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Why You Still Need a Travel Agent

itinerary airplane tickets travel eticketsThen as you go along, watch out for the following:

  • Does she always lead off with a very expensive itinerary? If this describes your agent, does she have a good reason, which might be the absence of upgradeable seats, aisle seats or a too-tight connection? If not, she's not really meeting our primary criteria of doing the job better, faster and more affordably than you can do it yourself.

    Before I call my travel agent, I almost always check fares myself very quickly on the Web. This way I can figure out if there is a flight or hotel I can book easily myself. It also gives me an idea of the going price on the route. I briefly worked with an agent who always quoted me a very expensive fare, as if money were no object for someone who could afford to use a travel agent. The truth is that now and then I can't afford not to -- and I would appreciate it if my agent was on the same page.

  • Does the travel agent suggest truly awful itineraries? For example, I once tried to work with a travel agent who insisted on showing me international connections that required an overnight stay at the connecting airport. This would require me to collect my bags, clear customs, go to a hotel, get back to the airport, check in and check bags again, pass through security again, and then repeat the customs and bag collection again at my final destination airport.

    When I objected, I was told "it's really not that bad." Multiple check-ins and customs lines are not that bad -- really? It sounded like the agent had never been to an airport -- or worse, assumed I had not, and thought he could get away with selling me a nightmare. If you are being shown too many ridiculously complicated itineraries, it's probably time to find a new agent, or book the trip yourself.

    When Do You Need a Tour Guide?

    Communicating with Your Travel Agent
    A short, concise and information-packed e-mail is the best way to start the conversation about a trip. Here is a sample message I sent to my agent recently:
    Dear Rekha,
    I hope you are doing well, and thank you for your help with my trip last month. I may want to purchase airfares to Zurich (final destination is Lucerne) for the second weekend in July. I will be working hard on the 10th, 11th and 12th, so we are thinking about traveling on the 8th, and returning the 14th, but are pretty flexible within a day of either of those depending on airfares. Travelers would be me, my wife and our son (now 2 1/2 or so), so direct flights are strongly preferable. I saw some $441 roundtrips online last week for the 8th - 13th and almost bought them, but figured I would get in touch since you can see all the seating and other options. If you are available to look into these, please let me know. Thank you!
    Ed Hewitt
    Travel agents can also be extremely helpful if your final itinerary is not quite set, as they can price out multiple options and show you everything in one place when finished. Here's an e-mail I sent with details on a much trickier itinerary:
    Rekha,
    As promised, our potential itineraries:

    1)
    - All travel together on June 3 from either Philadelphia or Newark to Sacramento (we have friends we are visiting in Oakland, so we could fly into the Oakland or even SFO airports)
    - Depart Sunday, June 7 for San Diego
    - Depart San Diego for return home on either June 11 or 14 depending on pricing, flights, etc.

    2)
    - Wife and son travel together on June 4 to Sacramento (we have friends we are visiting in Oakland, so we could fly into the Oakland or even SFO airports)
    - Wife and son depart Sunday, June 7 for San Diego
    - I travel Sunday, June 7 for San Diego
    - All depart San Diego June 11 or 14 depending on pricing, flights, etc.

    I hope this is clear enough; please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you!
    Ed
    In each case, my travel agent came up with something better and more affordable than I ever could have, fulfilling our guidelines in every respect.

    The Five Worst Trip Planning Mistakes (and How to Avoid Them)

    What Does It Cost?
    globe magnifying glass earth travel mapSince airlines no longer offer commissions of any kind for their work, travel agents have had to charge travelers directly for airline bookings. Most hotels, cruise lines, car rental companies and other travel service providers still pay commissions to travel agents for completed bookings, so you may not have to pay any agent fees whatsoever for other bookings (see the section subtitled Potential Conflicts of Interest in this article for more information).

    My own travel agent charges as follows:
  • $35 per person for roundtrip flights up to $700
  • 5 percent per person for roundtrip flights over $700

    A local American Express office charges as follows:
  • $59 per person per roundtrip ticket, with a $100 discount when you pay with an American Express card

    On the Newark-Sacramento-San Diego-Newark itinerary above, Rekha booked the whole thing for $325 per person -- less than $1,000 for three people to fly about 7,000 miles, complete with seat assignments, frequent flier credits, consolidated itineraries, the middle leg of the itinerary on Southwest and only about 20 minutes of my time.

    All of that for $105. No wonder travel agents seem to be making a comeback.


    Go Anyway,
    Ed Hewitt
    TravelersEd@aol.com
    Features Editor
    The Independent Traveler
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