San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Back when I was a kid my parents always used a travel agent to plan our trips. I remember we had an agent named Karen from Liberty Travel (why do I feel like all travel agents are named Karen?) who was an absolute sorcerer. My mom is great at organization and planning, but she loved working with Karen, which is certainly a testament to her talents as a travel agent. Many people ask if travel agents are still relevant and why would anyone need to use them given the advances in technology that have enabled all of us to book our own travel. This is a valid question and there are arguments for both sides.

Why you should still use a travel agent

Before we get into the reasons for using a travel agent, it’s important to understand the structure of the travel agent world. Travel agents almost always work for an agency. Working for an agency gives the agent the backend support and contacts that will help them serve you better. On the contrary, there are some travel agents that are sole proprietors and are not affiliated with an agency.

Many agencies are affiliated with a broader alliance or coalition. The largest of these is called Virtuoso

Virtuoso is an alliance of travel agencies and advisors located all around the world. The benefit for consumers is that Virtuoso is able to leverage its global footprint and influence to get you the best deals and rates. 

Now that I’ve given you a brief background, let’s talk about the benefits of booking with a travel agent. These agents, backed by alliances like Virtuoso, have access to rates, perks, and benefits that we as mere plebs don’t have the ability to secure. Benefits like daily breakfast for two, resort spa credits, and free upgrades are often par for the course when booking through a travel agent or “advisor.” Not to mention, a direct benefit of using a travel agent is time saved from doing all of the research yourself!

Another benefit to think about is that a travel advisor almost always has more experience or the resources to help book a once-in-a-lifetime trip. For example, say you want to book an African safari. How many people do you know have done that? I’m willing to bet not many.

The travel advisor could probably pick up the phone, call another Virtuoso advisor, and get you tried and tested advice at no additional cost.

Why you should not use a travel agent

If you’re like me, you like to use points and miles to book amazing vacations; and often with little out-of-pocket cost. Booking a trip with a travel advisor requires cash and, oftentimes, a lot of it. So if you’re the person with loads of points and miles stashed in various loyalty accounts, perhaps a call to an award booking service may be a better option.

Something else to keep in mind is fees. Some travel agents charge fees to research an itinerary. These fees are typically anywhere from $25 to $200 bucks. Even so, the legwork involved to plan a trip is almost always worth the extra cost. It’s a lot of work!

Final Word

Simply stated, there are benefits for and against using a travel agent. The only reason why I don’t use travel agents is because I always try to book using points and miles and when I can’t, my next step is to book through Amex Travel or Fine Hotels and Resorts as it cuts out a middleman.

But I will say, I am positively not an expert and the travel agent industry has certainly evolved since my family’s days booking with Karen, so I’m curious — are you more or less likely to use a travel agent, and why?

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Christian
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Christian

As someone who spent years as a travel agent, I admit to being biased. Like any professional, you use a travel agent for experience and tools that are difficult, arduous, or both to do yourself. A good travel agent can do a lot of good if you’re stuck in a bad situation. The two absolutely critical criteria are experience and professionalism. Anyone who just anoints themselves a “travel specialist”, run the other way. Quickly. The agency should be affiliated with ASTA, with at least one CTC in the office. That said, for an award booking, do it yourself or use… Read more »

Stephanie Woods
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Stephanie Woods

I use a travel agent to book my cruises. I am sailing solo, and she gets me prices I could not possibly get on ny own. She also tracks prices, and will rebook if there is a sale, and lets me know if there are upsell oppotunities. I used an award booking service for a complicated award flight trip. I have also used a travel agent sometimes to book into Fairmont Hotels for Travel Leader benefits. Other than that, I book myself.

Stephanie Woods
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Stephanie Woods

Any cruise is a good cruise! My favorites have been a 22 day cruise to the South Pacific ( definite bucket list), a 15 day Transatlantic, and a 20 day Panama Canal. I feel using a TA is a definite advantage for booking a cruise as it saves you money. But you want a TA who specializes in cruises as there are so many cruise lines now. A cruise line specialist, especially if you have not cruised much, can advise you about the pros and cons of each line, inside versus outside cabins, fixed versus open sitting, get you shipboard… Read more »