Nadeen White, 48, has serious travel chops—she’s the award-winning Atlanta-based travel blogger behind The Sophisticated Life, and her guidebooks are Amazon bestsellers.
But when booking travel, she knows her limits. For her first trip to Australia and New Zealand late last year with her husband, she worked with a travel agent who specializes in those locations.
“We had 10 days to visit three cities, with multiple long day trips to places on our bucket list,” she says. The agent recommended tours and accommodations, booked airlines and hotels, and arranged for airport transfers.
“What probably would have taken me months to plan only took one week. Plus, I gave them a budget and paid them directly instead of paying each vendor individually,” she says.
White is onto something. “People think [travel agents] are extinct or that they are expensive, but both are untrue,” she says.
Travel agencies are a $42 billion industry in the United States, and growing, according to an IBISWorld report.
“Often, you can work with a travel agent and get your trip at the same price or even cheaper than you’d pay booking it on your own,” says Jordan Bishop, founder of boutique travel agency Yore Oyster, based in Toronto.
That’s because travel agents can access special pricing that’s not available to consumers, Bishop says.
Here’s when you might want to turn to a travel agent:
You’re planning an exotic or once-in-a-lifetime trip
Think safaris, monthlong tours of Europe, or destinations like the Galapagos, Patagonia, or Antarctica.
If you have a complicated itinerary, an agent can help with visas, train tickets, museum entrances, tours, and restaurant reservations along with flights and hotels.
A professional can also help you prioritize safety and security.
“You’re going to want a person to help with the insurance and liability of going to a place that’s remote, hard to get to, or far from hospitals,” says Polyana de Oliveira, owner and director of operations at Viare Travel in São Paulo, Brazil.
In the 45 days before a trip, people visit 38 travel web sites, on average, according to an Expedia Group report.
“We spend a lot of time planning for our own vacations. The travel agent’s job is to take this off your plate. It’s not different from any other service you delegate to someone else because you don’t have the time for it, like cleaning,” says de Oliveira.
“Going with an agency makes all the difference. What usually takes people weeks to do, we can turn over in a couple of days after just a quick chat with the client,” she says.
You want an off-the-beaten-path experience
“Small, family-owned touring companies don’t have the marketing budget to get on everyone’s radar,” says Hannah Lorenz, marketing associate for Chicago-based Down Under Endeavours.
“For example, one of our favorite partners in Australia is a small company that runs private wildlife tours in Tasmania,” she says. “We always get feedback that this experience is the highlight of a client’s trip, yet you probably wouldn’t find the company with a Google search because they’re so small.”
You’re organizing a group trip
Think of how complicated it can be to put together a family vacation, then add another eight, 10, or 12 people into the mix.
“For people trying to plan a group trip, an agent can be a godsend. Coordinating flights, transportation, itineraries and activities, and a whole slew of other details for a crowd can get complicated, fast,” says Mary “Libby” Emanuel, owner of Premier Group Travel in Tangerine, Florida.
An agent can put together a family reunion, golf weekend, or wine-tasting vacation that takes into account everyone’s locations, interests, and mobility levels.
You’re facing a language barrier
When you don’t speak the local language or know the local customs, and you’re traveling to a place where most people don’t speak English, an agent can help.
De Oliveira says that in Brazil most people do not speak English, many hotel sites are not in English, and even travel professionals only speak Portuguese.
“So, many of my clients will hire us to have someone on the ground who speaks their language,” she says.
The barrier can be even higher when you travel to places that don’t use languages based on the Roman alphabet, says Steven Cuffari, international marketing project manager for Lernidee Trains & Cruises in Berlin.
For cruises it’s always a good idea to use a travel agent, says Janet Semenova, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors in Paradise Valley, Ariz.: “We can score a lot of great extra perks, savings, and shipboard credits.”
Plus, travel agents can sort through the long list of destinations, cruise lines, cabins, and categories to find a good match for you.
There’s a high likelihood that something could go wrong
You want to believe your trip will go smoothly every step of the way, but let’s face it—that doesn’t always happen.
“Working with a travel agent is a good idea when you have a complex trip, are stitching together itineraries from multiple companies or tour operators, or are working with hyper-local travel providers,” says Bishop.
“Travel agents have more bargaining power when it comes to getting refunds and other customer service issues. Airlines, hotels and tour operators often don’t think twice about giving the cold shoulder to individual consumers, but they do whatever they can to please travel agents, since we bring them so much of their overall business,” he says.
When to go it alone
There are times you probably don’t need professional help to book your travel:
- You only need flights. Many travel advisors won’t book flights without at least a minimal lodging reservation, Semenova says.
- You find a great limited-time offer. Book it on your own before it disappears, Bishop says.
- The planning is part of the fun for you. Some people love to plan their own trips, and research everything about the destination and culture. “For them this is probably even more of a trip than the vacation itself,” says de Oliveira.
- You want to wing it. “Maybe you just want to wander the streets of Paris,” Semenova says. “Those types of trips are perfectly fine to do on your own.”
Not sure if you should hire a pro?
You can always call a travel advisor and find out what they have to offer. “Most will do a complimentary 30-minute discovery call. It never hurts to take 30 minutes to get an expert opinion,” Semenova says.