5 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Travel Agent

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While online booking engines have made it easier for travelers to buy their own flights or hotel rooms, travel agents still offer a level of service and expertise not offered by a search bot. “When you book online, the booking engine or website only knows what data you input,” points out Chuck Flagg, owner of a Cruise Holidays office in Canton, Georgia. “They don’t know what is truly important to and your family. It doesn’t know if you are a 60-something who still likes to dance it up with the locals at the nightclub or if you are OK being around kids.” Travel agents also may have special perks or pricing not available to the general public.

Here are some questions that can help you choose the right travel agent for your needs.

  1. Have you visited my destination? Whether you’re traveling to Paris or Puerto Rico, ask if your agent has been there (and if so, how recently?). While guidebooks and websites offer lots of detail on a given destination, they don’t always measure up to being there in person. “Book knowledge or online training seminars by suppliers is totally different from experiencing it firsthand,” Flagg says. Lisa Griswold, co-owner of the Atlanta-based Pixie Vacations, who specializes in planning Disney vacations, agrees, adding that “you don’t know how wonderful a Disney cruise is until you’ve experienced one: the joy, the attention to detail, the little extras, the character interaction.”
  2. What is your response time? If waiting several days for a response to an emailed question is going to make you anxious, ask potential agents when they’re available and how quickly you should expect a response. “Some agents are part-time agents, and they work in the evenings,” Griswold says. “Some are available during the school day. Others do this full time. It’s definitely smart to find out if your schedule can coordinate with what your agent can provide.”
  3. What services do you offer? Agents provide varying levels of service. Some will only book hotels and flights and leave you to fill in the other details, so if you’re expecting help with dinner reservations or ground transportation, ask if he can handle those. “A good agent is going to help you with any details that you want,” Griswold says. “We offer itinerary planning down to what rides they plan to go on, which parks to go in which days and coordinate that with their meals.”
  4. Do you have any certifications or accreditation? Flagg suggests asking about training or certifications to get a feel for the agent’s expertise. For instance, if you’re booking a cruise, you could seek out an agent certified through the Cruise Lines International Association. Griswold adds that you also can ask how often the agent attends seminars to stay current in the industry.
  5. What fees should I expect? Some agents charge a flat fee or an hourly fee for travel consulting, while others earn commission from the airline or hotel booked. “Ask about fees, whether there are booking fees or any kind of cancellation fees,” Griswold says. “There are some high rates out there, and some agencies don’t want to talk to you unless you’re willing to commit.”

Of course, while you ask about the agent’s background and policies, she may be quizzing you as well. This can be a good sign, as Flagg suggests looking for an agent who asks “why” questions. “This is something online will never ask,” he says. “Why do you want to take this vacation? Why did you pick a Disney cruise? Did the food offerings make this part of your decision?” Once an agent elicits your answers, she will be better equipped to tailor the trip to you and your family.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

 

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