14 Times It Actually Pays off to Use a Travel Agent
If you like upgrades, lower rates, and peace of mind, think twice before booking your next trip without a little expert help.
Don’t leave your vacation up to chance
Pretty much everyone books their own travel these days, right? Nope! In fact, according to Travel Market Report, more people are booking trips with the help of a travel advisor, accounting for 13 percent of vacations in 2019, up from 8 percent in 2018. Just don’t call them travel agents: Today’s breed of planners prefers to be called travel advisors. The American Society of Travel Advisors even changed its name from the American Society of Travel Agents in 2018.
So, why are advisors steadily rising in popularity? In today’s hyperconnected era, when anybody with an Internet connection and a credit card can book a trip with the click of a button, advisors provide not only a human touch but also real-world expertise and more bang for your buck. I should know: After years in the industry as a writer, I recently became a family travel advisor myself. Here’s what I’ve learned about when it can pay off to use a travel advisor.
You want upgrades
When booking through one of the thousands of advisors affiliated with trusted networks like Virtuoso, American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, and Signature Travel Network, you’ll be eligible for available room or suite upgrades. Some hotels will even offer guaranteed upgrades when you book, which means you can leave for your trip knowing that you paid for a room but a suite awaits. Here are some other secrets to scoring a free hotel room upgrade.
You like free stuff
If you’re self-booking your four- or five-star hotel directly from their website or from a third-party site, you’re potentially losing out on hundreds of dollars of free amenities. One of the biggest parts of my job is educating people who think advisors are solely for bucket-list trips and don’t realize what they’re missing out on. Because of their hard-earned relationships and preferred vendor contacts, many advisors can help you get a breakfast gratis, complimentary Wi-Fi for the duration of your stay, free parking, and sometimes fun little bonuses like a welcome cocktail, a bottle of champagne, or a fruit platter waiting in your room at check-in. These 13 amazing hotel perks will make you want to book a room ASAP.
You want cash perks
When booking through third-party online sites, you might find occasional deals, but they’ll rarely include the copious extras you’ll get through, say, the Virtuoso network, where each hotel pledges $100 spa, golf, or dining credits to guests booked through their advisors. Some even throw in private tours or limo transfers to sweeten the deal—again, at no additional cost. If you’re looking to relax on your vacay, check out 11 of the most luxurious spas in the world.
You want to pay less for your hotel stay
Many times, travel advisors have access to lower rates at great hotels than what you’ll find yourself online. “Our advisors have access to the same (and often better) pricing than you can find online,” says Victoria Zindell, owner of Luxury Ventures Travel. Plus, let’s not forget about those free perks mentioned above. “We can [also] secure special perks like complimentary room upgrades, daily breakfast, and other benefits you can’t get on your own,” adds Zindell. “The amenities our clients receive on a hotel stay alone are valued at up to $450-plus per stay.” Even if the rate is the same, or slightly elevated, you’ll likely save money in the end because of that. And, crucially, travel advisors know when to skimp and when to splurge.
You’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip
Whether it’s a multi-generational family reunion, a 50th birthday party, or far-flung eco-tourism, different advisors often have various specialties. If you’re booking a bucket list trip where you have big expectations—say, a honeymoon, a weeklong trip to Walt Disney World with the grandparents, or a cruise around Alaska—an advisor can help steer you in the right direction, make sure the destination and itinerary fit your needs, and help you spend and save appropriately. “If you dream it, we can do it. We take the time to understand your travel style, remember your important milestones, and encourage bucket-list aspirations to design extraordinary trips that exceed your expectations,” says Zindell. Need some travel inspiration? Here are 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.
You have a complicated itinerary
Are you touring multiple foreign countries, or are you going with small children who get tired or tantrum easily? (“Are we there yet?” is 10 times more annoying when halfway across the world, trust me.) Your travel advisor can help put together an itinerary that uniquely makes sense for you and isn’t one-size-fits-all—unlike many “Best of” lists or slightly more generic suggestions you may find online. This can also be incredibly helpful if you have a disability. “My clients’ trips have so many moving pieces, families with members arriving from multiple locations, bespoke tours, and unique experiences that I’ve found for them, they appreciate having someone with a 10,000-foot view who can coordinate everything and just send them the itinerary,” says Diane Sherer, owner of the travel agency Beyond. “I say, ‘Be at such-and-such place at such-and-such time—I’ll handle the rest.’”
You want the latest and greatest
It’s the job of a travel advisor to be up on the latest destination trends, hotel openings, restaurant recommendations, and tour knowledge. We travel to the places we sell, which means we’re not just researching in Internet forums or asking friends of friends; we have actual firsthand knowledge. “Our clients benefit from our extensive firsthand travel experience and being at the forefront of the latest trends and newest openings before they have happened,” explains Zindell. “Our team has traveled the globe, discovering everything from the world’s most sought-after cities to the gems you’ve haven’t even heard of.”
Also crucial: Reviews don’t always tell the full picture. Your advisor can help with smaller details—such as figuring out if you’ve booked a hotel room with a horrible view, on a bad floor, or that hasn’t yet been renovated—while also macro-planning to make sure your trip is perfect. Before you head out, also make sure you know these 13 ways air travel will change in 2020.
You want VIP access
Hoping to tour behind the scenes at the Vatican, go onstage at Radio City Music Hall, or eat inside a local’s home halfway around the world? Or maybe you’re traveling for a 50th birthday, honeymoon, or family reunion and want to make it even more special? Travel advisors can use their network to hook it up. “My clients know it’s always best to have me book their luxury hotels and travel because you can’t VIP yourself,” says Stacy Small, founder of Elite Travel International (the agency I’m affiliated with). “They get used to being greeted by general managers worldwide and having their preferences and needs anticipated and handled hassle-free.” These are some of the world’s most luxurious hotels and resorts.
You’d like help if things go wrong
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We’ve all been there. Vacation disasters happen to everyone at some point, and when they do, we desperately wish someone could just swoop in and fix things. That’s what travel advisors do, of course. If you need help rebooking a canceled flight, getting out of a dangerous destination, figuring out how to circumnavigate strikes or protests, or simply need expert help—and fast—the advisor who arranged your trip is going to be on call for you.
“No one wants things to go wrong when they travel, least of all me, but that’s really when professional travel advisors prove their worth,” says Sherer. “I’ll drop everything to try and turn things around for a client. It’s when the years I’ve spent building relationships with hoteliers can really pay off. There’s nothing more satisfying for me.” And it doesn’t matter whose fault it is—your advisors will spring into action as your problem solvers and your biggest advocates.