When Using a Travel Agent Can Save You Money


Travel AgentCustomers who left their travel agents in favor of budget websites such as Travelocity or Kayak are coming back, says Aja Stallworth, a leisure travel consultant in San Diego. "Travelers want to have the people they can call and say, 'I'm at the hotel, my room is not good, what do I do?' They want to have a person who help them out."

And it's no wonder. Flying has become more complicated, hotels more competitive, and the best deals and perks increasingly harder to find. But for the average traveler, the ins and outs of working with a travel agent, and knowing when such a relationship is more helpful than not, remains a mystery.

Leaving on a Jet Plane... or a Cruise Ship... or a Road Trip

Have a trip in mind? No matter your tastes, there's a travel agent who caters to them.

According to the American Society of Travel Agents, travel agents still book 85% of all cruises, 70% of all tours and packages, 50% of all airline tickets, 30% of all hotels and 25% of all car rentals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 63,500 travel agents in the U.S., many of whom specialize in niche areas of travel.

Many believed that travel portals would wipe out travel agents. Yet that hasn't happened: Agents booked $95 billion in travel sales in 2011 -- approximately one-third of the overall $284 billion U.S. travel industry.

Most of those bookings were for corporate clients; agencies specializing in business travel recovered more quickly from the recession than those focusing on leisure travel.

But leisure travel is also making a comeback, and individuals and families are seeking the same level of service as their corporate counterparts.

When You'll Pay Extra (and How Much)

How and when an agent is paid, and by whom, is one of the most important things for first-time and potential customers to understand. Visions of hidden charges and fears of overpaying linger. But unlike the various hidden charges on air travel imposed by the airlines directly (such as for checked baggage, food, and taxes), agents' fees are fairly transparent.

The average travel agent charges approximately $35 for what are generically termed "airline services," which can be anything from booking a flight to being on hand if there are rebooking needs for inclement weather or cancellation issues. Since the U.S. legacy airlines no longer give a commission to travel agents, customers might see that $35 as part of their overall charge when they book a flight through an agent.

Sometimes the extra fee is worth it. Randi Sumner, an association executive from New Jersey, says that she always uses a travel agent when flying between November and February. "During that time of year, I know there's a very good chance my flight will be delayed or canceled due to inclement weather," she says. "Even I'm already at the airport, it's easier to call my travel agent to be rebooked than compete with all the other passengers fighting for an airline representative's attention."

When You'll Save

The leisure traveler booking a standard package of flight, hotel, and rental car will rarely see a fee, Stallworth says, and booking them together through an agent will often offer substantial savings. Many agents have relationships with the larger hotel chains, which pay the agents their commissions directly. As a result of these relationships, agents can frequently arrange late check-outs, airport pick-ups, breakfasts, and other perks free of charge to you.

Agents have similar relationships with international airlines, which still pay commissions. Agents can frequently get a client a preferred flight, lounge access, preferred boarding, and other perks, all for no extra charge.

And, Stallworth says, more often than not the savings will more than offset any fees the client might see.

Motley Fool contributing writer Molly McCluskey does not own positions in any of the companies mentioned. Follow her finance and travel tweets on Twitter at @MollyEMcCluskey.

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Great article. The internet has brought us many terrific things but in some verticals - like travel - the over-automation of some processes and experiences is leading to a much worse user experience both while booking a service and and later we use it (as we may have booked the "wrong" thing). More and more the need for a "come back" of the travel agents is being pointed out. In this article mostly for financial reasons, but in other cases for the value added in finding and booking the right trip experience for each different client. Fortunately a few new services are coming online to support this "come back". Maitaiz.com is one of those.

January 26 2013 at 5:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

For years, i used to get my plane tickets directly from the airlines, but, my cruises, always used a Travel Agent...Now, this is what I do now...Will look on the Web. at airline prices, schedules etc..get the best price...Same with Cruises...Print out...Take it to your Travel Agent, and Guarentee he/she will either match or bet the price, and..if any problems, you talk with a LIVE PERSON whom you know..Your travel Agent..Try that if you go on Line...The only thing I found that cost,is the charge for handling the Plane tickets..Usually $35..Well worth it, if you find out your plane has problems at the airport..Only one call, you Agent, They will book you or handle your problem for you, way before the other passengers try to figure out what to do..

June 24 2012 at 5:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Another ad this is not an article.

June 24 2012 at 3:13 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I have used foreign travel agents for my last few trips. I found that if you are traveling overseas from the US ,that there is a higher price for Americans than for others. By using a travel agent located in the country that you are going to you can be assured that you will pay a lower price. I have never been disappointed, in fact in most cases I was pleasantly suprised at the hotel selections and the personal service.

June 24 2012 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No way,try CheapTickets.com it is legit and no problems.

June 24 2012 at 12:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Darby&Allen's comment

Better stick to a travel agent...if you do not agree, wait till you have a problem on vac. with air lines or cruise ships...You will have no ''PERSON' to talk to if not handled by a Tavel Agent..

June 24 2012 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Many, if not most travel agents are inexperienced in the complexities of travel and hotel bookings. It is an easy entry job for bored housewives like interior decorator or real estate agent.
I have never been satisfied with using a travel agent and for the last 30 years have booked my own travel and hotel accomodations. It's my money and my choices and I do much better than these so called agents.

June 24 2012 at 7:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jeviga's comment

Just wait till your Plane is cancelled, and you are at the airport...Good Luck, or anyother problems...Oh, if there are, just call YOURSELF. and straighten it out...

June 24 2012 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mad Dog

By booking my own Transportation and Hotels I have saved a lot of money. Travel agents charge extra for their services or they get a booking fees which you are also charged for. Either way you pay more by using a Travel agent.

June 23 2012 at 8:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Had airline problems on one trip -- and had to buy extra ticket for $580. I would have never gotten my money back if it had not been for my travel agent. They are worth every cent they earn. Marilou Nelson, Texarkana, AR

June 23 2012 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Kathy Kalotta

Don't use expedia. If fares change they will not adjust unless it is within 24 hrs of booking. My air fare droped $60.00 and they will not change it. The airline would if you book directly with them.

June 22 2012 at 12:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply