4 scenarios when you should use a travel agent

Feb 7, 2020

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As miles-and-points-wielding travelers, we may not immediately think of using a travel agent to book our getaways. But, there are times that warrant consulting an expert.

A good travel agent can be a game-changer — your conduit to VIP treatment at your destination. An agent can often get you the best room in a hotel or the top cabin on a cruise ship. The agent can secure a complimentary upgrade, offer a breakfast benefit or food and beverage credit or throw in a free spa treatment during your stay. They can also ensure you make the right decisions about when to travel, what sights to see and which guides to hire. 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 scenarios when you may want to use a travel agent:

In This Post

Start with a test

Your travel agent can become a trusted friend over time. When you’re ready to build a relationship with a travel adviser, test the waters by collaborating on a simple trip. 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. Instead, have the agent book your airport transfers and hotel arrangements.

The Ritz-Carlton Berlin (Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton)
The Ritz-Carlton, Berlin. (Photo courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton)

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 (FHR) 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 and other amenities like an additional food and beverage credit or a free spa treatment or round of golf.

Related: Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts stays are now bookable with points

You can work with a travel agency that fits your style — one located in a major city with dozens of agents or a more boutique option like the family-owned and operated Ourisman Travel, 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-and-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 arrange for those extras: whether it’s a Virtuoso perk or one from a credit card program like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR).

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, and 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

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. In this situation, look for an agent who specializes in the trip you’ve got in mind. If it’s a beach villa on a Caribbean island, find a travel adviser who knows about villa rentals in the Caribbean.

Blue Lagoon in St. Martin (Photo courtesy of Villas of Distinction)
Blue Lagoon in St. Martin. (Photo courtesy of Villas of Distinction)

Villas of Distinction has been around for more than 25 years and has a vast network of properties. Your travel adviser can offer advice on which properties are best suited to your needs, what’s available and how to book the villa.

And, you can use your American Express Membership Rewards points to book a villa through the agency.

Agents specializing in villa rentals usually have strong networks on the ground and can assist with stocking the villa with groceries, booking a chef to cook while you’re on vacation or securing the best masseuse on the island for poolside treatments.

Related: Making sense of three new luxury and premium vacation rental brands

When your travel plans are specific and complex

Every year, Wendy Perrin puts together a WOW List, that features experts in the travel-booking field. The agents, advisers and destination specialists on Perrin’s list aren’t booking budget cruises and all-inclusive vacations for people as a side hustle. The men and women on the WOW List are the real deal with expertise in their subject areas.

For example, say you want to explore Africa but you don’t know where to begin. Consult the WOW List and you’ll see she recommends individuals with encyclopedic knowledge of the continent.

Out on an African game drive. (Photo by Londolozi Images/Mint Images/Getty Images)
Out on an African game drive. (Photo by Londolozi Images/Mint Images/Getty Images)

There are advisers who can create custom safaris in East, Central and South Africa as well as destinations like Madagascar. The WOW List gives you a synopsis of the agents’ expertise, links to reviews and insider guides that Perrin and her team have written.

This is an excellent resource for learning about the best sights, cutting-edge travel trends or finding out-of-the-ordinary experiences.

Related: Unusual safaris you can try around the world

When you’re looking for value

Remember that travel agents often have access to room rates and cruise fares that aren’t available to the general public. This is especially true of agents who specialize in certain 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. 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 that is similar to the Costo Travel perk of sending out a Costco Cash Card after the voyage. With KLT Rewards, you’ll get cash back on every sailing, about 10 days before you set sail. And, 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 Keene Luxury Travel is 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 and then you could also receive onboard credit that’s a Signature Travel Network perk.

Cruise deal stacking with Keene Luxury Travel.

Bottom line

Whether you’re booking a weekend getaway in a U.S. city or planning a round-the-world trip that includes an African safari, Antarctica cruise or a stay in an igloo hotel, a travel agent can help. And, if there’s ever a problem during a vacation, it’s great to have a problem-solver who is just one phone call or email away.

Do you ever use a travel agent? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured image by Vichien Petchmai/Getty Images

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