In this age of discount travel websites and Groupon Getaways, most of us take to the Internet to plan our vacations. But does the DIY approach always save us more money?
Perhaps, but in all of our bargain hunting, it may pay off to call a real live travel agent. There are several reasons for this. You’ll rarely have to pay a fee for the service, and an experienced agent can save you time, help you avoid vacation disasters, and access deals you couldn’t get on your own.
“It’s like standing out in the rain pumping your own gas at $3.89 a gallon when you could have an attendant pump it for $3.89 a gallon,” explained my frugal friend, Julie Sturgeon, who spent years as an Indianapolis-based travel agent and the owner of Curing Cold Feet travel agency.
She told me travel agents have access to the same good deals we can find, so there’s every likelihood that they’ll be able to meet or beat the online prices. Sometimes they can get even better agent-only deals or specially negotiated rates. “For instance, if you call a popular cruise line and ask for their best deal on a cabin for a sailing next February, the rep will quote you the lowest price she has,” Julie told me. “But an agent can go online and book that same sailing and same cabin at a lower early bird rate that the reps aren’t allowed to use.”
Julie also emphasized the level of service agents can provide. “Should a volcano erupt and leave you stranded in Europe, they know where your hotel is and can contact you with new flight information. For that matter, they have control of your record and can automatically rebook you on another flight,” she told me. “Places like discount travel websites don’t offer that level of service. And remember, you aren’t paying a dime more for this.”
Of course, if you’re going to use a travel agent, you want to make sure to find one that’s reputable and has experience. Julie recommended asking for credentials, like the Cruise Line Association’s ACC stamp of approval or certifications from Disney, Sandals, etc. “These say the person was willing to take the time to sit through hours of online training with that company, and that helps weed out the scammers in the industry.”
Julie also advises asking the agent who their host agency is, and then checking the host company’s name for scams and complaints. If they’re an independent agency, check with the local Chamber of Commerce or other entities about their reputation. Beware of “pyramid scheme” companies, she says. “The person may be very sincere in their desire to help you, but their back end support is non-existent.”
Because travel agents usually work on commission, you might come across one who seems to be pushing you into a package that isn’t right for you. In a situation like that, feel free to move on.
While using a travel agent might not always be the cheapest route, there are times that they can save you more than you could on your own. The next time you’re planning a vacation, consider it one more tool for finding a great deal.
This report from ABC News shows how a travel agent was able to find flights over $700 cheaper than what the reporter found.