With a mouse click, you can book trips to exotic safaris in Africa or your in-law's house in a nearby state.
So, why bother to find a travel agency? For more complex trips, today's travel agents can do all the work for you and still get you a great deal. That's why the motto of the American Society of Travel Agents is, "Without a Travel Agent, You're on Your Own."
What a travel agent does
As the use of the Internet as a travel tool has grown, the agent's role has changed from providing all the information on flights and trip packages to making sense of that information. Travel agents today:
- Investigate competitive information such as fares and packages.
- Stay abreast of and analyze current promotions.
- Clarify that "small print" such as cancellation policies and restrictions.
- Resolve problems for you while you're on the road.
- Simplify the research and the transaction itself.
- Add onto your trip with "travel agent only" perks like free nights or gifts.
Travel agents vs. Internet
Sure, you may find a good flight deal on an airline or a third-party travel website. But you, the consumer, can view only what the travel site wants to provide online.
Travel agents take classes, participate in seminars, belong to professional organizations and become destination experts. Their whole business lives are related to travel, which means they have expertise that you and the Internet do not.
Travel agents also work with clients every step of the way, from planning a trip (when is the best time to go to Alaska? How do I navigate around the airport?), booking tickets and packages, and coordinating your day-to-day itinerary.
If you have any problems while on your trip (we missed the safari!), you can call your travel agent and he or she will work to resolve it.
Travel agencies have taken a hit due to the popularity of Internet travel booking. That's one reason agents have had to raise their service fees.
According to the ASTA, the number of agencies charging service fees has increased from 64 percent to almost 95 percent since 1998. While airfare-related fees are the most common, be prepared. Some travel agents also charge for trip research, car rental, train and hotel reservations.
Choosing a travel agent
- Check our listings on Kudzu.com and ask well-traveled friends about those agencies that seem to be right for you.
- If you work for a large company, chances are that it will employ travel agents or have a travel department that you can work with.
- Ask travel agents you talk to about their background, experience, membership in professional groups and education.
- Work with a travel agent who is knowledgeable not only about the profession, but in the area (and local culture) of the region you are visiting.