Sharing the journey together
The number one question that I get when I tell people I am a travel agent is:
"do people still use travel agents nowadays?"
About a year ago, I joined the Catalyst Travelteam. Just like any exciting new adventure, I wanted to tell any- and everybody that would listen about my new venture. As I screamed it from the rooftops, the most common reaction was my friends faces being contorted in a perplexed way as they questioned, “do people still use travel agents nowadays?”
After this happened, over and over again, I discovered the most prevalent myth:
NO ONE USES TRAVEL AGENTS ANYMORE
With the soaring popularity of DIY (do-it-yourself) travel websites like Expedia.com and Kayak.com (among others), there was a substantial shift in how people book travel in the 21stcentury.
While there was a substantial switch in how people booked travel, these DIY experiences put travel into more people’s hands and allowed them to travel more often.Travel was easier to access for the common person and didn’t only belong to the uber-wealthy.
Before the age of the internet, people HAD to go to travel agents to book their flights and accommodations. With the popularity of the internet, people had the world at their fingertips. With the strike of a few keys on a keyboard, people can now search for “hip Havana hotels.” Anyone can find a plethora of information about the destination, popular accommodations, and tourist tips on their own without a travel agent.
Travel instantly became more accessible!
With more people traveling than ever before, hotels, flights, and tours that were once reserved for those who could afford the high price tag became more accessible and budget friendly. So, has there been a shift in how people book travel? Yes! Do people still use travel agents? YES! However, there is a difference in the type of travel that you should book on your own and the type of travel you should go through an agent for. Here are the top 3 reasons to book on your own and the top 3 reasons to book with a travel agent.
Top 3 reasons to DIY
Top 3 reasons to use a Travel Agent
Top 3 Reasons to DIY (Do-It-Yourself)
1) Short domestic flights
The skinny on whether you should use a travel agent or not is based off of two things: 1) how easy/hard the itinerary is and 2) the amenities and costs.
If it’s an easy itinerary or task, just book it on your own.Short domestic flights are easy to book on your own.
It’s pretty easy to set up your trip from Seattle to LA, San Francisco, New York, or any other American city. It’ll take you 30 seconds to get onto your favorite DIY travel website, plug in your travel dates, and choose your flight based on your preference of price and airline.
For easy things like this, it doesn’t make any sense to spend the extra 20 minutes to go through your travel agent to go through all of those steps. The only reason you would want to do this is if you and your agent are 100% in syncwith all of your preferences around price, airlines, etc. In that case, you can quickly e-mail your travel agent with travel dates and let them book it all for you.
2) Using your travel miles
Any serious travel knows that you HAVE TO GET TRAVEL REWARDS. These rewards come in many different ways.
Check out this article by the Points Guy to see how you can start to build up your reward points: https://thepointsguy.com/guide/beginners/.
Travel rewards are great for frequent travelers.You get free flights, hotel stays, and upgrades. While it is easy to get the points, it can be somewhat hard to redeem your points. Some credit cards have certain fine-print requirements that you have to follow.
Fine-print requirements make it extremely difficult
for your agent to book your rewards.
Some require you to go on a special website to book your travel. Some require you to go through particular airlines. Some require that YOU and no one else to actually book.
Not only can redeeming your rewards be hard for travel agents, a busy travel agent might charge you an extra fee. In Tim Winship’s articleon Smarter Traveler states that travel agents don’t get anything out of booking reward travel for their clients. While they may do it since you are a regular client of theirs, they may be “reluctant”to do so since they do not receive any commission from it. Because of this, they may even charge an extra fee of $20-$50.
(note: some companies are starting to work closer with travel agents and allow them to make these bookings without much difficulty. Talk with your agent to see if they work with those companies.)
3) Cheap, cheap, cheap travel
In my post: Travel Agent Myths: Travel Agents (Save or Don’t Save) Me Money, I said,
“Travel agents, at least good ones,
don’t give you a cheap price on a vacation;
they get you a GREAT DEAL!”
If you are trying to travel on the cheap, cheap, cheap, do-it-yourself. As a travel agent, I’m always afraid to give someone a hotel for $20 a night, even if the client asks for it.
If you walk into a dirty, grimy, and unsafe hotel,
I will be embarrassed as your agent.
