10 Ways Travel Agents Add Value to Your Vacation
by Cheryl Rosen  and  Anna Gleksman

There’s no do-over for a vacation gone wrong.

Sure you can book everything online, but the choices are so vast and confusing that it will take you hours. And if things go wrong you will have no one to turn to.

Instead, consider talking to a travel professional. Here are some of the many ways they can help make sure your dreams come true.

1. Choosing the right destination. The average online booker goes to more than 30 websites to plan a trip, spending hours sifting through information and reviews posted by strangers. A travel professional has first-hand knowledge; he has been there himself or has a friend who has. A good travel agent is part psychiatrist, part social worker, part keeper of family secrets. He knows what you like and what you don’t, and how to pose the questions that will point to the right destination for you and those with whom you are traveling.

2. Standing in your corner. A professional agent sits on your shoulder from the minute you step out the door until you return home safe with your luggage intact. He is your advocate, your guardian angel, your defense attorney. If the B & B in Boston is overbooked or the bistro in Baghdad loses your bags, just give him a call.

3. Keeping you safe. Being a travel professional means knowing the news. She will warn you if there is illness or danger in a location you are considering. And if terrorists attack or stormy winds blow, she knows where you are and whom to call to keep you headed toward your destination and out of harm’s way.

4. Getting the paperwork right. Many a traveler has been turned back from an airport for lack of the right visa, passport, or other credential. You may think you know the regulations, but then something unexpected will pop up; some countries will not let you enter within six months of the date of your passport expiration, for example. Your travel professional will ensure you have what you need.

5. Knowing the right insurance. True, you probably do not need cancellation insurance for tomorrow’s shuttle flight from New York to Boston. But there is a time and a place for travel insurance—and those times and places fluctuate and are buried in fine print and differ from carrier to carrier. Even more important, while most people believe their U.S. health insurance will cover them if they are taken ill abroad, that is often not the case. A travel professional will remind you to consider whether insurance is right for a particular trip, and taking into account your age, your health, and your existing medical coverage.

6. Saving you money. Most travel agents no longer sell their services on promises of saving you money—but that’s not to say they can’t hold down your costs in many ways, sometimes by hundreds of dollars. They know all the discounts and promotions, the best times to book an airline ticket, the best days to travel. If you are traveling in a small group, they often can get a discount or a free hotel room night.

7. Scoring some perks. Travel agents live by their connections; they have friends in cities and hotels and airports around the world. Often they can get you free excursions, spa visits, or room upgrades; entrance to private locations; or after-hour access to popular sites.

8. Offering extended payment plans.  Unlike online booking sites where you must prepay, travel professionals usually require only a deposit at the time of booking, followed by payments in installments as your trip departure date nears.

9. Gaining time to make up your mind. Need a day or two to get everyone on your family trip on the same page? Agents can hold airline seats for their customers for up to 24 hours while everyone makes up their mind.

10. Insights into the unknown. You’re not likely to find a once-in-a-lifetime experience online. But that’s the magic a professional can bring to your trip of a lifetime. Travel professionals know what’s hot and what’s overbooked—and even better, what’s about to become the next big thing, so you can go before the crowds.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up the phone, click on the link, go to the Facebook page of a professional travel agent. Because without a travel professional, you really are on your own.

Photo courtesy: Ben_Kerckx

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