Discount travel sites may promise you the lowest airfare to Dubai. But they won't give you a free upgrade to first class.
Hotel review sites will let you read 100 travelers' opinions of shower curtains and breakfast buffets. But they won't give you personalized recommendations for the best resort to spend your honeymoon.
Travel agents have the power to make your overseas vacation better, easier and sometimes cheaper — even after paying their fees. If you're wondering, "Why use a travel agent?" here are five situations where it just makes sense.
When you travel overseas, you're a tourist. Nobody knows you (and you may like it that way). Experienced travel agents, on the other hand, are known around the world. When an agent makes your travel arrangements, she's probably selecting hotels or resorts where she has traveled herself, or has a good relationship with the management. One agent tells USA Today that she personally calls the manager of a hotel the night before her clients arrive to request a free upgrade.1 Travel agents may arrange to surprise you with a fruit basket or a free spa treatment. Or they may have the connections to obtain a room when the hotel's officially full.
If you're planning to stay in an all-inclusive resort, you'll probably be able to plan the trip yourself. But if you're going to a less-traveled destination, or trying to organize an overseas trip with many moving parts — a cross-country tour of Thailand, for instance — a travel agent is indispensable. "Do you want to take a chance on booking your own hotel or safari camp in Africa? Will someone be there to pick you up in the airport in Nairobi? I know people who've been stranded when they arrive," Jonathan Haraty of Massachusetts agency Jon's Dive & Travel Services tells USA Today.2
Niche travel agents specialize in particular types of international trips. Taking a mission trip or a spiritual pilgrimage? A travel agent may be able to get you discounted airfare or open-ended tickets. Planning a gay or lesbian wedding overseas? A travel agent can help you find a welcoming destination with all the amenities you need. Traveling with small children? You can trust a travel agent to find hotels that will treat them like Prince George and Princess Charlotte. And if your travel group includes people who have limited mobility or physical challenges, there's a whole world of agents who craft custom vacations for clients with disabilities.
Take a tip from millennials: If you want something done right, you should definitely not do it yourself. Millennials outsource everything they can: dinner to GrubHub, chores to TaskRabbit, laundry to Washio. That's why more of them are using travel agents to plan vacations.
According to MMGY Global’s 2014 Portrait of the American Traveler, 28 percent of millennials surveyed had used a travel agent in the previous 12 months, and 30 percent said they planned to use one in the next two years. Just 15 percent of Gen X consumers and 13 percent of baby boomers said they had recently used a travel agent.3
Why are travel agents so popular with millennials? They like using a travel agent to ensure their vacation experience is more than just sightseeing, travel consultant Alexa Bermudez tells Travel Weekly. “They want something that is local and ethnic,” she says. “Things that make them feel really in touch with the environment they’re visiting.”4
Every long trip — especially international trips — will have some stressful moments. The hotel clerk may charge you $600 more than you were quoted. Or the tour operator may claim to have no record of your reservation. If you want to avoid arguments and anxiety on your vacation, you should use a travel agent. Your agent will retain all the records related to your trip, and if there's a conflict, you can simply ask him or her to sort things out.
Some people prefer to retain a feeling of control over their travel plans. In one recent survey from the American Society of Travel Agents, 79 percent of people who don't use an agent say they enjoy organizing travel, and 72 percent think they can do a better job themselves.5 If that sounds like you, consider taking a vacation from planning vacations. You just may love it.
And remember, the best way to retain peace of mind when traveling overseas is by protecting your vacation with travel insurance.