visas, etc.) for various destinations, and how well they know each product they are offering.

Terradrift: So how do you know if you've found a bad one?

Molly: If the agent does not listen to your needs and only tries to sell you their "preferred" suppliers, this is not an agent you want. Also, if they do not tell you about all of the requirements and warnings for a given travel area, then you should look elsewhere. If they are not enthusiastic and passionate about everything they do for you, then they are most likely not a great agent!

Terradrift: What's the one biggest misconception people have about travel agents?

Molly: The biggest misconception is probably that you do not need an agent because everything is online now. I think everything being online has actually made it harder and more stressful to book a vacation because you don't know which websites to trust and which resorts out of the thousands are actually a great deal. A website such as Cheap Caribbean can have some rock bottom prices, but what are you really getting for that rate? No personal service, no assistance in an emergency, and no guarantee that you are getting a decent property. Always check with an agent; If they charge a fee you won't pay unless you book so you can always talk with an agent to get an idea!

Have a big trip coming up? What have you got to lose? Try a travel agent on for size and see if you like the fit! If you've used a travel agent before, feel free to share your experiences in the comments below.

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha has been a writer and photographer forever. OK, maybe not forever, but at least for more of her 20-something years than she hasn’t been those things... [Read More]

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