Why We Really Don’t Want Travel Agents To Die

Travel agents were once considered the dinosaurs of travel, something used before the Internet took over and eliminated the need for them. True, we can book airfare, hotels, car rentals, even cruise vacations online either directly with the supplier or through discount operations like Travelocity, Kayak and others. But should we? These days, the tide seems to be turning as individual and business travelers are turning to a new, relevant travel agent that is good to have around.

“There is no doubt that today’s travellers have more options than ever before; from destinations, packages and pricing to booking methods and itineraries,” Debra Maher, owner of Cruise Holidays said in a Northern Life report. “One of the most important decisions a traveller can make is selecting the right travel agent, to help them get started on the right foot.”

Case in point: American Airlines.
This week, American Airline pilots are expected to authorize their union to call a strike, effectively grounding the airline. In reality, a work stoppage would be weeks off and the White House can intervene to stop a strike, citing the interests of U.S. commerce. But these are the things that make travelers nervous and has those who use travel agents for something as simple as booking an airline ticket happy they did.

“Travel agents are there for their clients before, during and after the trip and when the unexpected happens,” added Maher. “We provide value, expertise, convenience and personal service to our customers and understand that travel planning isn’t just about places, it’s about people.”

It’s not all about handling emergency situations though. For example, the world of business travel is re-discovering the services of travel agents and the benefit of using them as we see in this new video from CNN released this week:

The decision to use a travel agent comes easy when concerned about traveling to places around the world where political unrest, riots or other security matters are of concern. In those situations, sure, we want that extra level of protection and guidance – someone to call to handle it for us.

More commonly, travel agents can offer value that travelers could not get on their own.
That value may translate to lower prices, complimentary upgrades, bonus amenities when traveling and other good things down the line, after booking. That “after booking” part is the unknown, difficult-to-measure factor that eludes many travelers.

“The bottom line is that they know more than you do, they are better connected than you,” said travel expert Larry Olmstead in Forbes, “they have access to benefits you can’t get otherwise, they can often beat any other prices available (even online, yes), and after you have planned everything, they provide a safety net during your trip that you simply won’t get by booking yourself or buying insurance.”

But how do you find a good travel agent?

The process is quite similar to finding a good real estate agent, insurance agent or even a accountant or investment specialist to handle personal finances. Word-of-mouth recommendations from friends are a good place to start but the name of the game is building a long-term business relationship and that takes time.

Looking at a travel agent as the ‘person who handles travel’ like your accountant is the person who ‘handles your taxes’ is the way to go and with every success they have on your behalf, the more their stock goes up as a trusted personal advisor.

Checking with your local Better Business Bureau, a local chamber of commerce or other professional organization like the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) or American Society Of Travel Agents (ASTA) are also good places to begin, even with the recommendation of a friend.

Getting the thumbs up on a potential agent from multiple sources should head you in the right direction to finding one that can be of great value for life.

[Flickr photo by Dan Nguyen @ New York City]

Travel agents on the rebound with insider information

Travel agents, once being run out of business by Internet travel buying options, are making a comeback. Experts agree that using one as part of an overall travel buying strategy is a good idea, if for no other reason than to verify that what we did on our own makes sense. But the ongoing big problem with travel agents is finding a good one that actually does add value to the equation.

“A competent travel adviser can be your greatest asset when you’re planning a trip,” says consumer advocate Chris Elliott. “Good travel agents have an edge over almost any other seller of travel. They know what you want. They speak your language.”

A good, neutral source of information for helping sort out travel agents might also be your local Better Business Bureau who will have a score on any travel agency that has been in business long enough. The Better Business Bureau received more than 7,000 complaints nationally last year against travel agencies and bureaus.

Most complaints relate to consumers being misled by travel offers that failed to deliver or had paid money for travel arrangements that were never made. The Better Business Bureau offers some tips on using travel agents:

  • Ask family and friends to recommend a company they’ve used.
  • Get all vacation details in writing.
  • Verify reservations.
  • Consider travel insurance.
  • Pay with a credit card.
  • Be on the alert for travel scams.

Looking for advice on how to find a good travel agent? Elliott recommends interviewing a certified local agent. “The only way to know for certain if your travel agent is a keeper is to see what happens when you run into trouble,” he says.
“If they leave you hanging or do nothing more than send you the company’s 800-number, they’re not your agent. Chances are, they’re just in it for the commission.”

