The benefits of booking with an agent, when to pre-book, and how they make their money.

I spent a decade of my life working for one of the world’s largest travel companies, and I was asked over a thousand times; why should I book with an agent? When I started as a consultant and told friends about my new job; I received a common response, travel agents still exist? I thought it was time to put pen to paper and outline the main reasons to book with an agent and share some insider knowledge I gleaned from a decade in the industry.

With Covid-19 causing havoc for travel, now more than ever, you should consider booking with an expert. When the pandemic hit, having an agent to advocate on your behalf for refunds, changes, and offer expert advice was invaluable. Some airlines simply weren’t taking phone calls and wait times were sometimes up to 8-hours, let an agent do that for you!

The benefits of booking with a travel advisor

There are many benefits to booking with a travel consultant. They have invaluable expertise, knowledge, and experience that can save you time and money, but also improve the experience you have on your travels. Like any industry, some are better than others. It’s always best to seek referrals or shop around until you find a good agent.

1. Financial security & protecting your investment

Travel is one of the most expensive investments a person makes in their life, why not protect it. When you book with a consultant, you are backed by them and their company. Here are a few examples of what this can mean:

  • Airlines and travel suppliers often go bankrupt. Think Thomas Cook or WOW air in 2019. In these events, the agency will re-book you even if the bankrupted supplier won’t.
  • Agents book reputable companies. For example, one client booked an African safari online, against the agent’s advice, and it turned out to be a fraudulent company. 
  • If something goes wrong the agent will advocate on your behalf. Often the agency will offer compensation, even when the supplier won’t.

2. Expertise & Knowledge

You might be the biggest whizz in the world at finding airfares or piecing together your trip around Tuscany, but any decent agent will have MORE wisdom for you. There are things that an expert, who books travel for a living, will know that you don’t. An agent can validate what you’ve found and add an extra layer of expertise. 

Maybe it’s the tip they give you about how to skip the line at the Louvre, or their favourite cafe in Brooklyn, or how to get a private viewing of Iguazu Falls. They will remind you of important factors like needing a visa to transit through China or making sure your passport has 6 months validity on it.

Avoid the typical crowd at the Louvre

3.  Saving money

There’s a common misconception that it will cost more to book with an agent. Some charge a booking fee, while others don’t. It depends on the agency and what you are booking but it’s usually a minimal fee, especially considering the time and money they can save you. The ways travel agents can save you money:

  • Wholesale rates – hotels and tour operators give agencies lower rates.
  • Nett fares with airlines – negotiated lower fares on some flights.
  • Advocating for you should something go sideways.
  • They’re aware of deals you may never find, or that are unique to the agency.

4. Time & Convenience

You may love spending countless hours furiously googling but there comes a point where it can get old, frustrating, or confusing. Save yourself the time and let an expert do the research on your behalf. If you love the planning part you can still do all the research you want. Hand over your findings to an agent, and see if they can do better.

Want to turn your love for trip planning into a career? Check out my other article about working in the travel industry: https://www.novatravels.org/get-your-passport-ready-to-explore-a-career-in-travel/

5. Improve the quality of your travel experience

The most important thing is that you have a seamless trip that exceeds expectations. An agent will make recommendations about airlines, accommodations, what to do, where to eat, and so on, that will positively impact your trip in ways you couldn’t imagine. If they don’t make quality recommendations, then you’re with the wrong agent.

Exclusive access to Iguazu Falls is only available from one special hotel

6. They’ve got your back if things go sideways

Unfortunately, when it comes to traveling, a lot can and does go wrong. Weather patterns, health issues, political turmoil, or economic issues can impact your trip in the most unexpected ways. That’s where your travel expert comes in. They will support you by calling the airline on a priority line to get you re-booked on the next available flight. Have a drink at the bar while everyone else waits in line at the airline counter. This is just one of the many ways they will advocate for you. They can also pull strings on your behalf to get better outcomes.

7. Unexpected extras

Travel agents have been known to request room upgrades, leave gifts in your ship cabin, or have access to benefits that you don’t. They also have resources and relationships that you don’t, which can equal more perks for you!

