Another blog post from Mr. Deals…

I got very scared this week. I heard something come out of my mom’s mouth that inspired one of those palm to the face type of moments. “Travel Agent” is what she said. I was scared for a couple of reasons: 1) my mom about to experience the wrath of Mrs. Deals and 2) I going to have to experience the wrath of Mrs. Deals because my mom was thinking of using a travel agent?

So apparently the situation involves some of my moms friends who happen to have used a travel agent to plan a trip that she will be tagging along for part of. After hearing some of the plans it became clear to Mrs. Deals and me that the travel agent wasn’t doing anything different than any average internet savvy person could do. In fact, I think the travel agent was making plans that were actually pretty inconvenient. Mrs. Deals of course was called in to evaluate and of course had much more to offer. Luckily she went easy on my mom and well pretty easy on me too. I guess Mrs. Deals has some respect for the travel agents of the world.

I was curious about the actual use of travel agents out there, so I had Mrs. Deals conduct a little poll with her twitter account to see if people out there use a travel agent. The results were pretty expected, nearly 100% of you said no way. Of course, there were some folks who have the mandatory use of a travel agent for work travel, but I am focused on the leisure stuff. I can’t remember if I’ve ever used a travel agent, I mean why would I when I practically married one. What I am really trying to figure out is, is it worth it?

Now I know there are lots of folks less savvy than most of you reading this, so I wonder, if you think about your parents, their friends, “older” folks, do you think it’s more common?

Oh and as far as the trip for my mom goes, I’m trying to teach her how the internet can be her travel agent. We’ll get there, right mom?

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

  • Lisa N said,

    I say never say never. For us, it depends on the trip. Award travel = no travel agent. Adventure travel = no travel agent. Typical family of 4 leisure vacation (Disney, Caribbean all inclusive) = Travel Agent. The tips I have gotten, as well as the endless amount of questions I can get answered, are well worth the $40 fee. When flights have been cancelled I have a human who cares and has direct access to the system willing to help me immediately. And sometimes I just don’t have hours and hours to search the internet…wish I did!

  • Noah Kimmel said,

    I don’t for regular trips. However, for complicated trips or certain vacation resorts/tours/foreign countries, a travel agent can be invaluable. Good travel agents (not some idiot with access to kayak) know the various resorts and areas and can make a much better recommendation than tripadvisor. Many times, they can also arrange special accommodations, upgrades, or discounts. However, it is important to properly vet your travel agent and still compare their prices and options with what you find on your own. Additionally, some concierge travel agents (like Cranky Flier / Crankly Conceirge) can be helpful when unexpected things come up.

    I do think it is common for older people to use Travel agents, and sometimes even the simple stuff can be done for no additional charge, especially when comparing to an airline phone booking fee. Some of them can be shown how to use the computer, others will just forgo fees in exchange for comfort and convenience, and who are we to stop them?

    Was this a full service travel agent? A quasi-agent like AMEX Travel? Or some “friend” with a laptop?

  • dhammer53 said,

    Haven’t used a travel agent in 14 years.

  • Mark said,

    What about getting special benefits, like Virtuoso hotel benefits, that are only available through travel agents?

  • Up&Away said,

    For group travel it can be worth it to have someone else manage all your friends instead of it falling on one person.

  • Jimmy Y. said,

    My family uses travel agents when we have to fly from JFK-ICN since the agencies get great consolidator fares.

  • Stuart Falk said,

    I used to sell online advertising to major cruise lines and online travel agencies on behalf of a major cruise travel Web sikte and found almost all of them, in addition to being ignorant when it came to international travel, to be self serving in dealing with clients, e.g. trying to steer them to suppliers who paid the highest commissions rather than getting to know their clients priorities and interests and responding accordingly. Of course there are (rare) exceptions, but most travel agents, often working from whom and affiliated with a major franchise, are worthless. Therefore it’s important for travelers to do their own research and in the cruise sector turn to respected independent sources not depending on advertising, the best being the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships by Douglas Ward and, if the cruise line will match any advertised travel agent promotion, booking directly.

