Starting in the 1990s, the popularity of booking flights, hotels and vacation packages through a travel agent began to wane. Instead, people began taking matters into their own hands, logging onto various vacation websites to book their trips themselves. However, the travel agent industry hasn't died and you still can choose between booking vacations online or through a real person.
If you expect to need 24-hour service, such as if you suddenly are inspired at midnight to change a leg of your trip, travel sites may be your best bet. Such sites are up all day and night, so you can log in and book or modify your trip, and many also maintain 24-hour telephone hotlines. Conversely, travel agents may not be available on a 24-hour basis. However, they may be able to deliver a more personal customer service experience compared to an impersonal website or a busy call center.
Availability of Options
Travel sites may not be able to offer the full breadth of booking options that a travel agent may have. For example, as of March 2011, American Airlines has withdrawn its flights and vacation packages from several major travel booking sites, like Expedia and Hotwire. In contrast, a travel agent has access to all of this information, and potentially more, since he or she may have personal, insider connections with various airlines, hotels and vacation tour operators.
When troubles arise during a trip, such as a natural disaster that leaves you stranded in a foreign country, a travel agent often is your best advocate, reports the "Frommer's" travel guide company. For example, the agent can make the various calls and do the research that can help get you on your way quickly. In contrast, if you booked your own trip online, you would have to do all this research and phone-calling on your own, which can be difficult if you don't have access to the necessary resources.
Booking online requires you to scour numerous websites, and research your various travel and accommodation options. This can take hours, or even days, depending on the complexity of your travel plans. Meanwhile, a travel agent can do all that for you, saving you time and reducing stress.
The personal experience, advocacy and time-saving that a travel agent provides can come at a significant cost. Not only do some travel agents take a commission off of the total cost of your trip, but they also may tag on various convenience fees and service charges. Booking online can save you significant amounts of money. "Kiplinger" financial magazine reports that booking online can get you steep discounts, specifically on hotel room rates and vacation packages.