In the age of the internet, travel agents might seem about as useful as flip phones. As dozens of travel websites and apps vie for your business, how is it that the job of travel agent still exists?
We decided to see just how useful travel agents are by planning a hypothetical trip to Germany during Oktoberfest, with multiple stops in different cities.
We asked a handful of travel agents to quote us prices for the trip, and then compared those prices to fares we found online ourselves.
The prices we received from four out of five agents were more expensive that what we had found online ourselves, confirming our inkling that they just might not be able to keep up with the world wide web.
However, these exchanges also showed us the one excellent reason why travel agents are still relevant — and just might be around for years to come: personal service.
Travel agent Andrea Holtman of Travel Leaders took it upon herself to not only search for the flights we had requested, but to build an entire itinerary for the hypothetical trip we had planned. Along with the flights, she sent us prices for various hotels she recommended in each city, both with varying locations and prices, as well as tours, museum tickets, private transfer to and from the airports, and potential rail passes. Even better, she gave a few personal recommendations, like cafes and restaurants.
Rather than spend hours online trying to figure out where to stay, what to see and what to do, it was all right here — and we hadn’t even specified likes and dislikes. I’m sure if we had given her more information she would have created an even better, highly personalised vacation.
So if all you’re after are some flights, you’re better off looking online yourself. However, if you don’t want to deal with planning, travel agents can complete all the bookings and provide personal recommendations that will make your life easier.
Many travel agencies have their own specialisations, from Disney trips to country-specific tours, and can provide first-hand insider knowledge on the destination. This also means that they have connections, and thus are often able to score you perks like room upgrades, hard-to-get restaurant reservations, and sold-out tours and events.
There are other reasons to consider booking with a travel agent: If you’re planning a multi-stop trip with layovers and connecting flights, travel agents might find combinations you wouldn’t. And if you’re planning a trip that involves a big group of people, tours and sightseeing, or might involve visas, inoculation or complicated passport requirements, a travel agent might be your best bet. And if something goes wrong, there’s an emergency, or you need to cancel, travel agents are a safety net.
Finally, most travel agents won’t charge you for their work (they get paid through hotels, tours and wholesalers), so it literally won’t cost you anything to give them a shot.
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