Be Your Own Travel AgentPosted by in Travel
I used to do all the planning for our trips myself. In recent years I got away from this and relied on a travel agent to help me. I guess I felt intimidated by international travel and thought that somehow travel agents could get me a better deal. Well, I recently broke up with my travel agent and it was the best thing I ever did.
Travel Agents Aren’t Free
Although you usually do not have to pay your travel agent directly (some agencies do charge a fee however), you are actually paying for the service. I was a bit shocked at how much I saved when I planned a trip on my own. For our upcoming trip, I was working with a travel agent who was farming the planning out to a travel service that has “relationships” with hotels in the area we are traveling to. I thought that meant I would get a better deal. Wrong. Before the break up, this service had almost completely planned my entire trip (based on my requests), so I had a list of where I wanted to stay and how much the service was charging me in total (and no, I did not use them to get this list – they simply were unable to understand or accommodate the things that were important to us so I had to say goodbye even though the trip was nearly entirely planned and frankly I had to suggest most of the hotels on the list myself). I booked us at many of the places on this list and also choose some hotels that were much more expensive than the ones selected by the service (ants in the beds and rusty shower fixtures don’t work for me – part of the reason their service no longer was meeting my needs) and my total came in thousands of dollars less. Yes, that’s right. I still don’t know how this could be possible, but I assure you our hotels are nicer and we’ve saved a bundle.
Travel Agents Aren’t Picky
When you book through a travel agent, it’s unlikely they are going to investigate a hotel as carefully as you might. In fact, you can learn more from a site like TripAdvisor about a hotel than you can from your travel agent. Their job is to find the rate and meet your basic specs, not evaluate whether the staff is rude, how clean the rooms are, and whether the breakfast is any good. I relied on guidebooks and Tripadvisor to narrow down my choices and make my selections. When you use TripAdvisor, read all the reviews but also be sure to look first at the professional photos and then at the traveler photos. If the two sets of photos barely resemble each other, this is a red flag! These photos often will show you problems that will turn you off, such as dingy rooms, outdated decor, and unpleasant bathrooms.
I have a child who is uncomfortable flying, so airplane seat arrangements and positioning is absolutely key for us. Really, the only person who can truly book a flight for us while taking all of our requirements into consideration is me. We have been burned a couple of times and learned our lesson on this one, so travel agents weren’t of much help to me with flights.
Go to the Source
When your travel agent books you through a travel service, you’re two people removed from the action and it’s like a game of telephone. All of the information will be muddled by the time it gets to you.
The best way to book a hotel room is directly through the hotel in question. You can go back and forth with an agent about room size, size of bed, location of hotel, what exactly is included, etc. and still never really know what you’re getting. Email or call the hotel yourself and ask everything you need to know. You’re likely to get a better deal if you deal with them directly than if you use their main booking site. Even if you’re traveling to another country, you can still contact them yourself. We have found that email works perfectly well – they either translate it or have someone on staff who speaks English.
The best way to get the details on a flight is to talk directly to an airline. Use booking services to determine the cheapest flight then go to the airline yourself and ask all the questions you need to about seating, positioning, and comfort. Last summer we flew to Italy with metal boxes underneath the seats in front of us – they are part of the entertainment system. I have vowed never to let that happen again – we could not stretch our legs in front of us or stow anything under the seat in front of us. It was incredibly uncomfortable. The airline is the only one who can tell me if the seat I am considering has that issue.
Travel Agents Haven’t Been There
While a lot of travel agents are well-traveled and there are some who specialize in certain destinations they are very familiar with, it’s likely your travel agent hasn’t been where you want to go. Therefore, he or she doesn’t know where the ideal spot for your hotel is, how many days you should spend there, where the seedy parts of town are, and more. You can determine all of this yourself if you read guidebooks and web sites and get advice from people who have actually been there. It’s tempting to feel as though your travel agent is an expert, but unfortunately many are just experts at using booking systems on their computers.
Cut Out the Extras You Don’t Want
When you book a trip yourself, you book only what you want. The travel services who have booked our previous trips were always adding in tours, meals, and passes we didn’t want and didn’t need. I always weeded these things out, but somehow the pricing never really reflected those removals at the bottom line. It is also much more inexpensive to arrange your own transportation. Yes, it’s cute to get off the plane and have someone holding a sign with your name on it, but chances are you can find the taxis yourself, and you’ll pay MUCH less. It’s nice to get a printed itinerary that lists everything you want to do and everywhere you want to go, but you’re paying someone to book those things for you. Book it yourself for much less and type up the itinerary yourself. You can book “skip the line” tours online directly through the place you are visiting or using an online booking service and you avoid paying the middle man.
Trust Your Own Judgment
In the past I accepted some hotel bookings I had questions about because I felt as though the travel service must know something I didn’t. I was wrong. The hotel that I worried was possibly too far from the center of the city was actually an ungodly walk. The hotel that looked a little dated online had beds from the Stone Age (when they were made of rocks, apparently) and extremely outdated fixtures. The limited options I was given for tours was too limited and I would have been better booking it myself with a guide who offered exactly what I wanted. I’ve learned to listen to myself.
Not a Bash on Agents
None of this is meant as a bash on travel agents. I know and respect several, but have learned that for the most part, I do better when I take things into my own hands. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do your own research, definitely use a travel agent or travel service.
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