Learn How a Travel Agent Can Help You Spend Less on Your Vacation

Use these tips to reduce travel costs while getting value-added perks that will make your trip extra special.

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by NEA Member Benefits

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Do you believe that the best travel bargains are found at online booking sites or discount broker websites? Is “I can plan this trip better and cheaper on my own” your travel motto? Think again. When it comes to saving time, providing extras to make a trip really special and—most importantly—finding the best deal, a no-fee travel agent is your secret weapon.

They’ll save you planning time

That old saying “time is money” is never truer than when it comes to travel planning. Have you spent hours and hours tracking down flights, hotels and activities and researching all the miscellaneous details for a luxurious spa getaway in, say, Palm Springs? You are busy enough throughout the school year so there is a better way to plan your travel. Pamper yourself before you even arrive by using a travel agent to book your most relaxing vacation.

Jill Radin-Leeds, owner of boutique travel agency Just Spas & Adventures, specializes in planning tranquil spa vacations, girlfriend getaways, family trips and more. She says that you can’t put a price on the guidance and unbiased advice that a good travel agent will share with you, and that’s something online booking sites can’t provide. “Working with a travel professional that has in-depth knowledge and personal experience at many destinations make it easy to match the right destination with a client’s expectations,” says Radin-Leeds. “A travel agent can often offer perks like a complimentary spa credit or massage, room upgrades based on availability or a welcome gift upon arrival.”

For that spa getaway, Radin-Leeds particularly likes Las Vegas, San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona—all of which have a variety of resorts that offer inclusive and immersive spa experiences. Travel agencies like hers that specialize in spa travel can offer recommendations to match your personal likes and dislikes. Whether it’s booking massages, facials, pedicures or other treatments, let travel agents to do it all for you. They have already done all the homework so you can sit back, put your feet up and relax before your trip even starts.

So how do no-fee travel agents get paid? They receive a commission on the flights, hotel nights and activities they book on your behalf at no upfront cost to you. Most don’t even charge for their services. When you’re evaluating potential agents, inquire upfront if they charge a fee.

They’ll transform your trip from ho-hum to wow!

You’ve booked a trip to Italy on your own. On the way to the hotel in Rome, you begin chatting with another traveler. Guess what? He used a travel agent who arranged free daily breakfast, a spa treatment and a complimentary tour of the Vatican. The breakfast and Vatican tour that you booked took up enough of your budget that there’s no money left for a spa treatment.

Travel agents establish relationships with suppliers. Those relationships give them clout and insider knowledge to offer clients the extra touches to make a trip special. So if you’d enjoy extra shipboard credit to use in the spa or casino, or a bottle of Champagne waiting in your cabin for that anniversary cruise, consult a travel agent. Most agents are transparent about what perks their travelers will receive—look for an agency that has preferred relationships with top hotel brands or cruise names, as those agents often can get the best perks.

Travel agents are also there when things aren’t going quite so well. If you planned the trip, you’re also in charge of clearing up any issues. But if you’ve booked through a travel agent, he or she works on your behalf to smooth out the problems, ranging from unexpected flight cancellations to simply not liking the room or hotel you booked. Since agents thrive on repeat business and referrals, it’s in their best interest to ensure that your travel experience is a positive one, and they often have direct access to the people who can help fix your issue.

They’ll save you money

Because of their connections in the industry, travel agents often have access to lower prices on hotels, cruises and package tours that equal or better the prices of online discount sites. And a good agent will steer you toward the best choices for your trip, regardless of the type of commission they earn. A savvy agent can also negotiate—matching or beating the prices available online—but still guarantee you the personal service and peace of mind that comes from booking with a professional. It’s still a good idea to do your homework and price compare—most top agents will encourage you to do so!

How to pick the right travel agent

One of the best ways to find a travel agent is by asking for referrals from family and friends. But you need to go a step further. Choosing the right agent depends on the trip. If you’re interested in booking a Carnival cruise, an agent who specializes in Carnival will get you the best deals and have the clout to offer special perks.

Look for certifications from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) or agents who’ve earned the designation of Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) from The Travel Institute. This shows that the travel agent has taken the steps to educate themselves about the best industry practices as well as learning more about the travel experiences that they sell.

When researching travel agents online, add the word “complaints” after the agent’s name in the search string. The results are an indication of the agent’s reputation. Asking for client referrals is also a good practice.

An agent should be willing to discuss all options with you and answer questions up front. Many agents today market themselves not just as agents but as “advisers” who can be your reference point at all steps of the travel process. If you’re not happy with your initial interaction, search again—finding an agent you like can be a bit like dating!

And what will you do with the money saved by using a travel agent? Start saving for your next trip!

Travel-related benefits for NEA members