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Around the World: Do-It-Yourself Versus Travel Agent Bookings

Jennifer Merin on

With the year end holiday-associated travel season about to take off, all who are thinking of visiting relatives, escaping for some sun, surf and sand or taking to the ski slopes, or making their final business forays of 2019, are looking for the best way to book their trips.

It’s a season when travel becomes that much more complicated because there are so many more people on the move that it’s difficult to get the flights, seats, hotel rooms, theater tickets and other items you want for your trip, and because winter weather can throw the entire system into chaos, putting in jeopardy even the most meticulously planned itinerary and making travelers vulnerable to even more delays and disruptions than usually occur.

Nobody can snap their fingers and add flight capacity, free up seats or prevent a storm. But how you book the trip can determine, at least in part, whether you get your first choices in the first place, and to what degree disruptions will impact you.

Basically, there are two options: do it yourself or consult a travel agent. And, they both have their benefits -- but those benefits may be a bit different than what you might expect them to be. And, before actually deciding which way you wish to book your trip, you might want to consider what you get from working independently versus using a travel agent.

The first factor up for consideration has to do with the value of time versus money.
In general, do it yourself travel planning through Websites such as Travelocity, Expedia, Kayak, Priceline and other aggregators of airplane tickets and hotel room rates can unearth lower fares and discounted rates, but you can spend a lot of time doing the research to find the best deals.

Yes, you are just a click away from all the information you need for a comparison of what’s being offered, but wading through that information can be extremely time consuming and confusing -- especially during the holiday travel season, when what’s being offered on aggregator sites may be limited and more people are scrambling to make reservations.

On the other hand, a travel agent keeps up on the latest prices and offerings, and may be able to provide you with a better deal than the one that you could find on your own. Travel agencies are able to negotiate special deals, too, for discounted tickets or room rates, and these are passed along to their clients. So, you may actually get better, cheaper prices through a travel agent.

Or, depending on the situation and the size of the agency, the agent may simply go to the Web and do all of that aggregator research in your stead.

Either way, a travel agent’s price quote -- which may be specified on the spot or presented with a return phone call -- will let you know the best rates available for flights and rooms that meet your requirements and preferences. But, of course, you’ll pay a commission or fee for the service. And, if you choose to work with an agent, get that commission rate or fee specified up front!

Whether you choose to spend more time or more money in the planning of your trip is up to you. Your decision may be influenced by the complexity of your itinerary. If it involves changes of place, an overnight hotel to catch a connecting flight or transfer to a cruise ship, you may find making all the arrangements a staggering chore, and might turn immediately to a travel agent.

Who has time to coordinate all of that? A professional!

On the other hand, if your trip involves a roundtrip flight from JFK to LAX or from MIA to SFO, why not just go on line? Take ten or fifteen minutes to compare ticket prices at aggregator Websites and those offered by the various airlines at their sites, click the cheapest flights on your dates of travel and, in the blink of an eyelid, you’re done.

But, when weighing your options and making decisions, consider these other factors, as well.

When you book your itinerary yourself, you know it inside and out. You own the itinerary, so to speak. You are in control of the planning, and that’s a good thing, a reassuring thing.

Before purchasing your tickets, you will have figured out exactly how long your layover will be and whether you have time to make your connecting flight by walking from gate to gate, or whether you’ll have to make a mad dash for it. You knew what the layover options were and chose what you thought to be the best option.

You know exactly where your hotel is located relative to your relatives home or to your business meetings. You know whether the hotel has a fitness center with the kind of equipment you prefer, or whether the rooms are decorated with colors that soothe you or make you feel nauseous. You know whether the choices will optimize your trip for pleasure or for getting your work done, or for both. You know because you’ve looked everything up and made specific choices.

On the other hand, if you make your reservations through a travel agent, you can specify your preferences and trust that they will be provided. Actually, sometimes the agent will be able to get you the first choices that you couldn’t get for yourself. A hotel room that’s situated near the elevator bank, for example, as opposed to one that’s at the very end of the corridor. Or vice versa.

The travel agent may have additional information and insights that will make your time away from home more comfortable -- like booking you into a hotel that was recently refurbished rather than one with fading curtains. Or, like getting you accommodations that have great in suite amenities and extra perks. These are little things, but they make a big difference when you’re weary and stressed from a long day of travel or dawn to dusk meetings.

When you book your own travel, you may forget some details. Good travel agents work with check lists, and will ask you a slew of questions that help them to provide you with their best service. It takes some time to establish the relationship, but that time expenditure is very worth while.

Another factor that should be taken into consideration when choosing to book independently or through a travel agent is what happens when you must change your plans or when your travel is disrupted by weather. In either case, there are clear advantages to booking through a travel agent.

Regarding changing plans, if the tickets you‘ve purchased are nonrefundable or have limited exchange value, you’re in for a rough time if you’re trying to get your money back. That said, you stand a much better chance of doing so if you’re working with a sympathetic travel agent than you do from an airline agent or functionary. But, you must talk about this with your travel agent and negotiate the best terms can get.

If your travel is disrupted by inclement weather, mechanical problems or other airline issues, you’ll find your travel agent of invaluable help in rebooking you on flights that you might not be able to get on by appealing directly to the airline’s agents. Always get the travel agent’s 24/7 emergency number and, when necessary, use it. That, in itself, is a service that’s well worth the cost of the commission!


Copyright 2019 Jennifer Merin


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