I want to give my clients the best that I can possibly give them for their budget. BUT, we all have to be realistic about travel budgets and what you actually get for your dollar. Of course, you can travel around the world for a couple hundred dollars. You can definitely have fun with discount flights, cheap hotels/hostels, and self-guided walking tours, but a travel agent would be both embarrassed to give you that kind of trip and could also be held liable if anything bad happens to you.
Check out this fun video for some cheap destinations that would put your travel agent in this kind of situation: 5 Worst Cheap Hotels in Vegas.
Because of this, you may want to plan out your own cheap travel because an agent wouldn’t want to take that risk and you’d probably have a better plan for your travel than they would since there are very few (if any) agents that specialize in that kind of travel.
Top 3 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent
1) Long-international flights
100% use your travel agent for complicated itineraries and expensive travel that they can make easier and cheaper for you. Long-international flights can be both complicated and expensive for you to do on your own.
I recently saved someone over $400 on a complicated itinerary with several destination cities. Not only did I get them a good deal, I got it with a top notch airline. While price searching, on their own, they would have not only paid several hundred dollars more, but also would have been on a low quality airline.
Saving even $100 on your flight can sound insignificant on an already expensive trip, but that’s the different between a memorable experience or something ordinary.This savings is the difference between a meal at a stunning restaurant across from the Colosseum in Rome or a cheap bite of fast-food. This savings is the difference between doing a guided city tour for a day or arguing with your spouse about where to go on $0 (or am I the only person with this problem?).
2) Group Trips
Getting a group to travel together can be like herding cats!
This cat herding commercialshows the dangers involved.
Getting everyone on the same page for airfare, accommodations, and excursions can be infuriating. Everyone has their own opinions on what they want to do and how they want to do it.
Travel agents are uniquely positioned to make everyone happy by putting together planning sessions, individually meeting everyone about their specific preferences, handling the stresses of finding the perfect accommodations, and setting up some good group amenities. You should sit back, relax, and have a good bachelorette party or friend-holiday without having all of that stress. Your only job is to get everyone on your party-list together so your agent can handle everything from there.
Did I mention travel agents can help you get perks?Sometimes I’ll put a bottle of wine in everyone’s room or give everyone some resort credits for them to choose what they want. Sometimes I’ll get the whole group a free cocktail party or it could end up in a free night stay for the group host.
3) Cruises and resorts
Never, ever, ever … did I mention, NEVER book cruises, resorts, or guided tours on your own. Travel agents book so many of these trips and end up getting special deals. Sometimes that is in a cheaper price, but most of the time it is the special add-ons that you cannot add on your own.
For example, I just booked a Mediterranean cruise for people starting at $2,300per person (already a great price for a 12 day cruise exploring some hot-spot destinations). Normally, for cruises, all of the food is included in the cruise. However, if you want a specialty dining option or a premium drink package, you’ll pay extra. Typically, you’ll pay between $50-$100 per person per day for a drink package depending on the cruise line (check out this articlefor more specifics). I was able to time out the promotion for my client in such a way that I got them their drink package for FREE and a night FREE in specialty dining. Not only did these things save them over $1,700, I was also able to get them some on-board credits for them to enjoy as they would like.
This does NOT include the added perks that I can get everyone as a group perk.
Cruises aren’t the only places that agents get these kinds of discounts for. Resorts are very similar in price structuring and in how agents can package a great deal for their travelers.
Wrapping It Up:
Travel is more popular than ever, especially with the addition of DIY sites. As travel is more accessible for everyone, there are types of travel that you just go ahead and book on your own.
If it’s easy and cheap, jump online and DIY.However, if it’s complicated and expensive, go to your travel agent.They can make it easier on you and they can get you a good deal and extra perks.
Do travel agents really save people any money? Before I became an agent, I thought that travel agents just added extra costs onto my vacation. I’m spending my hard earned money on relaxing so I don’t want to pay someone extra money for booking my travel when I could use that money for an extra night’s stay or another Michelin star restaurant experience. After looking into it more, I realized that this is a myth. The reality is that travel agents save people more than they realize and that the commissions they get paid have nothing to do with charging you extra. I know what your thinking,
“It’s too good to be true!
I can have my cake and eat it too?”
I’m hear to say, “YES!” That is exactly how it works. Below, I’m going to tell you some insider secrets about how travel agents save you money … and how in that process, they’ll still make ends meat without charging you any extra or taking away your extra vacation perks. Here’s what you’ll read below:
Commissions Are Included Costs
You already pay commissions, whether you know it or not. Commissions are built in costs for EVERY booking—every hotel room, tour group, cruise, etc.
