I am surprised travel agents haven’t gone the way of the dodo yet. Almost all of the services an agent provides can be done easily online, for less money, and with more customization. My parents used a travel agent to book flights for their recent trip to visit us in Asia, and the flights we found online for them were significantly cheaper (by about $500 … per person) yet had less stops.
What’s worse, agents frequently book trips to destinations they have never even visited. No one likes an armchair quarterback.
I realize I’m painting with a very broad brush here – not all agents are BS (I’ve heard good things about the cool folks at Black Tomato, for instance), and there are of course valid reasons to use one, i.e. you don’t have the time or patience to plan your own jaunts.
If you must use one, here are our tips for getting the most out of your agent:
- Have the agent put you in touch with previous clients directly. A few short testimonials or quotes on the agency’s website don’t tell you much of anything. Make sure those clients have similar trip needs/styles to you – it’s not helpful to talk to someone who only used the agent to book a cheap flight to South America if you’re using the agent to book all aspects of a luxury Indian train trip for 10 people. In speaking with previous clients, we’d want to know about the agent’s communication style and responsiveness before, during, and after travel; the client’s level of satisfaction with the quality and value of various things booked (hotels, tours, restaurants, cars, flights, trains, etc.); ease of itinerary/travel; and, of course, any problems that arose.
- Ask the agent for customer reviews of hotels, tour guides, etc. that he or she is recommending to you. Agents often book with whomever offers a commission, and while I don’t have a problem with this per se, it should not be the driving factor – your needs and desires should be. If your agent can’t provide SPECIFIC feedback on suggested hotels, restaurants, whatever, from other clients, hit the internet to do your own verification … or better yet, find a new agent.
- Request line item pricing. Many agents will only provide a lump sum per person, which could include flights, hotels, car rentals, tours, etc. Lots of fees are hidden this way, and if you have a price for each aspect of your travel, it’s very to easy to check those prices against what’s offered online. If the agent is unable to do so, which can happen if he or she is buying package tours from a third party, he or she should at least disclose to you what his or her cut/fee is.
- Check over EVERYTHING with a fine tooth comb. There are a LOT of details to manage, and even the best agents can miss things, especially when dealing someone else’s personal data. Trust me when I say that you do not want to find out on the day of your departure that your agent transposed two digits of you passport number when giving it to the airline. As a further cautionary step, consider confirming the big details of your trip yourself either online or on the phone. Remember that travel agent who booked my parents on a costly and exhausting string of flights? She also neglected to inform them that one of their flights had been canceled weeks before, which they found out AFTER they were already en route. If they had confirmed themselves instead of trusting her to do it, all the stress and hassle they endured could have been avoided.
I’m curious – have you used a travel agent recently? If so, please share your experience with us in the comments!
This is Part 1 of 5 in a series featuring our tips on how to get the most from various travel “experts”. Click here for our thoughts on “experts” in general, here for Part 2: The Guide Book, here for Part 3: The Blogger, and stay tuned for Parts 4-5.