How to find the best travel agent for your next vacation

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An anniversary cruise on the Nile. A relaxing getaway at an all-inclusive resort. A revealing trek through Nepal or Peru. As anyone who sat on a crowded flight this summer (or waited for hours in a crowded airport) could tell you, travel is bouncing back.

Some vacations require more planning and coordination than others. Technology – hotel booking sites, travel blogs, price comparison tools – can help almost anyone plan a trip, but sometimes you need knowledge, know-how and experience to help you navigate the unknown.

Even though you can do almost anything a travel agency can do yourself, there are always reasons to use one.

Good travel agents can save you a lot of work – researching, comparing prices, and making the actual booking – but they also offer other benefits. Access Checkbook’s local travel agent reviews through October 5 at Checkbook.org/Inquirer/Agents.

If you use a travel agent who has visited your destination, you reap the benefits of their first-hand experience and local contacts. Good agents can also provide insider information on more than airfare and accommodation. They should be able to advise on other matters including frequent flyer programs, visa requirements, dangerous areas due to political instability, good restaurants, things to see and much Moreover.

READ MORE: Traveling through PHL this summer? Here’s what you need to know.

Good agents may also have access to money-saving offers and promotions. The agent can alert you to current security warnings, obtain visas and other essential travel documents, and assist you with other details. If you are traveling with other people, an agent can coordinate arrangements for the entire group. If you have special needs or special interests, an agent’s expertise is especially valuable. And if something goes wrong, a good agent can be a central source of help and leverage.

Because many types of travel-related commissions have dried up, travel agencies now charge fees for most services, so hiring an agent is usually more expensive than booking on your own.

When airlines paid travel agencies a commission on the tickets they sold—usually 10% of the fare—the agencies could survive on airline ticket sales alone. Agencies still receive commissions on hotel bookings (typically 5%-10%, although only about half of hotels pay), cruises (10% or more), car rentals (2% 5%) and tour operator packages (10%% or more).

To compensate for lost commissions, travel agencies charge customers a fee for each service – typically $30-$50 to book a domestic flight, $30-$100 for an international flight, $0-$150 for a cruise and $75 to $150 per hour for research and planning. tips. Fees often depend on how much the agency can earn from commissions. For example, buy a trip from a tour operator who pays 10% commission and the agent may not charge any fees. But for an overseas trip that includes flights, multiple hotel stays, rail passes, or car rental, the fee can be $300 or more.

Your first question for potential agencies should be whether they have specialized staff in where you want to go. You’ll likely find that some agents focus on cruises versus Europe versus South America versus effectively visiting Disney theme parks. You want to work with an agent who has recently visited your destination, or at least has expert contacts there and books several trips there per month.

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Especially if you’re booking with a tour operator, a cruise, a vacation package, or another trip that involves bundled services, ask three or four different agencies for quotes. You’ll likely see big cost differences, even for itineraries, accommodation, and other similar services.

A good agent will stay on top of the details and stay in close contact until your plans are set. If agents don’t know the answers to all your questions, they should at least know where to find them. If an agent is slow to respond, offers flights that don’t meet your travel constraints, inaccurately describes destinations, or lacks other details, consider making a change.

Typically, you want an agent who uses a variety of cost-cutting tactics, including purchasing discounted third-party airline tickets, locating hotels or resorts with special promotions, and negotiating best prices with cruise lines.

Unfortunately, this is an area where there can be great variability. Since agencies receive higher – or more reliably paid – commissions from some travel providers than others, the industry is rife with conflicts of interest. The agents you hire should look out for your best interests by selecting the best options and looking for ways to save you money, but don’t assume that all will.

Do at least some research on your own. Knowing the basics – including information about available offers – will help you determine if you’re working with an incompetent or lazy agent.

Let your agent know that you sometimes check other options, so they don’t become complacent. Beware of suppliers that neither you nor your agent have heard of. They may have important chains attached. Pay by credit card. If you have a problem, you can dispute the charge.

Even if you regularly rely on one agent, consider using another for trips that require special knowledge. Also note that you do not have to go through an agency located in your city. You may also consider using an agent based where you are going; you’ll often get a better deal and better insider knowledge.

the Delaware Valley Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and checkbook.org is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is consumer backed and does not take any money from the service providers it reviews.

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