If you’re a points-and-miles-wielding expert traveler, you may not immediately think of using a travel agent to book your getaways. However, there are times and situations when using these services can be of great benefit.
A good travel agent can be a game-changer when it comes to helping you book your ideal trip and receive the best services once you arrive at your destination. Travel agents can also be of great assistance when things go wrong, especially during this summer of excessive flight delays and cancellations.
Agents can often secure the best room in a hotel or the top cabin on a cruise ship. Sometimes they can even secure complimentary upgrades, breakfast benefits or food and beverage credits, and free spa treatments during your stay.
When it comes to making the right decisions about when to travel, what sights to see and which guides to hire, agents can act as advisors. An excellent travel agent can be the difference between an OK experience and the trip of a lifetime.
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Here are four times when you may want to use a travel agent:
Booking a hotel with extras
Your travel agent can become a trusted friend over time. Before you’re ready to turn over all your travel planning to a travel adviser, test the waters by collaborating on a simple trip request. You’ll want to see how the agent operates, communicates and arranges extra perks and deals. Avoid a complex or elaborate request on the first go-round.
Start by having a travel agency book your hotel arrangements with a few specific requests for extras baked in, such as airport transfers or spa services.
Start with an agent who is part of a major travel consortium such as Virtuoso, Travel Leaders Network, Ensemble Travel Group or Signature Travel Network. Each of these networks provides a suite of benefits to travelers who book with them. If you’re familiar with the perks of the American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts program or the Chase Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection, you’ll know what we mean. Extra benefits for booking can include space-available upgrades, free breakfast, additional food and beverage credit, a free spa treatment or a round of golf.
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Related: This new travel company will pair you with local experts
You can work with a travel agency that fits your style. This may be someone from a large company based in a major city with dozens of agents, or it may be someone from a more boutique option such as the family-owned and operated Ourisman Travel. (Ourisman Travel is a travel consultancy affiliated with Brownell Travel, one of the oldest travel agencies in the U.S., and also a member of the Virtuoso network.)
What’s nice about Ourisman and any Virtuoso agency is that you can have your travel agent do all the work. You can also use the Virtuoso booking tool to make quick, easy reservations. Once your reservation is in the system, your agent swings into action to let the hotel know a VIP is on the way and arranges for any extras, whether it’s a Virtuoso perk or one from a credit card program.
It’s also possible to stack benefits. If you book your trip with The Platinum Card® from American Express, your agent can secure your Amex FHR benefits; you may also be entitled to additional perks from the agency, its travel consortium or the hotel, cruise line or tour company.
When you’re short on time
Not everyone has weeks to spend crafting the ultimate itinerary and keeping watch on every flight deal (although TPG can help you here). Fortunately, you can rely on a savvy travel agent to step in and plan your vacation when your time is crunched. Otherwise, you might not be able to pull off the travel arrangements on your own, or you might end up spending more for your trip than you should.
When facing a planning time crunch, look for an agent who specializes in the type of trip and destination you have in mind. If you’re looking for a beach villa on a Caribbean island, find a travel advisor who has experience booking this sort of trip.
One example is Villas of Distinction, which has been around for more than 25 years and has a vast network of properties. Your travel advisor there can offer advice on which properties are best suited to your needs, what’s available and how to book the villa. You can also use your American Express Membership Rewards points to book a villa through the agency, an added benefit to finding a good application of points.
Agents specializing in villa rentals usually have strong networks on the ground, so they can assist with chores such as stocking the villa with groceries, booking a chef or securing the best masseuse on the island for poolside treatments.
Related: Everything you need to know about Homes and Villas by Marriott
When your travel plans are specific and complex
The more complex and specific your travel goals are, the more experts in that destination or trip style can help you.
For example, every year, travel guru Wendy Perrin puts together a WOW List that features experts in the travel-booking field. The agents, advisors and destination specialists on Perrin’s list aren’t booking budget cruises and all-inclusive vacations for people as a side hustle. The agents on the WOW List are the real deal with plenty of expertise in their subject areas.
Say you want to explore Africa and go on a safari, but you don’t know where to begin. Consult the WOW List and you’ll see she recommends individuals with an encyclopedic knowledge of the continent.
The WOW List features advisors who can create custom safaris in East, Central and South Africa as well as niche destinations like Madagascar. The website provides a synopsis of the agents’ expertise as well as links to reviews and insider guides written by Perrin and her team.
This is an excellent resource for learning about the best attractions, cutting-edge travel trends or finding out-of-the-ordinary experiences, and shows how contact with local agents, rather than anonymous trip reviews, can be a great advantage in planning a trip.
Related: Everything you need to know about going on safari in Africa
When you’re looking for value
Travel agents often have access to room rates and cruise fares not available to the general public. This is especially true of agents who specialize in specific cruise lines. When a cruise line needs to fill a sailing, it may reach out to its top agents to extend special fares for their clients. You’ll only hear about these offers if you have a top agent who sells cruises on the lines you love.
Related: Why now might be the cheapest time to plan a cruise
For example, Keene Luxury Travel, a member of the Signature Travel Network, has relationships with all the top luxury cruise lines, especially Regent Seven Seas. As a result, your agent can offer shipboard credits, special fares for solo travelers, deals for families traveling with children and more. The agency also has its own KLT Rewards program. With KLT Rewards, you’ll get cash back on every sailing, about 10 days before you set sail. Plus, if you book a trip hosted by the agency’s owners, you’ll get a bump in the amount of your reward for booking with them.
The best part about working with specialty agents like those at Keene Luxury Travel? You can stack deals. For example, you can book a hosted trip to get the usual 5% KLT booking reward, plus an enhanced reward for booking a group trip. On top of that, you could also receive the onboard credit that’s a Signature Travel Network perk.
Whether you’re booking a weekend getaway in a U.S. city or planning an around-the-world extravaganza that includes an African safari, Antarctica cruise and a stay in an igloo hotel, consider using a travel agent. An agent can help get you on the right trip, at the right time for the right price.
They can help find the best rooms, book services you didn’t even know existed and tie all the pieces together on a complicated itinerary.
A travel agent can be particularly beneficial if you don’t have the time to do all the research yourself, or if you’re looking for help in getting the best deal. It’s also helpful to use an agent if your trip targets destinations or itineraries that can benefit from local experts,
If there’s ever a problem during a vacation — which seems to happen more often than not these days — it’s great to have a problem-solver who is just one phone call or email away.
Additional reporting by Bill Fink