**Wait, you’re lying to me!**
I promise you that I’m telling you the truth.
Every single booking already includes commissions in the original costs. If you decide to use the host company, they pockets all the money. If you decide to use a travel agent, the agent gets those commissions. Believe it or not, if the commissions are not included in the original price then the agent does not get commissions. There are some places like domestic flights, certain tour groups, and some companies that just do not pay any commissions.
So you know I’m not just holding back information or lying to you, there are travel agencies that charge automatic fees for non-commissioned bookings. I have seen it as a one-time cost between $20-$50. The times I’ve seen or heard of agents using this “fee” is when the agent knows that they are saving the client money on their overall trip and can therefore justify the added costs for their time and effort.
So, just how much money do these built-in commissions cost you? Commissions can typically range from 5% to 20% depending on the company, the partnership between the agent and the company, the type of booking (hotel, flight, tour group, sightseeing), and the size of the group. On average, most commissions are 10%. So for your 6 day trip at $150 per night ($900 total), the commission will typically be $15 per night ($90 total). **Remember, you would be paying the full price of $900 whether it goes the company or your travel agent.**
On average, how much time do you spend researching all the different parts of your trip? Not only doing cost comparing, but looking at the relevant 1 star and 5 star reviews. Not only looking at fun things to do, but researching seasonal events and customs that could enhance your unique experience. On average, it can take someone 10-20 hours to plan out and book their trip. If you make $30/hr, this time just added an extra $300-$600 onto your trip. You save a ton of time by using a travel agent.
This also does not include the time it takes to deal with complications. Recently, I booked a multi-country trip. I booked my clients flights and hotel for over $400 less than he could have book it on his own. I felt really proud of myself! And, he felt really good about the prices I got him (even though I downplayed just how much I saved him).
The next day, the supplier called me to say that the hotel price had gone up another $150 and there was nothing they could do about it. I’m not sure words can imagine the extent of distortion and contortion of my face in that moment. I felt really good about saving my client money and didn’t want to return to him saying I had failed at truly getting him this deal. As his travel agent, I didn’t want his trip to be ruined because he couldn’t spend that $400+ on some great addition to his vacation. In this moment, I did what most travel agents do … I negotiated with the supplier.Do you know how long this took?
After 3 daysand talking on the phone with the supplier for over 4 hours, the price of the trip DID NOT change a dime. I both saved him actual money and 4 hours’ worth of his time.
Saving You from Mistakes
Travel agents save you from making costly and time-consuming mistakes.Travel insurance, visa requirements, country customs and laws, and cancellation policies, it will cost you extra if you make a mistake in one of these areas. Having a travel agent help you navigate all of this could save you big. It sucks having to cancel your trip, especially when you have no travel insurance.
If you don’t have travel insurance, you’re likely to lose most if not all of the money that you invested in your vacation. Some credit cards have travel policies which are a part of their benefits package to you. However, you should know this credit card benefit is being discontinued by many credit card companies. Also, you need to remember that in order for you to qualify for this benefit, if your card still has this policy, you need to purchase the vacation with that specific credit card. I have known travelers to cancel their trips and denied the benefits from their credit card company because they paid with a different card that did not include this perk.
If you happen to have insurance, you know that dealing with insurance companies takes a long time. With the relationships already established, travel agents can save you more time and frustration when and if you need to cancel your trip for some reason.
Agents Perks & Discounts
Travel agents, at least good ones, don’t give you a cheap price on a vacation; they get you a GREAT DEAL! Suppliers give travel agents good perks and then the agents pass them onto you.Some hotels will provide a travel agent free rooms if they book a certain amount of nights with their hotel. For example, one hotel group gives out 1 free night for every 7 nights booked at their hotel. If there is a group that needs 5 rooms for 5 nights (a total of 25 nights), the agent will receive 3 nights free. Some agents keep these perks for themselves so they can test out the merchandise. Some agents pass these savings on to their clients. (Most times, agents will do a mixture of both: keeping some perks for themselves and passing on the savings to their clients.) In this circumstance, an agent could give those 3 nights to a VIP client, give them to a charity, or discount that group’s next trip. As travel agents book more travel with the same suppliers, they receive more perks and discounts: free nights, discounts on excursions, free flights, gifts upon arrival, resort credits, and much more. Because travel agents book more travel than you can book on your own, this is a perk that will be impossible for you to get on your own.
