Expedia/Hotels.com/Booking.com? Or a travel agent? What's easier and which one will save you more money?
This is a common doubt among all travelers... and the answer might surprise you: yes, a travel agent is better and will save you money along the way. Not convinced by my short answer? Read on, as I give you 5 reasons why booking a trip on your own might not be the best option.
1. You might be paying more.
True story: a client of mine wanted a 4-star hotel in NYC for Christmas. My price was $1,400 LESS (yes, this is the price difference!) than Expedia. Exact same dates, exact same room. Plus, I was able to offer her free admission to the Top of the Rock or Empire State building and a few other perks.
Why did I find a much lower price, you ask? Because as a travel agent, I know exactly where to look for those best deals. I spend numerous hours researching other people's vacations. And being certified by the suppliers. And reading, watching, learning. I know which supplier to choose depending on the type of trip.
This is what happens: every time you search on a travel website, you will see the published rate. But what the majority of people don't know is that many hotels and airlines have contracted rates with special vendors, which means they are selling hotel rooms and international flights for less than the published rate. And the general public don't have access to those rates.
Another example: did you know that most cities (including Charlotte) have nonstop flights to Punta Cana, Cancun and Jamaica for half of the price of Expedia/Booking.com prices? How about cruises? Most often, travel agents can find hidden promotions that will give my clients onboard credit. Again, it has to do with the other vendors that are out there. I have access to pretty much all of them, which gives me a much wider range of options to choose from when planning your vacation.
2. You spend too much time, too much effort and feels overwhelmed by all the options... and you are already super busy!
No doubt you can book your trip yourself! But think about all the time you have to put into it. And the research. And the stress of not knowing if you are making the best decision. Sites where you book your own trip are good tools, but they also have a lot of flaws. one of the worst is that they show you EVERYTHING. Do a test: go to Expedia and search for a hotel in Rome and just add a random date. What do you see? Yes, Rome (and vicinity): 6780 properties. More than 6 thousand properties. How the hell (excuse the language) do you choose one?
Sure you can filter by reviews, by location, by price... but you still will end up with A LOT of properties to choose from. You have to go through pictures, through reviews, through the fine print (well, you should). The thing is, these sites don't know you, what you like, what you don't like, what type of trip you are doing (is it budget? Is it based on a cultural experience? Is it luxury?).
And don't forget the dozens of new tabs in your browser when you are planning a trip (what is the best location to stay? What activities should I do? Things to do with kids? Romantic bed and breakfasts?). You get overwhelmed, decided to do something else and leave all the tabs opened to deal with "any time soon".
How about a shortcut to all that nonsense? Ask a travel agent, that's why we are here! I don't send my clients 6.780 properties when they go to Rome. I send 3, at the most. I do the filtering for you, I go through the pictures and reviews and I also have either personal experience or experience through my clients who went to those places before. Much easier, right?
If only we could find a service like that for all the laundry at our house. If you know someone who can come and do all the work for me saving me money and time, please send it my way.
3. You are passing on a service that is full of benefits - and it's FREE, people!!
Most of travel agents are free. We get paid by the suppliers, not the client. When I book an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, for example, my clients don't pay me a penny more (although a souvenir is appreciated, just kidding). I get paid by the supplier I used to book their package with. You pay exactly what you would pay regularly. But instead of giving to your resort that extra commission that is already included in your price, you are giving it to a small business that took the stress out of your hands. Fair enough!
Cruise? Same thing. if your vacation is $5,000 at Royal Caribbean website, it will be $5,000 with a travel agent. If you don't use a travel agent, you don't get a discount... you just let Royal Caribbean keep that commission that is already included, instead of sending it to your trusted travel professional.
Now, I know there are some travel agents that charge a fee to start planning a trip and if you book with them, they use that fee towards the final payment. I'm not a fan of this practice and I don't charge a fee myself - simply because I trust my process and customer service enough to know that if I offer something that is good and makes sense to my clients, they will book their trips with me. And if I don't, well it's part of the business.
I just have one simple request to all travelers out there: please respect the travel agent time. Avoid asking different travel agents to create a quote for your trip. It takes a lot of time to create a single quote. I don't mind investing the time to win your business but if you are just quoting to compare everything and ends up booking yourself, it's really unfair with the agent who did the work and got $0 for it. No one wants to work for free. Unless it's a work in a paradisiac beach where everything is also free - I've applied to the job but have not been called yet. Maybe it's a scam.
4. When something goes south, you have to call that 1-800 number with a call center who knows where, and you will be answered who knows when.
No one expects that something will go wrong during a trip. But sometimes, stuff happens. Maybe is a lost connection, maybe you get to your hotel and find out it's overbooked or maybe your plans changed and you need to switch up a few things. When you book a trip on your own, you will have to count on that website call center. But the thing is: they are dealing with tons of people every single day. Your trip is just another trip to them.
When you work with a travel professional - a good one, at least - your trip is also their trip. I get involved with my clients trips, and really want them to have the best experience possible. I value the time and money they are investing. Even though I might not have super powers when finding a solution for a problem, rest assure I will go above and beyond trying to make it right for my clients. It's always good to have someone that really cares by your side.
5. You have to repeat the not so efficient process, every.single.trip.
An interesting phenomenon happens with people who travel once: they want to travel again. We call it a travel bug - the best contagious bug there is. You start to adventure outside your backyard just to find out that places around you - and places far from you - are so interesting! You want to see more. You want to feel that same amazing feeling you felt on your last vacation. You know those memories will last forever in your mind and in your heart, and that they are worth it the investment.
And what happens when you want to plan another vacation? You start the same tedious process of opening all those tabs. And/or, do the boring operational details of the booking process.
When you work with a travel agent, you can just email him/her with your new request. Ta-da! You have now time to sit on the couch and binge watch that new series (or just go to the next thing on your to-do list. Nah, just go to the couch you deserve it).
If you ever wondered if you should use a travel agent to book hotels, cruises, international air, all-inclusive... the answer is YES. You get a professional service of someone who went through a lot of training to offer you the best advice you can get, and that truly cares about your experience (I know I do!). You have all these benefits for free and you are also helping a small business.
And if you don't have a trusted travel professional yet to help you make the most out of your time and money, I'd love to be yours! Just contact me and we will go from there - firstname.lastname@example.org