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This Is How Travel Agents Work

Yes, travel agents still exist, even in this age of websites and apps that promote DIY travel—Kayak and Expedia, Hopper and Google Flights, and others. In fact, travel agents are seeing an up-tick in demand for their services despite the control and convenience of the internet and its lure of getting bargain basement deals.

Maybe you’re someone who’s considering using an agent for your next getaway. If what’s holding you back is not understanding how they work, what they can do for you, or if it will cost you more money than doing it yourself, then read on.

What an agent can do for you

  • Save you time and stress. Booking a vacation on your own requires researching all of your options, reading endless reviews, booking every detail, and then tracking each reservation. Talk about a huge organizational and time commitment! And you run the risk of travel-planning burnout, which can hurt your vacation experience once you get there. By using an agent, you can avoid the confusion, indecisiveness, anxiety, and huge time suck of doing it all yourself.
  • Design themed vacations. Travel agents usually specialize in types of vacations or vacationers—multi-generational vacations, honeymoons, luxury experiences, adventure travel, ecotourism, Disney destinations, etc. They use this expertise to design a trip unique to each client—and they may even know of experiences you wouldn’t find advertised on the internet.
  • Be your single point of contact for everything. An agent will track and manage all of your reservations and confirmation numbers. So, if you have a question or lose a confirmation email, you only need to turn to one person for all the answers. They can also “babysit” your reservations, keeping an eye out for lower prices or sales that can be applied.
  • Recommend and handle travel insurance. Agents can recommend wise travel insurance plans and help you handle any claims.
  • Smooth out unexpected travel hiccups. Once you’re on vacation, an agent will still work to ensure your trip goes smoothly, handling any issues you encounter so you don’t waste precious vacation time problem solving.
  • Offer affordable payment plans. There will be more on this below, but an agent will only require a small deposit to confirm your vacation reservations, and from there you can set up a payment plan to meet your budget. Final payment for your trip is usually due 45 to 60 days prior to departure. If you booked everything yourself, you’d be required to pay in full up front, which might mean using credit cards and paying high interest fees or missing out on special reservations if you didn’t have the money up front.
  • Match online prices. If you find a better deal on a booking, email your agent the deals and they should be able to match it or tell you how the “deal” is really a scam.

How an agent gets paid

Inquiries are usually free, allowing prospective clients to ask about hotels, flights, possible destinations, cruise ship companies, rental cars, and more. Agents get paid, through a combination of fees paid directly by the client and commissions paid by the companies they work with, when reservations are booked.

Agents either charge a flat fee separate from trip expenses (although there may be a daily spend minimum for agents specializing in luxury vacations) ranging from $100 to $500 and up, or they may only charge a la carte fees for things like booking airline tickets (since airlines rarely pay commissions anymore), hard-to-get restaurant reservations, or rooms in smaller independent hotels. Sometimes, the flat fee is charged as a security deposit, which is either returned to the client at the end of the planning process or applied to the cost of the trip itself.

Commissions are paid to agents by hotels, airlines, tour operators, and cruise ships. These relationships also lead to insider deals and experiences you couldn’t find on your own. An honest agent won’t use their commission as an incentive to sell you a more expensive package, but instead will use their connections and experience to make a genuine recommendation.

An agent can save you money by passing along the savings they receive on these bookings. Travel industry businesses offer discounts to agents, who can then pass along the savings to you, even after factoring in any fees the agent may charge.

To make sure you work with an experienced and honest travel agent, make sure they’re a member of the American Society of Travel Agents, ask for references, ask them about their expertise, and ask about their service fees up front.