  • DaninSTL said,

    I don’t normally use a travel agent but I do on cruises to get a better deal than direct with the cruise lines. Cruise.com has been good to me over the years.

  • george said,

    virtuoso rates. don’t you use them?

  • Marshall Jackson said,

    Regular trips, no…no way…no how. Special trips, absolutely. I take 25 to 30 trips per year, combined personal/business. I use a travel agent once or maybe twice if that helps put it in perspective.

  • Skwok said,

    I would say use of travel agents for flights only. It can be very useful in times of delays, assuming they have a 24 hour hotline and you have access to it. You might not be able to call the hotline from some random country you are in or connecting through. Since everyone on the same plane will call the usual source in times of delay in order to get rebooked, your travel agent will most likely be free to help you, unless the entire plane used the same travel agency.

    For my work travel, all tickets must go through the our website and this gets patched through a travel agency. Even for simple tickets they charge the $25 fee.

    To go one step further, I would also recommend looking into booking international tours through an agency rather than planning out everything on your own. Key word is looking at since tours are not cheap and now i understand why. Last year i went on a tour in Beijing. I had to since that was the only way to do this particular marathon. The tour was good and very busy with lots of attractions. I would have never seen as much if i did it myself. In addition, someone from our group was pickpocketed and lost her passport, visa, and cash. The agency took care of everything, from personally escorting her to the police station, embassy, etc to get her a new passport and exit visa and on her flight 48 hours later. I was very impressed she made it on the plane. They also have funds to tie her over until she got back to the states, even though almost everyone else in the group lent her cash (both CNY and USD).

  • Smitty06 said,

    I am supposed to use them for business travel, but I try to uavoid them when possible.

  • Luway said,

    It really depends on the trip and how you value your time. Travel agents may have access to consolidator fares not available elsewhere. Their expertise/experience on complicated plans may be more efficient than you spending hours and hours on research. Your wife’s twitter survey, assuming her followers are like-minded travelers, isn’t surprising having resulted in a biased result.

  • Ryan E said,

    I used one once, in 1996, for our honeymoon, but I was young and inexperience in travel matters then :) But have never done so since. I won’t say “never will”, because who knows some unusual situation might come up… but I doubt it. Now for my in-laws, oh my, they need an agent! (And I’d offer to help them but it’s just too much of a headache!)

  • Tom // Sit in first said,

    I now use a Virtuoso agent fairly regularly. I find the ease of dealing with him via email to be tremendous (versus scouring websites) and I appreciate his first hand experience at many properties and direct ties to hotel management.

    Sometimes I make bookings direct then let him “capture” them so he can make a few extra bucks.

  • Tim said,

    Required to use an agent for work, but usually book all personal travel myself. Our travel agent is able to get better fares than are usually posted on United.com, plus she only charges $15/ticket (ends up still being a nice savings). The benefits of using a GOOD travel agent are apparent during irregular operations. I’ve had several times where, after a surprise cancellation, where I am running between terminals on the phone with my agent as she is rebooking me on another airline.

  • Maggie J said,

    I use in country travel agents (I get recommendations from guide books or Flyer Talk) when I’m doing something where I need a driver/guide and I want to do special things like biking through the Mekong. I find that in country travel agents are about half the cost of using a US agent. I did a great tour of India, mostly tiger reserves where we were booked in fantastic hotels (including a maharaja’s Palace in Varanassi which had only ten suites) for less than a similar group tour featured by a mid-level US trou company.

  • Todd said,

    Travel agent for work- yes. Discounts and all aside a major reason is so you know where all your people are in an emergency. I was with a large company during 9/11 and we had two co-workers on the first plane that hit the WTC. Probably had about 120 folks traveling across the US- the travel agents were invaluable in figuring out who was where and getting them hotels/cars/flights over the next few days. And we have had the same scenario with various weather and other natural disaster issues.

  • Deb said,

    As a travel agent you are doing a disservice to people and agent’s value to clients. Not everyone is suited to use an agent. TA’s don’t want the nickel and dime business you describe here; we are worth our weight in gold for those wanting more out of their trips, from private access to things not available to the public and knowledge of things where you’re going that you won’t find on the internet that will make your trip unforgettable. We also have relationships with hotels that garner our clients free amenities like spa or food and beverage credits, free breakfasts, early check in and late check out just to name a few.