Some good reasons to use a travel agent, once you find a good one, include:

  • They may have access to deals you can’t get– Travel agents are notified of the latest offers, bargains and discounts first. Connected agents know even more, including what travel options are likely to go up or down in pricing and/or availability, and what can be critical information in a buying decision.
  • They speak the language of the service provider– Anyone who has ever tried to work with airline fare codes, codeshare rules or other cryptic travel speak meant for behind-the-scenes travel pros knows having one in their back pocket can bring huge advantages.
  • They almost always result in a better value- They may not be able to get a ticket to paradise for less than Discount Joe’s Travel Barn but they’ll probably be able to match it and throw in a perk or two that Joe knows nothing about.

Flickr photo by PinkMoose

3 qualities to look for in a cruise travel agent

While there may be other qualities to look for in a travel agent who specializes in cruise vacations, one that can do you some good, three stand out as being critical.


“A good agent should be a combination of the following: Honest, friendly, courteous, caring, knowledgeable, detail oriented, and efficient with a touch of tenacity.” says cruise expert Tim Rubacky from Cruisemates.com.

Having an agent on your side is a lot like having taxes done by an accountant vs. doing it yourself.

Maybe you enjoy the process of doing taxes, are super organized and have the latest tax software to help you. Maybe you’ve been doing it for years and had no problem with it, never been audited, always come out with a refund and have plenty of time to devote to the task.

Even then, using an accountant who lives and breathes taxes, numbers and that sort of thing is a wise move. They will have the most up-to-date training, information and if they’ve been doing it a while, contacts at the IRS. Your accountant speaks their language, knows who to call and what to say (and not say) to gain you the most favorable outcome on a tax issue. Looking ahead, a good accountant can help you plan for the future, take advantage of programs that might apply to you and positively impact your financial situation. When a question comes up, that accountant is your go-to person for answers. They know you, your situation, your history and will have an appropriate answer for you. It’s the personal element of that ongoing business relationship you have with your accountant that makes the difference. Using a good accountant means no bad surprises down the road and often means some good surprises in measurable results.

All of the above can be said for using a good travel agent and are good reasons for using one. Another good reason is for if something goes wrong.

Simply not having the right documentation to enter a country can result in being denied boarding with no refund and no way to get back home. It happens. Saying “I just won’t get off the ship” does not work. Finding out later that someone else got the same exact cruise package for far less than you paid is just bad news. That happens too.

Looking forward to 2011 sailings and beyond, travel agents are privy to the latest, most accurate information about what is likely to happen. They know first about travel alerts and safety concerns that can impact your vacation and offer practical advice from their personal experience that can translate to a far better experience for you.

A agent of good character saves you time and you can greatly benefit from their experience. Finding and keeping a good agent is an ongoing process that you can expedite by asking some revealing questions like “Are you certified?”, “Will I be dealing directly with you?” and others.

“Finding the travel agent that suits you best is much like finding the ship that suits you best, once you find one, the qualities are obvious.” concludes Rubacky.

Does your cruise travel agent pass the test?

There’s an ongoing debate between consumers and those critical of the travel business which struggles to answer the question “Do I need a travel agent or not?”. They’re not required and cruise-related websites make it really easy to click and buy a cruise, much like you might buy an airline ticket. But a good travel agent, one that will bring great value to the table, will have certain qualities required to make the cut. Ask these simple questions to find an agent with the minimum qualifications that make them worthy of your business.

  1. Are you connected? Since you are reading this, you are connected. You need someone who speaks your language in the medium you prefer be that via email, facebook, twitter or maybe just an easy phone call away. Bonus tip: try communicating with an agent via email to provide a written record of what was said, promised or delivered.
  2. Have you been on many cruises? A good travel agent specializing in cruise vacations should have a rich cruise history on multiple cruise lines. You’re looking for their first-hand knowledge and experience dealing with cruise lines, they better have it
  3. Are you certified? They should be at least members of the Cruise Lines International Association and have a few letters after their name like ACC, MCC or ECC showing they went through basic training and then some. If they have one of those, odds are they will tell you about some specialized training they got from the cruise line too. Give big bonus points if they are members of other professional organizations or consortium’s.
  4. How long have you been selling cruises? If they say less than five years forget about them. That’s about the minimum amount of time it takes for agents to really know their way around cruise lines, establish contacts that can do you some good later and have enough bookings behind them to know what they’re doing.
  5. Will I be dealing directly with just you? This one has to be a “yes” answer or the whole thing is not worth your time. To a good agent, their job starts with making the booking and never ends as they work towards building a life-long business relationship with you. If they are not personally following your booking from beginning to end you have the wrong person.