Updated: Jun 9, 2020
When people find out what I do for a living, I get a lot of interesting responses. Often, they tilt their head to one side and say, “Hmmm… I didn’t realize people use travel agents anymore.” Sometimes it’s followed with a comment such as “Wow, you must travel for free.” (I wish!) While what it means to be a travel agent has certainly changed over the last few decades, a well-educated and seasoned travel agent can be an invaluable (and often free) resource.
Various sources report that on average, people spend 10-25 hours planning their vacation each year. When you are planning a vacation to a destination that you are unfamiliar with, it can take even longer. Working with a travel agent can dramatically reduce the time you spend planning and also make the process more enjoyable and less stressful. The best way to think of a travel agent is your personal guide to the perfect vacation experience. You enjoy the vacation with none of the leg-work. There are differences among travel agency services so here are a few key features to look for that will help with your selection.
Cost-effective: Everyone wants a great vacation within their budget so potential cost is a factor when considering adding on a travel agent’s service. Don’t be shy about asking about agency fees. Agencies should be willing to disclose this information. All online travel prices contain a built-in commission for travel agents. Balance any fees against potential savings available to travel agents since they have access to special flight prices and hotel and cruise cabin rates that consumers will never find online themselves.
The good news is that fee-free travel agents exist – I am one of them! Booking your vacation with me will cost the same (or less!) as it would if you book on your own online or by phone. But, when you book with me, you get expert planning, a single point of contact for all your questions, attention to detail, problem-solving, discount monitoring and the same TLC I put into my own vacations. I receive that built-in commission mentioned above a couple of months after your vacation. In a way, I become an extension of the travel provider’s staff.
Flexible: What’s your travel planning style? Some clients LOVE being involved in planning their vacations – they know where they want to go and what they want to do – they just want someone to take care of all of the details. Other clients have an overall vision but are unsure about destination and activities and don’t have time to explore – they want the agent to research and provide options that match their vision. Adjusting to and being able to service many different travel styles requires flexibility and expertise within an agency.
I am accustomed to and enjoy working with a mixture of the client profiles above. I am happy to book travel logistics only if you choose to plan all other details. Or I can research, plan and book all travel and activities from end to end based on your wish list. This saves you time and you get the benefit of my entire portfolio of services and expertise. Or I’m happy to provide something in between that is tailored to your needs. It’s up to you to determine what will make your vacation planning stress free.
Experienced: Ask the agent about destinations they’ve visited and training they have received to ensure their level of experience matches your needs. Look for someone who invests their time in researching and exploring popular travel destinations in person so you have confidence that they can guide you and make recommendations based on first-hand experience.
While I don’t travel for free, I choose to invest my time and money visiting and researching the destinations that I recommend. In the past 12 months, I have traveled 9 times to 17 destinations and 29 different resorts/hotels. I observe, take notes, try different hotels, restaurants and activities so I can provide you with valuable recommendations that match your vacation dreams.
I am proud to have earned the title of specialist for many of the destinations I book. I’m also IATA accredited and a Certified Travel Associate (CTA). The agency I am affiliated with is an authorized Disney Vacation Planner earning “Diamond Earmarked” status and has earned elite status with other travel providers such as Mark Travel, Apple Vacations, Vacation Express, Sandals, Delta Vacations, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruise Line and AMResorts. Within our agency, I am in the top 10% in terms of sales and growth.
Honest: It’s sometimes challenging for travel agents to always be able to obtain the best price or value on all travel services. Let them know that if they feel you can get a better rate on your own for a specific service (i.e. rental car), you expect them to be transparent.
Over 70% of my business comes from referrals. I earn those referrals by providing consistently honest and valuable advice and services. In most cases, I can provide great prices for vacation packages that either match or are lower than online offers. If I cannot be competitive on an element of your trip, I will advise you to book this piece on your own and provide advice on how to get the best deal from a reliable source.
Specialized: Travel agents are typically specialized or have experience in specific niches. If you have a specific destination in mind, ask about their level of experience. Find out their specialties to see if any match your destination preferences to ensure you receive top-level service and experience.
It’s no coincidence that the destinations I specialize in are my favorite places to visit! In my case, I specialize in all Disney destinations (land and sea), all-inclusive tropical vacations, Alaskan cruises/cruise tours and European travel. However, my connections and resources are wide. If you plan to travel to a destination I don’t specialize in, I will recommend an agent who would be a perfect match to assist with your vacation planning.
Accessible: Find out how accessible the agent will be during planning and while on your trip. Even after booking, many questions arise as you prepare to travel, and sometimes travel does not go as planned, so you need someone that is available to assist at any time. Some agencies have an after-hours toll-free number to call that provide access to a call center vs. direct contact with your travel agent.
My policy is to be available to you 24/7 while you are traveling. If anything comes up (unexpected travel dilemma or general questions that I can help with), I’m a cell phone call or text away. I personally answer all of your questions and solve problems myself to ensure you get the best experience from end to end.
Hopefully, these tips to selecting a travel agent demystifies some misconceptions and communicates some of the advantages of using a travel agent.
Assisting families, couples and friends plan memorable and stress-free vacations is very rewarding. My goal is to build lasting relationships with clients and become their trusted travel advisor. Email me for a FREE Travel Planning Checklist for a list of things to think about and discuss before contacting a travel agent then give me a call to get started on your next travel adventure!
Holly Poast, CTA is an agent/independent contractor with Magical Moments Vacations specializing in Disney Destinations (land and sea), the Caribbean, select European Markets and Alaska. Ready to plan your next adventure? Contact Holly for inspiration and complimentary concierge-style vacation planning services!