To book oneself, or not? That, friends, is the question.
With the advent of the internet and the proliferation of booking engines such as Kayak, Google Flights, and Expedia, the value of a travel agent has been thrown into question. To boot, many small hoteliers can now market themselves directly via search engines, and AirBnB has enabled pretty much anyone to access a personal concierge -- after all, your host is a local.
That said, there are still certain occasions when it's best to employ a professional.
1. When you're booking a multi-segment trip
A simple round-trip to San Francisco isn't too tough to pull off considering the vast amount of "Best Of" information already available. But if you're looking to hop from Tokyo to Guam to Honolulu before heading back home, a travel agent may be able to help you with the best routing -- and the best pricing. The more complicated the itinerary, the more justified the agent.
2. When you're heading somewhere exotic
French Polynesia is prohibitively expensive, but there are travel agencies that exist to serve exclusive markets. For example, I employed Pacific For Less to arrange a multi-island vacation in French Polynesia, and received a world of extras that I would've never found on my own. Every inch of the journey was mapped out, and all I had to do was show up.
3. When you're going somewhere ultra-touristy
Eying a Caribbean cruise or a family trip to Orlando's theme parks? Call an agent. Locales that are known for being tourist hotspots tend to offer otherworldly packages to travel agents, and they can oftentimes get unheard-of pricing for places with loads of inventory.
4. When your destination is dangerous
The world's a beautiful place, but if you're looking to backpack through a few nations that the U.S. State Department has issued travel warnings for, you may want to consult an agent first. They're equipped to find the safe parts of town and the guides you can actually trust.
5. When you're just starting out
Travel, like most things, gets easier with time. For rookie jetsetters that lack the experience of researching and booking on their own, a travel agent can add a layer of peace to an otherwise burdensome task. It's also great to have someone you can ring up mid-trip if you hit a snag or have a question about the journey.
1. When you're not out for romance
One of the major perks of hiring a travel agent is employing them to spice up a trip. From restaurant reservations to romantic views, an agent can bake in a lot of surprises. If you're heading on a trip that's less about leisure and more about business, you're better off saving your money.
2. When you're a repeat visitor
As we previously mentioned, it is helpful to tap an agency to plan your first trip to a new destination. But once you know the landscape, you can schedule a second trip based on what you learned and liked from the first go 'round.
3. When you're a seasoned traveler
Once you have a few hundred thousand miles under your belt, you will have seen and heard just about everything. You'll know what to look for in a hotel review, how to pre-scope neighborhoods, and have an innate sense of what's a deal and what's not.
4. When you're after flexibility
If you're looking to book a one-way ticket, or you're intent on maintaining a loose (or nonexistent) itinerary, you're usually safe to tackle things by yourself. Travel agents are incredibly valuable when you know precisely what you're after in a trip, but if you're just looking to explore, booking things yourself can give you more flexibility to do so.
5. When you've earned elite status
Travel agents have a way of making things work if they go awry, which is really useful for those who lack elite hotel or airline status. If you're already a VIP, you have your own access to specialists that'll go out of their way to re-accommodate you in the event of bad weather or some other mishap.