Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Travel Tip: When to Use a Travel Agent

I've mentioned before that I relish trip planning and that I usually prefer to do it myself using online resources like Kayak, Room77, Tripadvisor, and Vayama. One question I am often asked is whether I ever use a travel agent.  The answer is YES!  In certain circumstances I've found travel agents to be invaluable for planning the type of trip I want to take.

Singapore's Changi Airport

One situation in which my travel agent has been a huge asset is overseas travel, particularly to Asia.  When planning my first trip to India ten years ago, I didn't even consult the internet.  Instead, I booked our airline tickets through an L.A- based agent that a friend recommended, and everything went off without a hitch.  Using an unfamiliar agent was fine in this situation given the limited services that we needed.

Two subsequent trips to India were a little more complex to plan, so I enlisted the aid of a travel agent in Salt Lake City whom I could call or visit at any time to ask questions.  With the rise of travel-related information and booking sites online, I was able to compare everything my agent quoted, and I was stunned at the disparity between the prices!


My travel agent was able to book round-trip tickets to India on Singapore Airlines (my favorite!) with a stopover in Singapore that included four nights in a 5-star hotel, for several thousand dollars cheaper than anything I could find online.  The agent also came in very handy when some unforeseen circumstances delayed us in Japan's Narita Airport.  One quick call and our agent was able to rearrange tickets and hotel bookings to accommodate our disrupted schedule, in addition to scoring us a free night stay at a hotel along the way.

Downtown Singapore

Travel agents can be a superb resource when you have multiple-city itineraries.  If you enjoy VIP-level treatment, many travel agents have relationships and connections with hotels, airlines, restaurants, and local guides, and they can get you upgrades, perks, reservations, and experiences that you would be hard-pressed to obtain on your own.  In addition, there are agents that specialize in specific regions and countries, as well as specific types of travel or accommodations (i.e. cruises, villas), and their knowledge is usually top-notch.

Some tips for choosing a good travel agent:

  • Ask your friends and family for recommendations of travel agents they've worked with and enjoyed.  I've had great success with this strategy.
  • When you don't have a personal recommendation, get one from Wendy Perrin of Conde Nast Traveler on her list of Top Travel Specialists.
  • Still can't find a travel agent to meet your needs?  Check out travel agent networks such as Virtuoso, Signature, and Ensemble.
  • Understand that a good travel agent will want to build a relationship with you by asking detailed questions about your preferences and desired experiences.  Be as specific as possible about your needs, while also being realistic about expectations for your price range.
  • Expect to pay a fee, but make sure that the services and prices you are receiving are worth it.  Double check prices online, if possible.  If the agent won't provide a break down of costs (many don't) then be sure to ask questions about the benefits you are receiving by booking through them. 
  • Remember that all travel agents are not created equally! You will find wild differences in level of service and prices quoted between agents.  Do your research and don't hesitate to ask questions, and feel free to switch to another agent or agency if you aren't comfortable with the service you receive.
  • View more tips for maximizing your experience with a travel agent here.

Have you ever used a travel agent?  How was your experience?

For more awesome travel tips, please visit Suitcases and Sippy Cups and Walkingon Travels!

I'm also linking up this week with Budget Traveler's Sandbox's Travel Photo Thursday!