People Still Use Travel Agents?
Yes! You should too!
In this day of third party booking sites like Expedia, and new alternative accommodations to choose from like airbnb, let alone the ease of booking flights online, travel agents seem hardly necessary. Don't you think?
It’s true, booking a vacation or even just a flight is easier and faster than ever. But are you really making the right choice when you choose the internet over your friendly neighborhood travel professional?
I’ve been working as a professional Travel Consultant for two years. When I started my career I worked booking leisure trips for families, couples, and honeymooners everywhere from Disney to Europe.
I spent some time working in a niche part of the business (humanitarian travel) before coming back around to leisure and booking vacations. So, I am going to be discussing booking vacations, which is the most common reason travelers turn to a third party.
Why do people book online? There are a lot of options to choose from, and it's less expensive!
Third party websites do seem convenient that way. Pull up the website on your computer (or your phone or tablet) pick the location, and there you go! Tons of hotels to choose from and you can even apply filters like price, proximity to downtown, free wifi, breakfast included, and the list goes on. Pick the one that looks best, input your information, and you have a reservation! Always cheaper too, right?
Most agents work on commission, true enough, but the commission doesn't come from where you might expect. It gets paid out through the other end of the transaction, rarely from the traveler's pocket. Bottom line is that agents get their money not from client, but from the hotel, car, or activity you booked through them.
Now, agents do charge fees on occasion. When I worked at the leisure travel agency we charged ticket fees to clients who booked only airline tickets. It was $25.00 for domestic flights and $50.00 for international. Why a fee? Because most airlines in today’s market pay very little, if any, in commission. So, that $2,000 itinerary that your travel agent booked for you? She probably won’t receive a dime. For many agencies the ticketing fee is necessary so they don’t lose money.
In my experience though, we did not charge a fee as long as you booked even a car rental with us. The fees may vary as well amongst agencies. So, I am absolutely not generalizing all fees from all travel agencies, just speaking from my experience.
You just admitted booking online is easy, and that it is almost the same price to book online as with an agent. So, again, remind me why would I call an agent?
Like many things, you have to look beyond what’s right in front of you. Have you ever booked a hotel from a third party website, and when you got there you realized you may have made a mistake? Maybe the owners have been a little generous with their pictures, or you booked a property just for the pool and you show up and they tell you the pool is being repaired! How irritating!
Agents do this for a living. You can list all the amenities you require for a hotel or resort, give the list to your travel agent, and they will do the rest! Voila!
Finding a good travel agent is almost like finding a good mechanic or the right doctor you just click with. It’s in the best interest of the agent to keep their clients happy. After all, happy clients are returning clients!
Agents also have the scoop about repairs, closures, or anything at the hotel that could impact your vacation. There's also no need to worry about being limited in your options, because there will be just as many if not more to choose from than from any online site. Travel Agencies often have their own pre-negotiated rates with the hotels, which could mean (shocker) a less expensive rate than what you found online!
Tell me what’s easier than calling up someone, telling them exactly what you want, and having options sent right to your email? Sure, booking online is fast in the objective sense. However, I used to book hotels online, (before I knew better) and I was never done as quickly as I expected. I spent hours picking and comparing and fretting over the differences between hotels and reading reviews, and then second guessing the choice I did make! It was always a more time-consuming activity then I thought it would be.
When you use an agent you’ll be confident that you received the best possible options, because after all, your agent does this for a living every single day!
Okay, Jennifer you convinced me. I’ll use an agent for my next hotel! I don’t need to use one for booking a flight though. That’s pretty straightforward.
Speaking as someone who books dozens of flights a week, I’m sorry to tell you it’s not as easy or simple as it might look.
Let’s say you’re someone who flies once or twice a year at most. The odds of you running into problems that seriously affect your trip are small. But, I can tell you, the first time it happens is frustrating enough for a lifetime.
Scenario: You're flying from Miami to LAX in October. For those who don't know, that’s close to the height of hurricane season for the South and the Caribbean. (Don’t let that keep you from traveling, hurricane season is from June-December.) But, oh no, a hurricane is approaching and they’ve closed the Miami airport! Everyone is stranded! You have to get home! What are your options?
If you’ve booked online, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting impatiently in front of a service desk, waiting to be rescheduled by frazzled airline representatives. But, because absolutely everyone on all of the flights need to be rebooked, who knows what flight you'll be able to get on and when you'll actually be able to get home? What if the hurricane lasts longer than people expect? I hope you’ve found a comfortable stretch of airport floor to sleep on!
What if you’ve booked with a travel agent?
Chances are, especially if it’s related to weather problems, your travel agent already knows what's going on. In fact, when flights are cancelled due to weather, airlines often send out waivers to agents so they can cancel and rebook flights without incurring penalties!
Okay, that's great. But if weather is that bad what does it matter? My travel agent can’t work miracles right?
Yes and no. Sometimes you need the perfect storm (so to speak). Let’s go back to my example. A hurricane is coming and the Miami airport is closed. You call your travel agent to see if there is anything they can do.
You agent finds that the Miami airport has been closed since early this morning, and it’s 7:00 am now. But wait, they find that the Fort Lauderdale airport is open until 11:00 am! Fort Lauderdale is still sending all their flights out until the hurricane hits. As luck would have it, there’s a flight on the same airline that flies out of Fort Lauderdale into LAX departing in a few hours. Fort Lauderdale is only a half hour from Miami. With the waiver your agent has from the airline she can cancel your old flights and book you new ones without any cost! She puts the flights on hold and jumps back on the phone and to ask if you can make it to Fort Lauderdale. She tells you it's the only option to make it home today. You tell her you can, and she books the flights as you head to Fort Lauderdale. You're back home in no time with the hurricane behind you. Thank goodness you have a travel professional that has your back!
I recount this scenario because I had this almost exact issue with a client involving a hurricane earlier this year. It’s true, Miami was closed, but Fort Lauderdale was open. I was able to rebook them and get the client home, and they were very grateful because the alternative wasn’t good!
That brings us back to the perfect storm type scenario. Many places don’t have airlines that are so close together, and the odds of one airport being open and the other closed for weather reasons when they are in such proximity to each other is slim. However, it worked out perfectly for my client!
What would have happened if he hadn’t booked with Jennifer the superstar travel agent? (Kidding)
Well, to be honest he probably would have spent a night or two in the airport or a nearby hotel (on his dollar) before the airline could have gotten him home. The desk agents at airports are always helpful, but it’s unlikely that any of them would have rebooked a passenger on a flight that flew out of an entirely new airport. Not to imply the workers don’t care or even that they don't know how to do that. It is just that they have hundreds of upset and possibly scared people to re-accommodate, and they simply don’t have the time to look.
Along the same lines as what I had said above, another huge plus you get by booking with an agent is the 24/7 support they frequently employ. In the case that you have an emergency and the office isn’t open, there will be someone available to help. I can’t speak for the smaller agencies, it’s possible they have a third party answering service they utilize. Both of my jobs in travel, however, have a service to help you all hours of the night. I know our clients appreciate it and love it, and it’s always great to know you have someone watching your back and helping you in case of a jam. You don’t have to be alone when you travel!
Wow, I never knew an agent could do so much! Next time I’ll be sure to at least explore the option of booking with one!
Please do! I mean, there are benefits to booking online (which I most likely will explore in a later post), but nothing really can compare to the attention to detail a person can provide! It’s almost like having a personal assistant. Once you call me, it’s as good as done, and you won't have to worry about a thing while traveling.