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Should You Use a Travel agent or Book Online?

The internet has turned would-be vacationers into their own travel agents. Sites, such as Kayak and Expedia, and an entire app store’s worth of travel apps, enable travelers to book flights, cruises, and hotel rooms with ease. Travel agents, once a necessity to get to some far-off destination, often get cut out of the picture.

But, for those of you who don’t want to spend time planning your vacation, travel agents could be a great option. Your trip will just cost a little bit more. (According to the American Society of Travel Agents, the average service fees for booking airline tickets in 2009 was around $20, while the fee for booking a cruise was $50. And Angie’s List reports the fee for a travel agent to build an entire itinerary ranges from $100 to $200.)

So, should you book through a travel agent or online? Read on to learn the pros and cons of each approach.

Want great deals? Consider booking with a travel agent

man sits at a computer while he works

Travel agents not only help you plan your vacation, but they can act as your vacation advocate. They’ll find you the best prices. And if something bad happens, such as a canceled flight or a missed connection, they’ll help clean up the mess. USA Today’s Tracy Morris explains, “Online booking will show you the prices of tickets at the moment, but prices may change daily."

When you book with a travel agent, you won’t have to check your booking site of choice every day, searching for deals. The travel agent will do the dirty work for you and help you get the best deal without wasting all of that time.

Don’t want to figure out all the details? Travel agents can help

woman in airport doing self check-in

Furthermore, travel agents take all of the stress out of vacations. Imagine not having to worry about arranging travel, hotels, meals, and excursions. You can get what you want without having to coordinate all of the details yourself. That can end up saving you a lot of time.

In fact, some studies indicate that travelers spend 30 hours researching and preparing for a trip. And many visit up to 38 sites before actually making a reservation. Have you ever gone down the rabbit hole comparing flights? Or poring over photos of hotels? How about debating over sightseeing options? Or even second-guessing your choice of destination altogether? Travel agents make a career out of easing your planning pain.

Want to stress less about your trip? Book through a travel agent

businessman with headphones travelling to work

U.S. News estimates you can save anywhere from $500 to $1,000 on airfare if you have the right agent. That can eliminate a major source of stress for budget-conscious travelers.

Plus, USA Today points out a travel agent can offer insight a website just won’t provide. “An agent can guide an inexperienced traveler through foreign travel or travel to exotic destinations. While the Internet may be bursting with websites and bookings in technologically advanced areas, agents may have more knowledge of travel in areas where tourism is less developed,” the publication explains.

Travel agents can think of things you won’t

Young female passenger on trip planned by travel agents

Your travel agent won’t be there to remind you to pack your phone charger or remember the sunscreen. But travel agents can help head off other travel predicaments. Angie’s List notes though novice travelers might not know all the rules, “a travel agent has seen it all before. Some cruise ships don’t allow babies or children, so you don’t want to show up with the kids in tow.”

A travel agent can also give you a heads-up on exchange rates. They can advise you on when (and where) you’ll run into the worst crowds. Plus, they can remind you about what you should wear when traveling to conservative countries or religious sites. And it’s their job to know everything about travel visas, necessary vaccinations, etiquette, and the restrictions associated with your reservations.

Don’t book with a travel agent if they can’t be flexible

Couple books a trip online instead of using a travel agent

On the other hand, you might want to avoid booking with a travel agent if they can’t be flexible about your plans. Woman’s Day reports that staying flexible about your travel plans can cut costs. That’s the same reason why many seasoned travelers advise comparing flights on multiple dates (and in and out of a variety of airports) to see where you can get the best prices.

Still not sure whether you should book with a travel agent? Be realistic about prices

child at the airport, traveling and waiting near window

The Chicago Tribune reports you should never make assumptions about the cost of booking through a travel agent versus making a reservation without one. “Contrary to popular belief, a travel agent won’t always cost more. In fact, it’s possible you will pay less than booking a vacation yourself because agents might be aware of promotional offers and occasionally have access to exclusive deals,”the publication explains.

Some agents charge a per-hour fee when they’re planning a trip, and agents can earn commission on some of their bookings. Plus, the Tribune reports that “agencies might charge $25 to $30 to book a domestic flight, $50 to $80 to book a vacation to a single destination and about $100 per hour for research and planning advice.” But, you can typically expect a travel agent to cost around the same as if you’d booked it yourself. When you factor in the time it saves you, travel agents might be worth the cost.

Main Image: "Pappadams and Travel" by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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