Travel one travel Agency

travel agent woman friendly globeA few years ago, a good friend took an international trip with a two-stop flight itinerary. Afterwards, he reflected on how beat up he felt when it was over: "Adding that third airport into the mix seemed to add a ton of extra travel this year; it was rough."

I asked how he booked the flights. He said that he'd used one of the big travel booking sites, and that the itinerary he purchased was the best combination of duration, flight times and price he could find. My response: "Next time, call my travel agent first. You'll feel a lot better when it's all over."

The following year, he did just that, and the agent came up with options that he could never have found himself using a single booking site - specifically, a short and affordable Southwest flight that put him in an airport with countless options for direct flights to his final destination. What would have been another expensive, six-flight endurance test was replaced by a far less demanding trip.

Why? Personally, I've found that the likelihood of using a travel agent increases in direct proportion to the abundance and complexity of travel options you can find on the Internet. Many travelers are discovering the following:

  • In offering more options and amenities, online travel sites have actually made it more confusing to figure out what they are selling, not less so.
  • The explosion of restrictions and fees - many of which are not obvious to the casual travel buyer - further muddies understanding of the bottom line on any itinerary.
  • The absence of popular airlines from major booking engines - the juggernaut Southwest being the most glaring - eliminates what could well turn out to be a specific traveler's absolute best itinerary.
  • The big online travel sites got too smart for their own good; by tidying up and repackaging all the data each according to their own assumptions about travel purchasing, they show us what they think we want to see, but not always what we really want to see. That is, by becoming "online travel agents, " rather than mere booking sites, they end up in competition with real travel agents, who can usually do the work better than computers can.

Poll: Do You Use a Travel Agent?

  • And my number one reason to use a travel agent for booking flights: the reduction in flight capacity by the airlines has resulted in significantly more full flights on the routes I fly. At the same time, the booking sites have gotten only marginally better at offering seat choices and at seating companions together. Just try to book your family on a multi-flight trip and you'll see what I mean. Travel agents can hack their way through all this stuff.

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