Group and Package Deals
Going along with the previous point, travel agents can get you great group and package deals.Whether you already have a group of friends/family or whether you want to join an already existing group, travel agents who specialize in group travel can get your group discounts and deals.
I will actually focus on this subject in more detail in a separate blog. Since it is a specialty focus of Catalyst Travel, I want to spend more dedicated time telling you about how we help you with your group travel and get you the best deals.
Wrapping It Up:
Travel agents can save you a lot of money on your vacations. While it may not be the “cheapest” price, it is the BEST DEAL! While there have been some agencies that have added extra costs to their clients, most agencies and their agents work hard to give their clients the best deal for their money. In many circumstances, a travel agent can get you a better deal than you could get on your own. Ultimately, saving you the extra $$$.
The next article will be:
Travel Agents Benefits and Myths: No One Uses Travel Agents Anymore
In the comments section, I’d love to hear your questions about travel agents that you’d like me to address in our blogs. No question is off-limits.
Before becoming a travel agent, I had a limited understanding of the benefits of using one. My mom had a lifelong dream of getting into the travel industry. In addition to her full-time job as an accountant, she worked in a hotel, a bed-and-breakfast, and a casino dealer. After 15+ years, we felt the need to take the leap of faith and become travel agents.
Even though this was mom’s dream, I had a lot of reservations about the industry. I had never used an agent before and had a lot of assumptions about them. Many of the same assumptions that I’ve heard from people when I tell them that I’m an agent.
If we were going to delve deep into the industry, I wanted to do my research to see if my assumptions were correct. If they were, I wanted to see why people became travel agents and why people would use them. We started our research and began asking a lot of questions. It was at that time that we approached Sally (the owner and operator of Catalyst Travel with 30+ years of experience as an agent) to hear about her experience. We found that there are actually a whole lot of benefits to using a travel agent that we had never known before and that the assumptions we had were merely myths(and not the cool kind of myths like unicorns and elves). I went from being a total sceptic to regretting not having used one for all of my travel before now. When my family and friends asked me why we jumped into this field, I responded by saying that “I was stupid for not using a travel agent in the past!”
In this blog, you’ll see featured articles entitled “Travel Agent Benefits & Myths.” In these articles I will explain some of the myths and benefits of using travel agents by giving you a front row seat into how much work your agent does while setting up a perfect trip for you. (You’ll read about my experience of saving a client several hundred dollars when a hotel wanted to mark up there prices last minute or about the crucial relationships that we’ve built to provide great deals and a customized experience.)
In the comments section, I’d love to hear your questions about travel agents that you’d like me to address in our blogs. No question is off-limits.
According to TSA (TSA Press Release), this year has screened an extra 6% or 13 million more passengers than this time last year. in addition to the stresses of all the minute details of your trip, you'll probably also experience long lines, security check points, and k-9's sniffling at your unspoken parts and baggage. In a recent trip from Seattle to California, I experienced what has become the norm for a city who's infrastructure hasn't caught up to it's population growth. After getting my print ticket and checking my bags, it was time to get in the security check line. I walked up the escalators and started heading to the line. To my utter amazement, the line was longer than I had expected--much longer. I looked down the airport corridor and couldn't see a clear end to the line.
So, I walked ...
... and walked ...
... and walked some more ...
only to find that the airport had set out countless line dividers that people would have to weave in and out of until we got into another large section where we would repeat the whole process and finally going through the whole process one more time until we got to the TSA Agents. It took 5 mins just to walk to the end of the line and then another 45 minutes to get in front of the TSA Agent, not to mention getting through the security checkpoint and all of those x-ray machines.
Luckily, I practice a simple routine every time I go to the airport which kept me cool, calm, and collected instead of frustrated, furious, and late for my flight. You can practice these simple routines so you can survive long airport lines as well.
Show Up Early
No one wants to run through the airport in a frantic hurry only to make it to the gate with a closed door and your flight taxiing away--only a couple minutes away from a cushioned seat, salty pretzels, and a cool refreshing beverage. That's why I always leave my house at least 2 hours in advance. Since it takes me 20 minutes to get to the airport from my house, that leaves me 1 hour and 40 minutes to check-in, go through security, and make it to my gate. In Seattle (my home airport), it is relatively easy to make it through in that amount of time (and grab a quick bite to eat or some coffee). There are times, however, that I add onto that 2 hour timeframe. When I'm flying on a holiday (or during a special event), when I'm flying during a peak hour in the day, or when I'm flying international.
