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How (and why) to Choose a Travel Agent

After spending the last ten years on what seemed like the brink of extinction, the travel service industry is making a rousing comeback. As travel becomes more and more difficult, unpredictable, and arduous, travelers who moved away from travel agents in favor of self-service internet booking are rediscovering the true value of a good travel agent, and returning in droves

Benefits of using a travel agent

  • Help when things go wrong. Many internet customers complain that when problems arise - even common situations like missed flights or lost hotel reservations - there is no one to help. A good travel agent is available 24/7, and has the expertise (and often the connections) to quickly take care of problems as they arise, removing the burden from the traveler.
  • Time savings. The sheer number of on-line booking companies means that it may take hours to find the best deals on your own. One quick call to your travel agent and the work is done for you.
  • Information. Travelers often find that accommodations, restaurants or day tours that look fantastic on-line are a disappointment once they arrive. Your travel agent will be able to give you recommendations (often from personal experience) that fit your needs and preferences.
  • Knowledge and experience. The more complicated your travel plans, the less likely you will be successful on your own. For example, travel agents can find that flight from Beijing to Ulan Bator, brief you on social customs, currency and water quality, and let you know what the airline luggage weight restrictions are on each leg of your journey.

Finding a good travel service professional

  • Ask your traveling friends for recommendations, and ask agencies for a list of current clients that you can contact.
  • Check their credentials. Look for the CTC (Certified Travel Counselor) professional certification, typically displayed on business cards and in the storefront window. The CTC certification is awarded to those who have at least five years experience and have completed an intensive educational program and exam, and is considered the industry's highest level of achievement.
  • Look for ASTA membership. Travel agencies belonging to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) must adhere to a strict code of ethics that requires "competence, fair dealing and high integrity". To find the ASTA member nearest you, click on astanet.com.
  • During the initial meeting, a good agent will ask a lot of questions, covering things such as dietary restrictions, whether aisle or window seats are preferred, if you have a favorite airline or frequent flier membership, whether you prefer a resort or a downtown hotel, and much more. This information is essential in planning travel that meets your interests, needs and budget, and if the agent does not ask questions, chances are you won't receive the level of service that you should expect.

While travel agency services are no longer free to the public (fees typically range anywhere from $10.00 to $100.00 depending on the complexity of the arrangements), most clients will tell you that good travel agents are worth their weight in gold.

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