Thanks to their common discovery that human travel agents are stronger consumer advocates and more accessible to travelers for help than airlines or travel suppliers' websites in a travel crisis, consumer media have recently written pages of articles about the "comeback" of travel agents. Seemingly overnight, news organizations from CNN to the New York Times to USAToday, among others, have revised their former opinion of travel agents. Their media image has quickly evolved from industry dinosaurs into industry darlings.
The current collective wisdom is to find a good travel agent before you book a serious trip, including expensive airline tickets. Here are some tips on finding a good one.
- Consider a travel agent as valuable to your well-being while traveling as a doctor or a lawyer is at home. Ask friends or relatives for referrals. Ask why they like their agent.
- Don't waste an agent's time by picking their travel brain with no intent to book. If you want the cheapest travel go back to using websites. But don't expect great service.
- Do some due diligence. Learn the agent's business experience and industry affiliations.
- Ask the agent for client testimonials or contacts. Search online for any complaints.
- You'll get better service by indicating you are looking for a possible repeat travel relationship, not just a one-off trip, if things go well with the first booking.
- Ask the agent where they've traveled and how. Does their expertise match your interests? If the agent is annoyed by questions, you may want to look elsewhere.
- Be honest and forthcoming in describing the trip and budget you are looking for. Be open to agent suggestions even if you do not choose to take them.
- Does the travel agent offer travel insurance and answer your coverage questions? Protecting your travel purchase and his or her reputation indicates the agent is a pro.
- Ask the agent how to reach the agency or their backup if you have an emergency during a trip. Will someone get back to you quickly with help if you leave a message?
- Important: if the agent responds to your initial phone messages or emails promptly, it is a clearer sign of good service than if you wait more than a day for a return call.