Hello, traveler. Join us for a moment in the way back machine to the hey-day of travel agents. As hard as it may be to believe, there was time before the World Wide Web. In those days, your travel agent sat behind a big desk and looked deeply into a mysterious monitor. No one knew what was on the screen, but the agent peered into it, made some notes on a pad, entered some figures into a Commodore 64, and waited for the printer to burp out your vacation. The whole thing was magical! She (almost all travel agents were female in the way back machine) created everything from the trip of a lifetime to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, to a weekend in Reno. She was Mary Poppins for people who traveled! Today, we ask the question: Is she necessary, or should we be our own travel agent?
Wait! Are there even travel agents anymore?
While many travel agencies have closed their doors, there are still a little over 9,000 licensed agents in the business. While that is down from over 30,000 in 1990, and it is not a growth industry, there are still folks who help with travel and vacation plans. Let’s look at what they do, and if you can do it cheaper or easier yourself.
Are there deals only an agent can find?
Perhaps there is a better question. There may not be deals that only an agent CAN find, but there may be deals only an agent WILL find. In other words, there aren’t any “agent-only” buys out there, but some deals hide in out-of-the-way travel journals and websites. Also, airfare deals can come and go in a matter of hours! Unless you enjoy babysitting Kayak or Google Flights, an agent might catch the best fare.
So, if I am willing to work for it, I can get that same deal.
Yes, you can. And, if you do, your vacation will be cheaper than if a travel agent helped. According to the American Society of Travel Agents, $20 is the average service fee for booking an airline ticket, and add another $30 for booking a cruise ticket. Angie’s List reports it costs an average of $150 for a travel agent to build a comprehensive cruise itinerary.
Just so I am clear, what makes up a comprehensive cruise itinerary?
That’s one that includes everything from your outbound flight to the rental car to the cruise to your shore excursions to your return transportation.
Whether or not that seems like a lot, there is the “what if something goes wrong” factor.
Indeed there is, and that is what keeps those 9k travel agents working. Travelers who are a little fearful of the process, (mostly older travelers, but some young ones too) like the security of knowing that an agent is a phone call away. Available if a hotel reservation goes missing, a flight is delayed, or other unforeseen things take place.
Are there any times when you think I absolutely need a travel agent?
For most travelers, I would recommend an agent for a first-time intercontinental trip. Gildshire has comfortably booked Canada on our own, but we would want some help with Prague, Copenhagen, or Sydney. Language barriers, currency exchanges, and tips on lodging, sightseeing, and the like would make our enjoyment of that trip so much easier. Even help on when to tip and how much to tip would be nice. Other than that, it’s a split vote in our offices about booking a cruise. There are so many helpful websites available that even an inexperienced cruiser should be okay. But, no one will look down on you if you ask for some professional help for your first time on the Seven Seas.
Other than that…
If you are someone who has never self-booked travel, try it first for a weekend trip. After that, if you can, be your own travel agent for all domestic and North American travel. You’ll learn a lot and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that goes along with it. We will even bet that you enjoy your vacation a little more if you booked that baby yourself! Bon voyage’.