A favorite Disney podcast, WDWToday, introduced me to the fact that many travel agents are, in fact, free. What?! Who pays them? Well, the cruise line or whomever or whatever you end up booking. Doesn't that mean that their prices will always be more than what you can get on the cruise line's or Disney's official sites? Actually, no. The price is going to be the exact same, if not cheaper because of a group rate or a discount that they are willing to find for you that someone working for the company might not be willing to do. If you book with the cruise line or official site, they just keep the amount set aside for commission and pay those who handle their bookings with it. So, what are the advantages of using a travel agent in this day and age? I am glad you asked.
1. You have someone working for YOU.
When you book with a good travel agent, they have your best interests at heart. They want you to have the best trip possible, so they will try to get you the best rate they can find, the best stateroom location, and give you tips for your trip. A critic might say, "why would they be working for you when they are getting paid by the cruise line etc.?" Yes, just like the cruise line agent on the phone or the guy working the Internet site for Travelocity, they are getting paid by the cruise line, but unlike those people, they want your repeat business. Travel agents thrive when they have loyal clients, while those others just rely on simple volume. That in itself is an incentive for a personal travel agent to provide better service and to work on your behalf, not the vacation providers'.
An example: on a recent cruise, we got a shore excursion discount email. The cruise line didn't want to uphold it, claiming that it was a mass email that we got by chance (even though it had our names and sailing date on it.) Our travel agent called and called again until she spoke with a supervisor who would uphold the discount offered to us. If I had booked through the cruise line, either I would have had to call and fight with management or more likely, I would have relied on the person I booked with, who would have likely just spouted whatever the cruise line had told them. A good travel agent is your advocate, which leads me to my next point....
2. A travel agent is indispensible if something goes wrong.
Imagine that you have booked a cruise online and something happens, preventing you from boarding the ship in time. Exactly that happened to a client of my travel agent. Her flight was delayed, and she got to Port Canaveral after the ship had sailed. She called her travel agent, who was then able to reach the cruise line and convince them to allow the money they had paid to go toward a future cruise, then booked them a wonderful trip to Disney World on the fly, saving their vacation. Sure, it might have been possible to do those things on your own in a time of amazing stress and from an airport, but someone else that she already had a relationship with and trusted (and had considerable knowledge on the subject) did it for her.
3. You have a personal contact for questions (and much more)
Any stupid question you have, a good travel agent will make it their duty to try and answer. And considering the amount of knowledge that they usually have on the destination, ship or hotel, they can probably answer questions you didn't even knew you had. Not only that, but as you continue to book with them, they get to know your likes and dislikes etc. and can help steer you in the right direction for future vacations. They can send you deals on your favorite ships or places certainly before you would likely hear about them just by searching the Internet in passing.
4. They handle all the details
Okay, this one is self-explanatory, but wouldn't it be nice to handle all your travel needs with one phone call, rather than having to search around on Internet sites for the best deal, book everything, (including even the little things like dining reservations at Disney) and remember to follow through on final payment deadlines etc.? When you use a travel agent, they do all of that, including reminding you of those important dates you might let slip. You can be assured that all those little things will be taken care of in a timely manner, and just worry about the fun stuff.
The Other Side/ A Couple of Caveats
Not every travel agent is a good one. Because it is fairly easy to become a travel agent with some agencies, you could end up with a dud. Extensive training is not always required, and knowledge on a certain destination or subject cannot be assumed. Some people sign up just for the travel discounts and do it as a hobby, so they might not care about repeat business like a good agent would. A quick Internet search can provide reviews of most agencies, and if you don't get the information you are seeking, ask the agent for referrals or about their background. Good agents will be happy to provide that information.
Also, not all travel agents work solely on commission; some do charge for certain services. You are most likely to come across this in agents who work with a luxury clientele, and it should be very clearly stated upfront either on their website or in conversation. I have nothing against these agents, they just don't tend to be what I prefer to work with. If an agent does plan above and beyond commissionable travel like personalized, in-depth foreign itineraries with museum tickets and more, then a fee could certainly be fair. You just want to make sure you know ahead of time.
The Bottom Line
Even for a seasoned traveler who is computer-savvy, a good travel agent is an invaluable asset. The right one will above and beyond to make sure your vacation is perfectly suited to you and goes off without a hitch. It should also be at the most affordable rate available and, as previously discussed, is at no extra fee. You gain an advocate who handles all the details for you. What about people like me who LOVE to plan the details of their vacation? No problem! Again, a good travel agent knows your preferences and will step back and let you handle the things you enjoy, just answering questions when asked. So why pay the exact same rate to spend all that time doing the research yourself? Take the leap and find a great travel agent today!