8. Relationships

Travel agents tend to be a fun bunch, why not make a new friend in the process! As your relationship grows, so will your agent’s knowledge of your preferences. Before long your agent will only need minimal information to plan your perfect trip. They will also send deals your way, that they know will excite you.

What if you don’t want to pre-book anything?

Many travelers like the idea of showing up in a destination and figuring it out. Kudos to you lot, but that can be a total nightmare. It isn’t recommended and here are the reasons why:

  • You will pay more – hotels, flights, trains, and so on are at a premium price when booked last minute. 
  • Wasted time – nothing like wandering around Paris in the rain trying to find a hotel. Head straight to the beach in Bali, instead of spending time googling how to get to the next island.
  • Stress – the less you have planned in advance, the more stress is involved.
  • You will experience less – since you will be spending your time planning your next move.
Don’t waste time on vacation, get out and explore that glacial lake!

How travel agencies make their money

Commission

Almost all hotels, airlines, and tour companies will give agents commission to book their products. You pay the same as you would online, but an agent gets paid as well. Let travel suppliers pay an expert to work for you!

Booking fees

Some agencies charge a booking fee, others don’t. The fee varies, depending on the agent and the type of booking. This should be disclosed at the beginning of the consultation. 

Back end payments or ‘overrides’ from suppliers

Agencies that do a high volume of bookings will be given direct payments by airlines or other companies for achieving growth targets set out in a contract. The agencies often share this money with their consultants, rewarding them based on total sales.

Who am I to say this?!

If I think I know anything when it comes to travel agents, it’s because I’ve worked for Flight Centre Travel Group since 2009. I began as a travel consultant in Sydney before quickly relocating to a store across the world, in Vancouver. Within a year I was running that store, and after improving results by 400%, I became the regional manager of Vancouver. I was responsible for 24 travel agencies, including retail stores, luxury specialists, group teams, and business travel locations. It was the best job I have ever had, and I learned an immense amount about the travel industry. I moved roles after 5 years to become a project manager and leadership coach, which was equally as rewarding. I am now a product strategist and run my freelance travel writing business on the side.

Flight Centre conference in Hawaii. I’m the blonde in red on your far right.

To book or not to book…

Part of the experience of travel lies in planning the trip. Many people enjoy doing that themselves, I should know, that’s why I became a travel agent. Even if you love planning, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t book with a consultant. I encourage you to seek out a good advisor, that can validate your research, and add to it with their own expertise. Or, if you’re busy, they can do it all for you! Let an agent save you time, find you value, and make expert recommendations that only enhance your travel experience.

Want to turn your love for trip planning into a career? Check out my article about working in the travel industry:

3 Comments

  • Thanks for this perspective! Much appreciated!

    I’m definitely typically in the “do it myself” camp, but I’m in sales and see the value. I enjoy the process of figuring out how to get better deals based on a variety of tricks (which I’ll be writing a post on my travel blog visit50.com soon). But there’s definitely value there.

    I get the revenue model, but I’m always weary of agents giving recommendations when they get different back end deals from vendors. I assume your teams try not to biased, but if one hotel gives the agent an awesome incentive, they may be more excited to shift money there. Am I wrong on that? I assume there’s no equivalent of a fiduciary responsibility for travel agents.

    Secondly, part of the reason to go to travel agents is for expertise, but agents are more influenced by the feedback they get from their customers. That’s fantastic if your travel needs are aligned with their customer base, but perhaps not if it varies significantly. This can skew well intentioned recommendations.

    I’d love to hear what you think on all!
    Thanks again for sharing!

  • nova says:

    Hi Todd, great response and it’s lovely to hear your thoughts. To be honest it’s a common misconception that agents are paid more to steer people towards certain products, all hotels basically pay the same (usually 10% commission) to the agent, there’s no real incentive to steer people towards a certain product. The company gets paid on the backend, but the agents don’t know the details of those contracts, it’s really just about growing total sales. Plus in this day and age with Corona Virus, travel agents have more than proved their worth, fighting for refunds for clients and doing all the hard work on the clients behalf, waiting on hold for hours with airlines in the midst of the pandemic. Thanks for your feedback!

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