People want to travel during the holiday season to see family and friends, escape from the daily grind of work, and make new traditions and memories with loved ones. During these times, I typically leave an extra hour or two earlier. In my recent experience, I traveled during Labor Day weekend and saw a dramatic and exponential increase to the regular Seattle airport traffic. Not only are holidays already a busy time, it will only get busier and busier. Over the last year, 6 of the top 10 busiest days of travel have been within 2018 (TSA's Top List). All of these days were closely around Independence Day and Memorial Day. This was already on top of last year's record breaking Thanksgiving travel. I cannot imagine what this year's Thanksgiving and Christmas season will look like for airports around the country. So if it is one of the top 6 American holiday seasons (New Year's, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), I schedule an extra hour or two to my pre-flight arrival.
Every location has peak times of travel. Seattle summers are absolutely gorgeous, so when your scheduling your trips to Seattle in June, July, and August remember to show up a bit earlier to the airport. That's true for all major tourist areas. For every area that I go to visit, I look to see when they're peak season of travel is. If it falls within that time period, I leave an extra 30 minutes earlier.
Going to a country requires you to go through customs, so I always leave an extra 2 hours early (between 4-5 hours before the flight takes off). 9/11 changed the scrutiny of security all around the world. When going internationally, you typically have to check more baggage, go through more security checks, present your passport/visa, and fill out extra paperwork. This is the best case scenario. If there are any complications with your paperwork, bags, tickets, or any number of things that could go wrong, you will be trapped standing with TSA Agents for a good amount of time. (And, while they are concerned about you catching your flight, they are more concerned for the safety of everyone, so they are not afraid of you being late to your flight.) If you arrive too early, what's the worst case scenario? You are just REALLY, REALLY early to your flight. You can grab some food and beverages before your long flight and take some nice airport instagram photos for all your friends. This saves you from missing your very expensive international flight.
Airport security scrutinizes a lot! You cannot bring liquids that exceed 3 oz; you cannot bring tweezers in your carry-on baggage; and, for those firework fanatics, you'll have to leave those at home too :-). In addition to all fo this, they will also make you remove your shoes, belts, jackets, bobby-pins, and certain jewelry. You get made up before your flight only to strip it all off in the airport. This adds extra time onto your airport journey. That is why I dress in a minimalistic manner. I never want to take off any clothes at the airport because 1) it adds time and 2) it's just such a hassle. My typical airport uniform is a pair of slip on shoes (depending on the look I'm going for, I have anything from the class tennis shoe to a more dressed up loafer), sweat pants or jeans that do not require a belt, a long sleeve t-shirt or button down shirt (I get a little chilly on planes, so I wear something that covers my arms), and (if it's especially cold outside or a long flight where I know I'll be sleeping) a cardigan that I can throw in my carry-on bag. Because of the simplicity of this routine, I not only have a greater ability to dress comfortably, I can also get through airport security in a breeze.
Organize Your Documents
Another thing that adds time is not having all of your documents ready. People walking through the lines, only to show up in front of the TSA Agent having to fumble through their bags to find their ticket, license, and passport. I have been in that place where I stick all my paperwork into some part of my bag only to forget which of the 28 pockets in my bag I stuck it in. I then freak out as people stare a hole in the back of my head. Sweating I look through the 27 other pockets with no luck and the very last pocket that I check ends up having my ticket. Finally, I found it! I give them my ticket and then they ask for my license ... flustered, I fumble once again to figure out where my license is at (duh! It's in my wallet). Because of this, I have developed a routine to organize my documents so I never have to riffle through my bag and waste everyone's time in the line. I always carry all of my documents in my hand until after the security checkpoint. No forgetting where my ticket is; no forgetting where I keep my license, no eye daggers from strangers at the airport; it seems like a win-win for me.
Wrapping It Up:
Airport lines will only continue to get longer and more complicated as time goes on. If you practice these three tips every time you travel then you'll stop stressing about whether you'll miss your flight. These are simple routines, but when you put them into practice, you'll be reassured that you'll catch your flight with time to spare--especially if everyone starts to practice these simple tips.
I'm wondering, do you have any other tips and tricks to help you get through airport security? Share in the comments below.