Contrary to popular belief, travel agents are not going the way of the dinosaur. In fact, an experienced travel agent can put together a great vacation experience for you and save you money at the same time.
Here are four reasons to consider consulting a travel agent and four ways you can find a reputable agent to work with.
Reasons to Consult With a Travel Agent
You Don't Want to Handle the Daily Details
A good travel agent can help you plan almost every aspect of your trip, relieving you of the burden of figuring out how to get to the airport or how to get your suitcase onto a train in Florence, Italy. You could, of course, research and organize these details yourself, but a travel agent who knows the area you plan to visit can make your life easier by creating your itinerary and booking flights, ground transportation, hotels and tours for you.
You Aren't Comfortable Researching and Booking Your Trip Online
While using the Internet to plan your vacation can save you money, it is not a straightforward experience. Some airlines, such as Southwest, do not work with fare aggregators such as Kayak, nor do they share fare information with online travel agencies like Expedia and Travelocity. Sorting through dozens of cruise websites can be confusing, not to mention headache-inducing. Travel agents are trained to use multiple reservation systems and can help you find destinations you will enjoy that match your travel budget.
You Are Planning a Cruise Vacation
Travel agents often have access to cruise discounts, incentives, and packages you cannot find on your own. When planning a cruise, consider meeting with a travel agent, particularly if you are booking your cruise a year or more in advance.
You Have Mobility or Medical Issues
If you have a medical condition or mobility issue, working with a specialized travel agent can help you find tours, cruises, and accommodations that match your needs and abilities.
How to Find Reputable Travel Agents
Ask Family and Friends
Talk about your travel plans with family members and friends. Ask if they have ever used a travel agent and whether they would recommend the agent they used.
Consult a Professional Organization
Groups such as the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) , Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA) offer online directories of member agents. You can search by geographical location, destination or specialty, such as cruises or accessible travel to find a travel agent who knows how to plan the type of trip you would like to take.
Check Your Memberships
AAA, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), AARP, Costco, Sam's Club and BJ's all offer travel services. The big box stores' travel offerings include cruises, tours and hotel and rental car discounts. AAA and CAA have full-service travel agencies in local offices; you can also use their online travel services. AARP works with a full-service travel agency, Liberty Travel, to help members book their trips.
Use the Internet to Find a Specialized Travel Agent
If you have mobility issues or chronic health conditions, you may want to work with a travel agent who specializes in arranging travel for people with disabilities or specific health concerns. For example, Sage Traveling specializes in European travel for persons with disabilities. Flying Wheels Travel focuses on tours, cruises and independent travel for persons with disabilities or chronic illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis, and can arrange for a travel companion. Mind's Eye Travel puts together tours and cruises for visually impaired and blind travelers. Accessible Journeys offers tours, cruises and independent travel opportunities around the world for people who use wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility aids.
Prepare Questions in Advance
When you talk with a prospective travel agent, be ready to ask some questions. For example:
Are you certified? By whom?
Which types of travel are your specialty?
How much experience do you have in booking the types of trips I'm interested in?
What types of transaction fees do you charge?
If I need to change my trip dates, will I have to pay a fee? Can I get a refund if I have to cancel my plans?
What travel documents will I need?
How do I contact you if things go wrong during my trip? What will you do to assist me?
Can you suggest some ways I can save money on my trip, perhaps by flying on a different day or choosing a discounted travel package?
Discuss Your Budget
Be up front about your travel budget. Your travel agent will appreciate your candor.
Be Honest About Mobility Issues
If you are a slow walker or use a mobility aid, tell your travel agent exactly what you can and cannot do. Do not say that you can go up steps or walk three miles in a day if you have difficulty doing so. Being honest about your mobility will allow your travel agent to match tours, cruises and independent itineraries to your actual abilities, giving you the opportunity to truly enjoy your vacation.