Booking a trip often proves to be an extremely stressful, grueling undertaking. You can spend hours online searching for deals on flights and hotels, bouncing from one website to another in pursuit of the perfect price. This kind of process is often headache-inducing: Approximately 20 percent of more than 2,000 travelers worldwide said it took them more than five hours to search and book travel online, according to a recent survey by the I.B.M. Institute for Business Value.
To avoid the hassle, some consumers are turning to travel agents. After suffering for years, the travel-agent industry is now experiencing substantial growth. Nearly 1 in 3 leisure agencies is hiring, according to PhoCusWright, a travel research firm. And the American Society of Travel Agents reports that 57 percent of independent agents saw an increase in business in 2011.
Faced with countless choices for flights, hotels, car rental, and tours, some consumers are dumping the DIY approach. "There are simply too many travel products in the market today for individuals to decipher on their own," says James Shillinglaw, editor-in-chief of Travalliancemedia, a media network for travel agencies. "You need a guide to help you cut through all the different things out there that are available."
"There's a difference between price and value," adds Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly, a newspaper that covers the travel industry. The more travelers realize that, he says, the more they're opting to use a travel agent. Here are six reasons to consider booking your next vacation with a travel agent:
Save time. An agent can save you time by vetting thousands of flight and hotel options to find the right fare at the lowest rate. "There's just a glut of information, and you need someone to make sense of it all," says John Peters of Tripology.com, a website that matches consumers to travel agents.
Stephanie Axelrod and her husband, who live in Fairfax, Va., used Tamalpais Travel to book a trip to Spain and Italy in 2010, and saved a lot of time in the process. "After we spent many hours on the Internet ourselves, we found using an agent made the whole experience more pleasant and less time-consuming," she says.
Save money. Some people shy away from using a travel agent because they think they'll be charged extra for the agent's services. Some agents charge additional fees (for example, a $25 fee for their time and research), but most make their commission through the travel suppliers. "You're going to get more value from your money booking with a travel agent," Peters says. Nina Meyer, president of the American Society of Travel Agents, says you can also save big on airfare with the right agent: "I have seen in the past people save anywhere from $500 to upwards of $1,000 on a ticket."
Axelrod says she and her husband found it difficult to find good flight deals on their own. "The travel agent was able to get deals we weren't able to find," she says.
Learn what you want. "Very often, people don't really know what kind of trip they want," Shillinglaw says. It's the travel agent's job to provide you with a number of options they think you'd enjoy. Not only will they help you book a trip, they'll help you build the trip.
Connections. Don't underestimate a travel agent's extensive Rolodex. Agents may have people on the ground who you can connect with, such as a local tour guide, as well as people you can reach out to if you encounter any problems. "Having access to a travel agent's insiders makes it just an overall better customer service experience than going at it alone," Peters says.
Kate Rice, who covers airlines for TravelPulse.com, says agents who book a lot of flights develop strong relationships with sales representatives. "That means they have double leverage that they can use on your behalf—the purchasing power of the agency group they're affiliated with, as well as the personal relationships they have with their sales reps," she says.