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When and Why You Need A Travel Agent

In this age of DIY travel planning, does it make sense to work with a travel agent? It looks like more travelers think so. According to a recent survey by TNS Global, 25 percent of US travelers reported using a travel agent, and the number is climbing.

A recent study commissioned by the American Society of Travel Agents revealed similar results. “The number of travelers using agents is definitely on the rise,” says Jennifer Michels Jones, vice president of communications for the American Society of Travel Agents. “And, we found that those who use a travel agent are, by far, more satisfied when returning from vacation than those who don’t.”

Ready to plan your next getaway? According to Boston Globe correspondents Diane Bair and Pamela Wright, here are five top reasons why you should consider using a travel advisor.

They can save you money.

Even transactional agents, those who simply book airline tickets and hotels, can save you money; they know the tricks of the trade and keep abreast of changing nuances. “Believe it or not, the majority of the time, they can beat the Internet on the best deals,” says Jones.

But, more often than not, it’s not about beating a price but getting more value for your money. For example, a friend of his recently snagged a luxury hotel in Las Vegas online for $129 a night. Later, he asked his travel agent if she could beat the price. She couldn’t beat the rate, but she could get him a room at the same hotel for $145 a night, that included breakfast, a $100 resort credit, and a room upgrade. That was a better deal.

Most of the time, your savings or added value will more than cover the typical $25 to $30 booking fee that agents may charge. And about those fees: “There’s really no set fee structure,” says Jones. “They can range from $25 to $100.” For more complicated trip planning, some will charge a plan-to-go fee averaging $150 to $200, depending on the complexities and details of the trip. Plus, not every service has a charge, as they usually get paid through the vendors they book.

They can get you out of trouble.

Ever been stranded in an airport during a snowstorm? Re-routed to another city? Left scrambling after a cancelled flight? A good agent will already know what’s happening. You may still be in the air and they’re looking at your itinerary and re-routing you before you even land. That’s a lot of hassle avoidance, and a little peace of mind knowing that someone has your back.

They simplify and interpret the vast universe of choices.

We love the process of planning a trip, culling through books and online sites, talking with friends and families, the dreaming of it is all part of the fun. But having an expert on hand to work with us on the decision-making and planning details is a bonus. “People don’t go to a travel advisor to get more information. Information is ubiquitous; there’s an overload,” says Matthew Upchurch, CEO of the luxury travel network, Virtuoso. “They go to get clarity.” A travel advisor will ask the right questions, and team up with you to plan the best trip.

You can use their global expertise and connections.

Travel advisors are well-traveled, and most have firsthand experience with popular destinations across the globe. “The average ASTA agent has been to more than 65 countries,” says Jones. But, no one can know everything about everywhere, and that’s why most agents spend effort and time cultivating relationships and building a global network. If they don’t know the best place to watch the sun set in Algarve or the best bouillabaisse in Marseilles, they likely know someone on the ground who does.

They’ll develop your dream plan.

The best advisors get to know you well. They become specialists in you. They find out what you liked and didn’t like on your last trip. They ask questions: "You only have five summers left with your children before they graduate; where would you like to go?" They start coming up with ideas; they craft your dream list, and they start to plan further ahead.

“Multi-year travel planning is one of the most valuable things a travel advisor can offer,” says Upchurch. “Where are you in your life stage? Where do you dream of going? They can put together a plan not just for your next trip or two but for the next five or more years. With that kind of planning, not only can they develop a much more personalized plan, but also one with greater value.”

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