Are Travel Agents Worth the Extra Cost?

As the country emerges slowly but surely from recession, people are once again traveling, booking trips by air, making hotel reservations, attending conferences and hitting hot tourist destinations.

A recent TripAdvisor survey revealed that 83% of survey respondents planned on taking a family vacation in 2011, up from 79% in 2010. Other surveys also reveal that business travel is on the rebound.

There are dozens of websites and travel related apps to help the savvy traveler book a dream getaway or perfect networking opportunity, but many travelers still decide to go old school and use a travel agent.

Julie Sturgeon, a travel agent and owner of the travel agency Curing Cold Feet in Indianapolis, opened her shop in 2008. “When my agency was new, people said 'Why should I use a travel agent when I can go to a travel site myself?” Sturgeon said. “A lot of people see the commercials for these sites and don’t realize these companies are making money from travelers doing their own work. Travel agent fees are paid for by the supplier and are built into the cost whether a traveler uses an agent or not.”

Sturgeon said that once travelers understand that they don’t pay additional fees for services such as research and that additional layer of customer service, it is a no-brainer for many to use an agent.

Sturgeon uses the example that a major tourist attraction might charge $2,200 for an all-inclusive vacation, including hotels and theme park tickets. “What people may not realize is that price assumes the traveler is using a travel agent and the 10% fee is already built in,” said Sturgeon. “If the traveler does all their own leg work and books themselves, they are still not refunded that 10%.”

What travelers may be missing when they do their own research or book through a travel site, for example, are the added resort fees, pre-payments on hotel reservations and the fat that some sites book non-refundable reservations for them. Sturgeon said good travel agents are trained to look for these sometimes-overlooked fees.

“I like to use the analogy of the pump-it-yourself gas station: if you’re going to get the same price but more customer service at a full service station,” she asks, “do you still want to pump it yourself?”