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Does anyone use a travel agent anymore?

"The travel agent industry has been transformed. It's definitely not going away," says Peter Greenberg. (Photo by Jason Meredith/CC Images)
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I love to travel, but I have never used a travel agent. My parents don’t use an agent, none of my friends have used a travel agent. And living in the digital age of do-it-yourself online, I started to wonder if it was an obsolete profession.

So I posted the question to my Facebook page and 60 comments later (from people who love their agent), I decided to look into the pros and cons of using such a service.

“The travel agent industry has been transformed, says Peter Greenberg, CBS travel editor and host of a syndicated travel radio show. “It’s definitely not going away.”

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Greenberg says travel agents have become very niche. One agent might specialize in Southeast Asia, another does adventure trips, another Hawaiian resorts. It’s not just cruises for grandma.

“The age range of people using travel agents has come down,” Greenberg explains. “And the travel agents today are not your father’s travel agent, so to speak. They’re much more cutting edge. They have to be to stay competitive.”

But let’s get down to brass tacks. Of course it’s easier to pay someone to plan your whole trip. But does it cost more?

“It’s not about what it costs, it’s about what it’s worth,” Greenberg said. “If someone can save me $500 and I have to pay them $50 to do it? I can do the math.”

But cost seems to vary. Redmond’s Sheri Gazitt has been using the same agent the past 15 years, and she pays a flat fee of $250 to get a package put together.

“So our travel agent saves us money, but the trip overall is pretty expensive,” Gazitt said. “So she’ll get us a free night at a hotel or she’ll get us free breakfast or vouchers for something, a free rental car. But overall, the vacations tend to be pricey.”

But Gazitt said the peace of mind that comes from using an agent is worth the cost.

“This was a moment where all of us were like, ‘thank goodness we have a travel agent,'” Gazitt said. “So we had gone to Florida and done Universal Studios, that kind of stuff, and then we’re heading over to the Bahamas and one of my daughters left her backpack in the airport. [Our agent] contacted the airport, found the bag and had it shipped to our house so it was there when we got home. So we were able to go on our vacation, not worry about it. I didn’t actually expect her to do something about it. I just was asking her, ‘What do we do?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. I’ll do it.'”

Let’s say you get to your hotel room in Costa Rica, and there isn’t a view as promised? When this happened to Gazitt she called her agent and was upgraded to a huge suite.

“Do you want to spend your vacation on the phone, complaining and talking and trying to fix it?” asks Monroe travel agent, Michelle Wicks-Cypher. “Or do you want to let somebody else do that for you? You can go to the beach, you can go to the pool, you can let me make the calls and get it straightened out and the then get back to you and say, ‘OK, here’s the fix.’ So you don’t spend that hour, two hours, three hours of your vacation trying to make it right. You have somebody else who can make it right for you.”

Wicks-Cypher loved spending hours and weeks planning her own trips, but after having a good experience with a travel agent she decided to become one herself.

“She had access to things that I didn’t know looking online,” Wicks-Cypher said. “She actually was able to save us some money because even after we booked it, when the price came up lower, she got us at the lower price.”

Access is the key word here. There are all kinds of deals that you don’t have access to elsewhere.

“Most people want to use the Internet,” Greenberg said. “But the myth of the Internet is that all of the available inventory is online. All of the available inventory is not online. Only about 52 percent is. Most travel providers hold back a lot of their own inventory. So if you don’t have a conversation with that travel provider, using a travel agent, you’re essentially disenfranchising yourself from about 40 percent of what’s out there.”

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