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If you thought travel agents were a thing of the past, you are mistaken. Most individual travelers no longer use a travel agent to coordinate simple trips like a domestic flight, hotel, or rental car. But, those taking special trips like honeymoons, African safaris, or cruises are better off using a travel agent who has experience than going it alone. There are a number of perks you could earn from an agent.
Using a Travel Agent
Agents are particularly helpful when traveling overseas to countries off the beaten path, especially since specialists make a point to visit these locations many times to familiarize themselves with the destination before selling it to others.
Considering a vacation to Bhutan or Tibet? Neither of those are things that you can even book on your own without the help of a tour operator (a government requirement). If you want recommendations on how to visit numerous islands around the South Pacific or the best access to Machu Picchu at a time when visits have been restricted, your best bet is to reach out to travel providers that do this day in and day out.
The marketplace has become muddled with countless advertisements by online booking sites touting the best prices for hotels and airfare. In fact, they do not offer the best hotel deals at all; hotel companies almost always have the cheapest rates that they often reserve for their loyalty program members, such as the recent Marriott merge. Many hotels even have “best rate guarantees” to protect you in case you find a cheaper rate elsewhere. They even offer compensation if you find a lower rate.
Perks of Using a Travel Agent
While third-party booking sites often package solid deals together from time to time with airline and hotel discounts, booking direct is usually the best deal. That is, unless a travel agent can dig deep into their own coffers to find special offers to special destinations. Read on as we outline some of the best perks on the market.
Cruise Cabin Upgrades
If you book a cruise directly, you are definitely missing out on free perks. Cruise lines are quick to offer discounts and low rates on their websites. However, these may not include extra taxes, fees, gratuities, and other surcharges that get added later. If you book with an agent, you become part of their larger purchasing power that can leverage more benefits. Going it alone becomes a beginner mistake.
Agents can secure room upgrades, onboard credits, access to special events, and even amenities like laundry and welcome champagne. If it seems too good to be true, consider the number of cruises that a travel agent books compared to you. This means they have incredible negotiating power and access to perks that others would never have.
If you want to tap into even more perks, consider United Cruises or American Airlines Cruises where you can earn airline miles on top of special onboard bonuses like upgrades and specialty dinners offered by agents.
Onsite Hotel Amenities
Elite-status members know that the only way to take advantage of their special perks like room upgrades and club lounge access is to book directly through a hotel channel. Let’s say that you are booking at a luxury hotel not affiliated with a chain. Consider booking through a travel agent like a Virtuoso member or through credit card partners like American Express’ Fine Hotels & Resorts.
Both are partners that can offer special perks. Things like free breakfast, early check-in or late checkout, and even dining or spa credits onsite are benefits. While these agent rates may be higher (and not come with points earning capability), their extra perks can quickly outweigh booking directly. This may not be the case with a standard city-center hotel though. But, if you are looking at a hotel or luxury property, there are lots of perks available.
If you are looking to experience local life at destinations or really splurge for trips like honeymoons or once-in-a-lifetime vacations like safaris, travel operators can bring major value. Do you really want to risk booking the wrong safari package when a lodge is full on your honeymoon? What if you are looking for a Bhutanese adventure that did not sacrifice luxury for adventure?
There are numerous specialists that make a living out of partnering with on-the-ground people in specific niches. TravelLocal.com, for example, is known for the unique experiences it can organize for travelers. In Bhutan, consider spending the night at a local farmhouse while learning about the regional mountain culture and preparing a local meal. That’s an experience that you can’t find online, at least via a trustworthy partner.
Solo female travelers can take advantage of TravelLocal.com’s female-led cooperatives that specialize in tours led by female guides. Here, they will visit regional places that show off how women have excelled and overcome the odds in their community. If you are looking to craft your own themed adventure, chances are a tour operator like that would have the best option for you.
TravelLocal.com also has a partner in Uganda that works with organizations looking to preserve and nurture the mountain gorilla population. The company’s newest offering is a chimpanzee project that gets visitors to help them get to their habitat. The tours are led by Uganda Wildlife Authority guides that have been working in the industry for decades.
Meet With Locals
Another example is Brendan Vacations in Ireland and Scotland. It connects its guests with local travel experts at each stop of the trip to chat with travelers about the area. These individualized meetups are a great way to ask personal questions or get recommendations from someone that lives there. These travel expert companies take time to know more about what you want to better customize the experience.
Currency Exchange Discounts
Often if you use a local agency that can price flight and hotel rates in that country’s currency, you can save a bundle on flights and hotels. This is common in many regions of Asia and Africa including places like Egypt and Vietnam.
Negotiation on Your Behalf
An agent can also step in for you if something goes wrong. If your flight is delayed or canceled due to weather, an agent that books often with a hotel company is more likely to get a cancelation fee waived for you than an online travel agency.
Agents may also have special relationships with general managers and marketing people at various hotels. These can lead to being treated more like a friend than a customer when an agents’ customers are booked at their hotels.
Bottom Line When Using a Travel Agent
Using a travel agent can get you exactly where you want to be and then some. We all like to have control over the travel experience, but booking every trip online is not always the best way to do that. This is especially true when the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Using a travel agent can be the one investment that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.