Mention the phrase "travel agent" to many travelers, regardless of age, and they can't imagine why they would ever use one. It's easier and faster than ever to book a hotel, airline ticket or car rental online, and there are user reviews everywhere, so why would anyone need an agent? We found out when we looked at some of the myths about how they work.
1. I can easily book the same trip on my own without using a travel agent.
Sure, you can book a trip yourself, but it may not be the same trip that you'd get through a travel agent.
"If they book it themselves, they're just a credit card number" to a travel supplier, says Anne Morgan Scully, president of McCabe World Travel, a Virtuoso agency in McLean, Va. "I make a point of knowing the general manager of the hotel where they might be staying and I usually call the GM the night before one of my clients arrives and see if they might be upgraded. If they book with a good agent, they're known on arrival."
Agents are especially useful on specialized trips, whether it's a honeymoon, a cruise or an adventure travel vacation.
"Anyone can book a hotel room and a rental car but I sell romantic trips and adventure travel to Africa," says Jonathan Haraty of Jon's Dive & Travel Services in East Longmeadow, Mass., a Tripology agency. "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. That's one reason you need an agent."
Much of Haraty's time is spent working with honeymoon clients and helping them decide which resort is right for them.
"They can read all of the hotel and resort reviews on the Web that they want," he says. "But will they really be happy at an all-inclusive resort? Do they plan to go out every night? What kind of room do they really want? The answers aren't readily available on the internet."
Both Scully and Haraty note two things that agents can do better than just about anyone else. A good agent is often able to get a hotel room when the hotel website or front desk says that they're "full."
"It's simply knowing who to call," says Scully.
And when you're stranded because of a canceled or delayed flight, there's nothing like e-mailing or texting your travel agent to get you on another flight. They can often do it much faster than the airline.