By Jamie Cattanach
Summer’s around the corner, and that means it’s time for a getaway.
Goodness knows you need it. You’ve saved up the dough, finagled a few days (or even a week!) off from work, and are super ready for your hard-won break from reality.
But first, you’ve got to plan it.
And as much fun as it is to fantasize about different destinations, actual trip-planning can become something of a second job in a hurry.
Transportation, accommodations, activities, meals; there’s a lot that goes into making Instagram-worthy vacations. Ironically, organizing the logistics of those blissful, relaxing moments can be downright stressful.
Enlisting professional help is tempting, but it can also add an extra line item to your travel budget, right?
Why You Should Hire a Travel Agent
You may think a travel adviser is outside of your vacation budget or superfluous for shorter domestic travels.
But you might be surprised at how much a professional trip planner can simplify your life – and how affordably they can do so.
Here are a few reasons to consider hiring a travel adviser for your next adventure.
1. It Might Not Cost as Much as You Think
According to Travel + Leisure, “agents make the majority of their money on commissions paid to them by hotels, airlines, tour operators, and cruise ships.” So while some advisers may charge a booking or planning fee, it could be as low as a hundred dollars or so.
What’s more, many travel agents don’t charge any fee at all, relying only on service provider kickbacks for their earnings, which means the cost of the trip is exactly the same as if you’d paid for it all yourself without the benefit of any help planning.
Caroline Savon, the founder of Well and Often Travel, says she doesn’t charge fees for her services. “I’d rather my clients spend that money at the spa, on a fun activity, or a delicious meal; basically anything that adds to their experience,” she wrote in an email.
“In my opinion, happy clients tend to not only be repeat clients but also refer their friends” — which is worth more to her than a fee in the long run.
Either way, it’s important to know what you’re getting into, so don’t be afraid to ask a potential travel agent about her fees before you make any commitments.
2. It Can Get You Freebies and Upgrades
Since travel agents earn their living by making bookings, travel agents develop relationships with service providers – hotel chains, cruise ship lines, rental car services, and the like – that individual customers simply can’t, even when you sign up for a company’s rewards program.
That means booking through an agent unlocks a whole heap of perks you wouldn’t be able to access otherwise.
“Most advisers belong to some sort of consortium that gives them exclusive access to perks at properties all over the world,” Savon explains.
What kind of perks, you ask? Good ones. Savon mentions room upgrades, spa credits (read: free massages), and a warm welcome with a bottle of wine and sweet treats waiting in your room, for starters.
“I had clients that just last week got a double upgrade on arrival,” Savon goes on. “They paid for a base room and got upgraded to a one-bedroom suite with a private balcony and insane views!”
All that for the price of the regular digs – and with someone else doing the logistical footwork. Pretty sweet deal, right?
3. You Can Still Have a Hand in DIY-ing Your Vacation
For some travelers, myself included, planning everything out is part of the fun. (Hey, that Type-A energy has to be good for something.)
But hiring a travel agent doesn’t mean you can’t indulge your inner adventure architect. You can still do all your own research and planning, and then have an agent do the actual booking.
“I believe in the value of a travel adviser so much,” Savon says, “that before I became one, I would research everything for my trips myself and have an adviser book for me.”
That way, she could still get access to those exclusive perks and amenities – like an upgraded villa with a private pool in Bali, massages in Thailand, and chilled champagne in Anguilla. “All at no extra cost!”
4. It Can Make Your Life a Whole Lot Easier, Even Post-Planning
Even for short-term jaunts within the country, hiring a travel agent can make your entire trip-planning process more manageable, from start to finish.
Let’s start at the beginning. How many times have you found yourself unable to decide where to go in the first place? Savon says travel advisers can help you find the hidden gems you didn’t even know you were looking for.
“You’re a wine lover but completely overwhelmed by the seemingly endless options in Napa and Sonoma … let alone the rest of wine country,” she offers. “Maybe you want to plan an epic ski trip out west, but you have no idea how to narrow down which resort offers the best fit for you.”
An adviser will work with you to determine the best fit for your personality, lifestyle, time and budget.
And once the trip is underway, a good adviser doesn’t disappear into the ether. She’s standing by to take care of any unexpected surprises.
Last-minute cancellations, hotel room confusions, rental car snafus: Booking with a travel agent means you don’t have to deal with any of it yourself, should it occur.
After all, who wants to spend even a second of their precious vacation time navigating an automated phone tree?
Want to Save Money on Your Next Vacation?
Hiring a travel agent can help you take the trip of a lifetime, if you hire a good one. Like any other service professional, not all travel agents are created equally.
To ensure you’ve got a trustworthy adviser on your side, Savon makes the following suggestions:
- “Look for an agent who listens to you and really tries to get detailed about the type of experience you’re after.” After all, even a drool-worthy ski trip isn’t the right fit if you were looking for a beach vacation. To this end, your adviser should be open to cultivating a communicative relationship and so should you. “As they get to know your likes, dislikes, and preferences, they can provide even better recommendations for you!”
- “Pay attention to their responsiveness.” If something does go wrong while you’re away, you want to ensure your agent will be around to help take care of it—and how responsive they are in the planning portion can be a big tell.
- “Don’t be afraid to ask for references.” In today’s all-internet-everything world, it’s not hard to find past travelers whose brains you can pick, let alone reviews on sites like Yelp or Google pages.
- Finally, look for industry affiliations such as IATA, ARC, or CLIA. While they’re not strictly required, they can be indicative of excellent service.
Even if you’re not sure hiring a travel agent is the right move for your next adventure, there are plenty of ways to trot the globe on a shoestring budget.
For example, those affordable all-inclusive packages you see advertised on places like Groupon can be outstanding deals, and great solutions for those with limited time to plan, says Savon, though she cautions travelers to read the fine print since certain departure dates and airports might come at an extra fee. Ditto traveling solo, since the prices are usually negotiated based on dual room occupancy.
And if you’re one of the do-it-yourself sorts, no worries; the wide world of the internet means you’ve got plenty of travel research at your fingertips. You’ve also got plenty of travel-hacking tools to help chip away at the final price tag.
Aside from collecting frequent flyer miles (which you should totally do), you can also check out the following amazing travel apps, which can save you money and logistical headaches:
- Hopper lets you know when that flight you’re eyeing is at its lowest price and when it might make more sense to wait a beat.
- Skiplagged reveals routes and fares you wouldn’t see on an airline’s main site – i.e., loopholes that can save you tons of money.
- Rome2Rio shows you how to get from anywhere to anywhere, as well as the estimated cost of each way to do it.
- HitList asks you to build a list of dream destinations and then automatically sends you deals for them as they arise.
Bottom line: No matter how you do it, make sure you take time to get out there and see the world.
After all, there’s a whole lot of it. And with the right tools help, and guidance, you can afford to see more of it than you might think.
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Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a freelance writer based in St. Augustine, Florida – when she’s not on the road. She writes for The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance site that covers everything from deals to lifestyle.