Do It Yourself Vs Travel Agent – The Surprises a Controlling DIYer Found

If you are anything like me, you may have thought that travel agents have gone the way of the Dodo. While you don’t see travel agencies on every street corner anymore, travel agents certainly still exist. Not only do they still exist, but they have a very real place and need in our society. I’ve used a travel agent for two spectacular trips, and I wanted to advocate why and when a travel agent can help make your trip planning a success.

Why Use a Travel Agent

To be transparent, every time we have used a travel agent, it has been when I’ve put my husband in charge of planning. This has happened when I’ve been busy or overwhelmed at work. My husband is not a planner, and he believes that it’s better to work with an expert in this area. While I get a joy out of researching and making plans, it’s not the same for him.

Every time the travel agent has been a life saver. By picking a travel agent that is an expert in the type of trip or location you want to go, they have helped guide the conversation and provide an itinerary that fits our needs and budget. The travel agent has been able to :

  • Help us narrow down and pick a destination that fit our needs, and fit within the price range we desired
  • Help us design an itinerary that allowed for down time and adventure
  • Found unique hotels that fit the family’s needs
  • Arranged transportation and drivers so our trip was completely stress free.

At a point in our lives when time was at a premium, it was worth working with an agent who made our travel dreams come true. They know the area inside and out, and save you time and energy, finding you the best value for your dollar.

I told the agent I wanted to be on a beach on my 40th birthday, with a drink in my hand, in a country I had never been to before. He suggested Bali and the rest is history*

What to Expect

When you work with a travel agent you will need to be prepared with a couple of important things:

  • Where do you want to go? Believe it or not you don’t need to know your exact location. But you should know the type of destination you want. City or Rural? Beach or mountains ? Europe or Asia? Having an idea will help your travel agent set the tone of the vacation.
  • Who is going? Are you going as a family? How old are the kids? Grandparents coming? Or is this a couples retreat or girls trip? This helps with picking the right locations and lodgings, as well as transportation.
  • What is your budget? This is perhaps the most important question. Make sure you have an idea in your head on this as well. Note that a good travel agent will let you know if your budget is possible. Be realistic about your budget, and understand that your agent will try and get you the best trip for the budget you have planned. A good agent will look for the best value for your dollar, but won’t look for the rock bottom price. Often in travel, the cheapest is not always the best, and you get what you pay for. Their job is to make sure you get the nicest vacation possible for the money you have available.
  • What parts of the trip have you already planned? Maybe you booked the flight on miles, but want help with hotels and activities? Maybe you are staying with family, but want help planning the itineraries for places to see. Maybe you use points on hotels but need flights. A good travel agent will incorporate all that into the plan they put together for you.

When you talk with the travel agent, they will ask you a lot of questions. They are looking to get a feel on the vacation you want. Then, in a few days, you should expect a suggested itinerary and budget. Note that this is always up for negotiation. They want to make sure to make a trip that works for you. Maybe you want more days at the beach. Maybe you want to take a train instead of a flight. Maybe you need to cut the cost down more and are willing to sacrifice a stop or a few days. This is where you go back and forth to make the best trip.

Usually to secure the trip, you will then need to put down a deposit on the trip. This makes sure that you are committed, and that the travel agent will get paid for the hard work they put into planning the trip for you.

After many conversations and back-and-forth, Audley Travel was able to find a trip that fit our needs and our budget

What to Look For

Just like a financial advisor, you want to make sure that you find an advisor who has your best interest in mind. A good travel agent will ask you a lot of questions about the types of vacations you like to take, the vibe in places your looking for, what were your best trips in the past, etc. A good travel agent will also help you as much or as little as you want.

There are a few things to make sure you understand:

  • How the agent is compensated: I think we all understand that nothing comes for free. And it’s a perfectly fair question to ask how the agent is compensated. Generally, the agent is compensated via a combination of a commission and a planning fee. Note that a commission based doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more expensive than if you booked direct. Generally the commission is baked in, so if you book direct, it just means the hotel or tour company is keeping that portion as profit as opposed to costing you less. There are some places, such as Costco Travel, that discount by the commission cost so they are the cheapest. If all you want is a week all-inclusive that requires little planning, then Costco or a budget site is the way to go. Some agents will charge a planning fee. These are generally for things the agent does not earn a commission on. This could be for things like, researching and booking the flights, scheduling your fast or magic passes at Disney, or making restaurant reservations. Sure, you could do this all yourself, but it would cost you your time.
  • How you pay for your trip: Unlike when you book everything yourself, you usually pay upfront with a travel agent. There is usually a large deposit, followed by the balance due 30-60 days before you leave. So unlike booking yourself, you costs are generally more concentrated. It may feel like a lot, but when you add together the costs of everything you do yourself, it’s generally the same amount.
  • What is included: Make sure to understand what they include in the cost. Besides flights, hotels and tours, are any meals included? What is the transportation? Do they make reservations for you? What additional services do they provide?
  • Respect the agent’s time: It’s important to talk with a few agents, and get a feel with who might work best for your needs. Just don’t ask all of them to make an itinerary for you to price shop. It’s better to have an introductory conversation and see if that travel agent fits your needs before you get into making the itinerary. Remember there is a lot of time and energy that goes into making an itinerary.

Having an open and honest conversation with the travel agent will help make sure that you get what works best for you.

When in a foreign country that doesn’t have a lot of public transit, transportation is a key service I require

When Things Go Wrong

As people are learning in the era of COVID 19, when things go wrong is when you want to have a travel agent on your side. It’s their job to get on the phone and help you get new flights when things get canceled, to find you new accommodations when your room is suddenly not available. Since the outbreak of the disease, the travel agents have been on the phone working to cancel plans and try and recover as much of their clients costs as possible. They have more contacts and may be able to get to the right person quicker than you. Also, they are usually watching the news in a region if they have clients their. So, when the US announced that they were going to close the border to Europe, travel agents were on the phones and internet immediately changing reservations and getting their clients flights out of the Europe as fast as possible. Then they would call their clients and let them know when to be at the airport. Having an advisor on your side is helpful when the world is moving faster than you can process.

I would have loved a travel agent for our trip to Turkey, where a delayed flight almost derailed our entire trip*

Planning Vs An Agent

Yes, I am a person who tends to steer towards self-planning. But in looking for the lowest costs, I’ve made my mis-steps. Trips where I’ve used a travel agent have always gone smoothly, have had the right mix of relaxation and adventure, and are usually much more low stress. And while they are not the cheapest trips I’ve taken, they are always within budget. If you want to get the best trip for your dollar, without investing a lot of time, then finding a good travel advisor is the right move for you.

Travel Agencies I’ve worked with and recommend:

*Starred Photos taken by Atma Photography

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