    We ensure you are not ripped off by internet suppliers; Last months CN Traveller Ombudsman was about an online hotel service in Europe where someone thought they prepaid their stay and when they arrived there was no payment. Ombudsman found they didn’t prepay for TWO days, it was a booking fee they paid……….

    You all go book on the net, don’t waste agents time trying to save you $5 off your hotel, we rather you save your pennies and leave us to serious travellers who want a memorable, wonderful experience.

  • Chris B. said,

    This boils down to core competencies. Since Mrs. Deals is competent in travel matters, it causes her pause (or more?) to hear someone she knows used travel agent. However, I bet there are multiple areas outside of her abilities, where she would easily use the knowledge of others to guide her.

    As an example, I do not work on our family cars. As a former machinist Mate in the Navy, I do know how to fix machinery and follow procedures. However, I also learned I hate to do it, and I have zero interest in attaining the knowledge and experience needed. As such, I don’t even change the oil, and happily pay a mechanic (that is someone from Jiffy Lube) to do the job for me. This may be bad or ignorant to car guys, but for me, it isn’t worth the effort.

    In addition, I wouldn’t impose on friends that are car people to do the work for me, as I would prefer to go to an insured and bonded shop that can be pressed if something does go wrong.

    The same goes for travel. Many of my peers say I should be a Disney travel agent, as I have a lot of knowledge and experience, but I have yet to do anything more than offer guidance suggestions for their trips. I don’t want to spend the time needed to fully book a trip, and I don’t want to be called at 5am; because, their Disney tickets are having issues (I’d accept the call and offer help, but would hate to be the source of the problem).

    A licensed and insured travel agent is an excellent resource for many people that do not have enough knowledge and experience in the travel sector to comfortably set plans and reservations, especially to places unknown. If something goes wrong, there is a live person available, 24/7, to get things on track and find solutions the traveler may never have thought was possible.

    In the end, tell your mom that she is right to use a travel agent for her trip, whether it is a license professional or a hobbyist friend/relative.

  • Nicky said,

    How naive. As a travel consultant my business has gone up over 30 percent in the past year – people have found more than ever that the value of relationships and professional experience cannot be replicated online.

    I build my client’s trips based around their interests and needs, not on cheap flights and “deals”

    My agency gets prices coupled with enhanced benefits from suppliers across the board that most people cannot access

    When my clients arrive at their destination they frequently have an amenity, upgrade and/or other perk waiting for them

    Clients who have issues with airlines benefit from my direct access to the airline booking systems via Apollo as well as my personal relationship with multiple reps at (and they don’t need elite status). For example, yesterday one of my contacts at a major carrier bumped a family of 7 up to economy plus on all flights between the Midwest and two Hawaiian islands because I asked. No fees. Not a single ff number among them, let alone status. This isn’t unusual.

    The list goes on. Travel is my passion and my job. I know what my clients care about and I help them build experiences of a lifetime. I have access to resources and contacts all over the globe built from hundreds of voyages and hard work. My clients range in age from 20 to 90, with incomes from 30k to seven figures.

    It’s unfortunate this post is so narrow minded. You’re doing your readers a great disservice. Why would you arrogantly push to limit someone’s options when you clearly have no idea what a professional travel consultant truly offers?

  • Joe said,

    Yeah, travel agents don’t want your nickel and dime business. They like travelers with more money than brains. You’re dinosaurs who’s days are numbered.

  • Jennifer said,

    Travel agents do have access to things you are not aware of. I don’t know how many times I have had someone contact me who thought they got a great deal or special online for me to only tell them I could do much better. People really need to get educated on travel because it isn’t something you can pop on the internet and get the best deal or the right thing for what you need. If you have had a bad experience with an agent, don’t lump us all into one boat… a good agent is just like any type of service orientated business person. Once you have someone who is in your corner and willing to make sure your trip is the best it can be, you will realize that no research online will compare.

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