Tuesday night, 11pm. You have ten tabs open to find the perfect not-too-expensive hotel, another five open to monitor changing airline traffic and a three-year-old guidebook you picked up at the library propped open with a mug of coffee. It will all be worth the pain once you go on a trip you'll brag about at every company cocktail party in the coming year.
This is when you could use a luxe travel agent. Right?
Back before the internet and flight aggregators made DIY planning the norm, travel agents were your golden ticket to the perfect trip. They had the airline connections to snag you window seats on a non-stop flight to Paris, and they could comb through hotel options to find the perfect boutique bed for you that wouldn't cost the same price as a designer dress.
Using a travel agent doesn't guarantee you a perfect trip, no questions asked. In the spirit of better travel, we've gathered the biggest myths about travel agents to probe what the real deal is behind the itineraries.
1. How much will using a travel agency cost me?2. Will my travel agent only recommend places where they have connections?3. Hasn't the internet made travel agencies obsolete?4. Don't travel agents only book package tours?5. My travel agent will do all the planning for me, right?6. Will my travel agent have visited all the places they recommend?7. Will my travel agent get me the best seats on the plane?8. I thought travel agents only booked package trips?
MYTH #1: Using A Travel Agency Will Cost Me Oodles Of Money
TRUTH: It Depends On The Travel Agency You Work With.
Let's say you Google "travel agency near me" in hopes of finding someone to help plan your trip. You may pay a flat-rate or an hourly fee. These can range from $500 per trip or $20 per hour. According to Travel + Leisure, a customized itinerary with LGBT-focused travel agent David Rubin will incur a $250 non-refundable "travel designing" free.
At some travel agencies, these fees can then be applied to your trip, though this is more true of agents who work on commission than those who are coming up with a personalized itinerary.
Then there are the agencies whose terms and conditions read like a price list at a nail salon. At this Spanish-specialized travel agency, domestic airline tickets are charged an issue fee of $45 and international ones get $65. Name changes cost $50, while telephone calls and faxes incur fees. And this is on top of your $150 research fee, which is charged per couple of people on a given trip.
If you're looking to work with a travel agency with a high-level of customization that does more than just book you hotels, tours and airplane tickets, this price is likely to be on the higher then. This is in part because most travel agencies make money through commissions and NOT through customers.
MYTH #2: A Travel Agent Works On Commission, So Will Only Recommend The Places Where They Get A High Percentage.
TRUTH: Your Travel Agent Wants You Have A Good Time, And For You To Become A Repeat Customer.
A travel agent won't recommend a snorkeling trip if you mentioned you hate swimming or book you at ultra-luxe restaurants if you're on a budget. That being said, the unique travel agency business model means travel agents will source "perfect for you" activities from a limited range of clients.
Each travel agency belongs to a union-like group called a "consortium," which negotiates favorable commissions for member agencies. The most prominent consortia are Virtuoso, Signature Travel Network, Ensemble Travel Group and Vacation.com. Joining a consortium helps travel agents negotiate better commissions. In theory, this means cheaper prices and better perks for you the customer.
Unfortunately, most individual agencies are extremely opaque about how their consortium membership benefits you. And that's if they advertise it at all! Most memberships are by application or invitation, which theoretically assures quality. Since each consortium confers special perks to each agency, finding out which consortium they belong to can help you figure out if the agency you're working with is a good match for your trip goals.
Most tour companies and cruises offer tiered commission percentages for travel agents. These percentages are based on the overall yearly sales of each travel agency as a whole. For travel agencies, that the more overall sales, the better. For the customer, this means that you very well might find yourself with a list of activities selected in part because of the agency's favorable commission. This is especially true if you work with a company agency, like a Hilton travel agent.
MYTH #3: The Internet Has Made Travel Agencies Obsolete
TRUTH: A Travel Agent Will Save You Time Planning You Don't Have
Research suggests that the average traveler sinks approximately 30 hours of time into pre-departure research. The good thing about working with a travel agent is that it's their job to be obsessive about finding the best deals and coolest things to do, so all you have to do is pick your destination and go. Some credit card companies even offer travel planning perks, like the American Express travel agency offerings. If you're looking for something cheaper, you can also use AAA travel agents, which give special deals to AAA members.
MYTH #4: A Travel Agent Is Only Useful If I Want To Book A Cruise Or A Package Trip
TRUTH: Every Travel Agency Has Its Speciality.
Some work exclusively with package tours, some are specialists in certain regions, and some focus on niche concerns like LGBT or family-friendly travel. For the best experience, it's worth doing a bit of research to find the agent that you mesh well with and has the expertise you need. Most specializations fall into company or destination-based niches, like a Carnival cruise travel agency or an expert Hawaii travel agent.
That being said, you probably have unique travel concerns that overlap, and there may not be a travel agency that can attend to all your need. While luxe travel agencies may be able to help you travel with kids, attend to dietary concerns and help you get off the beaten track, these services are likely to cost extra as your travel agent won't make a commission from taking into consideration these needs.
MYTH #5: Once I Select A Travel Agent, My Work Is Over
TRUTH: You'll Benefit Most From A Travel Agent If You Actively Participate In Planning.
Keep in contact with your travel agent and let them know if you have any preferences for airline, dietary concerns or things you liked and haven't liked from previous trips. Although your travel agent will help take care of logistics, contributing input ensures that the details you yourself would take into account when planning a trip are acknowledged.
MYTH #6: A Travel Agent Is Well-Traveled, Because Of Course
TRUTH: While Most Travel Agents Are Travelers Themselves, But It's Not A Requirement For The Job.
They very likely haven't been to every place they recommend and can't vouch for it themselves. Especially when working with company travel agents, like a Hilton travel agent, they're likely working with a list of places where they get commission. While they'll pick and choose what works best for you, the level of customization is limited..
MYTH #7: Travel Agents Will Score Me Best Seats On The Plane.
TRUTH: Travel Agents No Longer Deal Primarily With Airlines.
Before the rise of internet flight search sights, travel agents no longer make the bulk of their money purchasing airlines. In fact, until last year when American Airlines announced they would give travel agents $2 per each flight booked, there was no commission for booking domestic flights. Today, international flights receive about a 10% commission. Predictably, your Marriott travel agent won't want to spend the time getting you the aisle seat.
The other thing to keep in mind is that travel agencies have partnerships with particular airlines. Unless you book with a Delta vacations travel agent, don't assume you'll be able to fly Delta (or the airline of your choosing). Travel agency consortiums dictate the airlines each agent can book from. Since these groups also help negotiate commissions, agencies tend to be hush-hush about them. Moral of the story: if you want to fly with a particular airline, you're better off searching the perfect airfare sight for you.
MYTH #8: Only Families Going To Disneyworld Use Travel Agents.
TRUTH: The Commission Structure Means It's Most Favorable To Sell Packages.
Since airplane ticket sales amount to a middling amount of travel agency revenue, they need to focus on tours that actually pay money. The reason you see so many Disney travel agents and Sandals travel agents is because they're more profitable.
Disney parks provide a flat-rate commission. Every travel agent working with them gets 10%. Disney cruises offer tiered commission, as do other cruise lines. But since these are pricier options, the amount they make overall is more favorable. So it's not that Royal Caribbean travel agents are the only ones, but that they're the most profitable, and thus most visible.