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Do I still need a travel agent? | The bank rate

Thanks to the ease of the internet, travel agents can seem like a thing of the past. These days, with easy access to airline, hotel and vacation rental websites, it’s simple to arrange a trip on your own with the click of a few buttons and your credit card details. And OTAs (online travel agencies) like Expedia or Kayak have also replaced travel agents as middlemen between consumers and hotels, airlines, and car rental companies.

But travel agents are not extinct. A 2020-2021 survey by Condor Ferries showed that 55% of millennials and 28% of baby boomers would consider hiring travel experts to help them plan their trips.

Travel agents are always relevant, especially when it comes to certain types of travel. You can always benefit from the connections and expertise of a travel agent for business, group, luxury or special occasion travel. Also, beginners or those just not interested in research might prefer to have an agent take care of things. Or, if you’re traveling to a remote location, it may be worth hiring a destination expert to organize your trip.

Travel agents have evolved

Although travel agents continue to provide value, the travel agent concept is now manifesting itself in a new way. Physical travel agencies are not the norm. Instead, you can use a credit card concierge service, destination specialist, or luxury online agency (not the same as an OTA like Expedia or Kayak).

Many agents have rebranded themselves as “travel counselors” or “travel experts.” For example, Fora Travel is a modern technology-based agency that uses expert advisors to help customers organize their trips. Another company, Origin, creates bespoke luxury vacation experiences based on survey responses. Virtuoso provides luxury travel destination specialists offering curated advice and planning in the vacation location of your choice. Many of the best travel credit cards offer concierge services that help travelers arrange travel, accommodations, and tours, and they even help with travel emergencies or issues.

Here’s everything you need to know about travel agents in 2022 to help you decide whether or not you want to use one.

What travel agents do

Travel agents, often called travel consultants, help you plan and book trips. This includes personalized assistance with booking and booking airline tickets, hotels, excursions, cruises, tours, restaurant reservations, travel insurance, transportation, and more. They can also help you organize things like visas or documents needed to enter a country.

The key word here is personalization. Travel agents organize and book your trip exactly as you wish, taking into account your personal preferences, budget and specific needs. Travel agents often specialize in particular destinations or have relationships with hotels or tour guides, which can lead to things like room upgrades, better rates, or VIP experiences.

Travel agents can be invaluable when things go wrong. If you have a medical emergency, visa issue, flight cancellation, or even a natural disaster, they will work quickly to help and provide solutions.

Average cost of using a travel agent

The cost of using a travel agent varies wildly, as there are many types of travel agents and travel advisors.

Before the pandemic, many travel agents’ services were actually free, as they earned a percentage of the trips they booked paid for by airlines and hotels. However, post-pandemic, when many companies in the travel industry struggled to recover (as well as the changing landscape of travel agents in general), kickbacks from these suppliers became less common. .

Some agents charge a percentage fee, ranging from 5-15% of the cost of the trip. Others may charge a flat rate, ranging from $100 to $500 on average. You may have to pay an hourly rate for travel agents to research, plan or arrange your trip. Agents may also ask for a deposit which will be returned to you once you have completed your trip.

Be sure to find out about an agent’s fee structure right away, so you don’t waste their time or yours if it’s not the right fit. If you can’t find an agent with fees you think are fair, remember that they can save you a lot of money. Paying a travel agent $200 to save $400 on airfare or getting a $600 cruise upgrade means you’ll come out on top. Likewise, if you’d rather avoid an agent’s fee, you might consider a credit card concierge service, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.

The case of using a travel agency

Here are some of the reasons you might want to use a travel agent:

  • To save money. Although agents may charge a fee, you could still benefit financially from using them. According to the Condor Ferries survey, travel agencies can save customers, on average, $452 per trip because they have access to promotions and offers from suppliers that the average traveler does not.
  • Important trips. You’ll want to make sure your honeymoon or 50th anniversary trip is perfectly planned.
  • Long, distant, luxury or extended trip. It might be useful for someone with expert or destination knowledge to plan that Antarctica cruise, Bhutan trek, or two-month Galapagos expedition. If you want all the bells and whistles and money isn’t an issue, a travel agent may be able to get you to the most popular hotels, tours, and places.
  • Upgrades, perks and extras. Travel agents have connections that the general public does not. Through a travel agent’s relationships and partnerships, you can get hotel upgrades, VIP treatment, connecting rooms, free breakfast, or other perks.
  • Curated experiences you never knew existed. A destination expert might find you experiences you might never have discovered on your own, like an insider, an after-hours tour of Cambodian ruins, or a vintage car rental in Italy.
  • Emergency services. Trips don’t always go as planned, and agents can help you when you need help.
  • Are you a beginner or don’t have the time?. If navigating the world of online travel feels overwhelming or you just want someone to take care of it for you, travel agents make the process easier.

The case for planning your own trip

  • Use points and miles. If you want to use credit card points, airline miles or hotel points, using a travel agent may not be the best solution, at least for airfares and hotels . However, if you really need help, Niche Advisors can best advise you on booking using your points and miles or using your reserve to book for you.
  • Price. Although agents can sometimes save you money, some may charge high fees. Avoid this by booking your own trip.
  • Control. Sometimes you just want to control your own travel plans.
  • Fulfillment/pleasuret. Some people love not to book trips. It may look like a game to find the best price or score an upgrade.
  • Find the right agent. Finding the right travel agent, advisor or expert can take time. In these cases, booking on your own may be more convenient.

Can a travel credit card concierge replace a travel agent?

The short answer is…sort of. Some credit cards offer free concierge services that can help you with some of the things a travel agent typically does.

Although a travel credit card concierge cannot completely replace a travel agent, they can certainly help you with specific aspects of your trip. In some cases, the benefits seem vague, so it’s worth calling the concierge and seeing if they can help you with your specific problem or need. However, in most cases they probably won’t be able to plan and book an entire vacation for you.

Do credit card, airline, and hotel benefits apply when using a travel agency?

It should be noted that banks like Chase code travel agents as a travel purchase, which means that depending on the card you use to purchase, the travel agent fee should be eligible for bonus points if your code offers enhanced rewards on travel category.

Some travel benefits should still work for you even if a travel agent books your trip. For example, you will have access to the lounge if your credit card allows it, regardless of who booked your flight ticket or which airline or class you are traveling in. As long as you use the correct card to pay for the trip, it doesn’t matter whether you or the travel agent physically made the purchase.

While you should still earn airline miles and have your airline elite status recognized if a travel agent has booked your plane ticket for you, you may or may not earn hotel loyalty brand points. The same goes for recognition of your hotel elite status. It is best to discuss this directly with your agent or call the hotel to confirm, as each case may be different.

Using a travel agency is a personal choice that only you can make

Travel agents can still add value, even though their role has changed over the years from in-person assistance to online assistance. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to use one, but the first thing to consider is whether a concierge on one of your travel cards can help you. If you need more in-depth assistance, contacting a travel agent might be right for you. If not, there are plenty of online resources, including Bankrate articles, that can point you in the right direction to booking your own trip, especially if you want to use your points and miles.

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