5 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent

What's Hot

2 Types of Black Marks Might Vanish From Your Credit File SoonBorrow

6 Ways the Obamacare Overhaul Might Impact Your WalletInsurance

7 Dumb and Costly Moves Homebuyers MakeBorrow

This Free Software Brings Old Laptops Back to LifeMore

Obamacare Replacement Plan Gets ‘F’ Rating from Consumer ReportsFamily

Beware These 12 Common Money MistakesCredit & Debt

21 Restaurants Offering Free Food Right NowSaving Money

17 Ways to Have More Fun for Less MoneySave

House Hunters: Beware of These 6 Mortgage MistakesBorrow

30 Household Uses for Baby OilSave

25 Ways to Spend Less on FoodMore

Nearly Half of Heart-Related Deaths Linked to These 10 Foods and IngredientsFamily

5 Surprising Benefits of Exercising Outdoors in WinterFamily

10 Ways to Save When You’re Making Minimum WageSave

Boost Your Credit Score Fast With These 7 MovesCredit & Debt

7 Painless Ways to Pay Off Your Mortgage Years EarlierBorrow

The Most Sinful City in the U.S. Is … (Hint: It’s Not Vegas)Family

The True Cost of Bad CreditCredit & Debt

10 Companies With the Best 401(k) PlansGrow

This Scam Now Tops ID Theft as the No. 2 Consumer ComplaintFamily

6 Stores With Awesome Reward ProgramsFamily

6 Ways to Save More at Lowe’s and The Home DepotSave

6 Healthful Treats for Your DogFamily

New Study Ranks the Best States in the U.S.Family

Thousands of Millionaires Moving to 1 Country — and Leaving AnotherGrow

Strapped for College Costs? How to Get the Most From FAFSABorrow

6 Overlooked Ways to Save at Chick-fil-AFamily

Ask Stacy: What’s the Fastest Way to Pay Off My Mortgage?Borrow

Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top DollarAround The House

8 Ways to Get a Good Price on a Shiny New AutoCars

Ask Stacy: How Do I Start Over?Credit & Debt

Secret Cell Plans: Savings Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint Don’t Want You to Know AboutFamily

30 Awesome Things to Do in RetirementCollege

14 Super Smart Ways to Save on TravelSave

The Rich Prefer Modest Cars — Should You Join Them?Cars

You’ll Soon Pay More to Shop at CostcoSave

10 Ways to Save When Your Teen Starts DrivingFamily

Tired of spending frustrating hours online booking flights with no certainty you'll end up with the best deal? Maybe it's time for a blast from the past.

Last year, the business outlook for travel agents was so gloomy, even President Obama commented on it. In August, he talked about jobs while in Illinois and remarked, “When was the last time somebody went to a bank teller instead of using the ATM, or used a travel agent instead of just going online?”

With all due respect, Mr. President, I visited my bank teller around the corner last week – because I needed quarters, and the ATM doesn’t dispense those. There are some things machines aren’t designed to handle, or they do it so  poorly that we still need people on the job. Travel agents can be a big help – and it seems the rest of the country is finally realizing that.

Last year, even struggling banks were faring better than travel agents – there were about 15,000 retail travel agencies last summer, as opposed to nearly 26,000 agencies in 2002, USA Today reported. But something changed recently. Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), an airline-owned company, reported just last week…

Airline tickets sold by U.S.-based travel agencies increased 10.7 percent year-over-year in the first two months of 2012, compared to the same period in 2011, and 23 percent over the same period in 2010.

Why the turnaround when online self-serve travel options are only expanding? ARC doesn’t back up its numbers with any educated guesses, but I have one: Good travel agents can beat what flight search websites do, and they offer tips a computer can’t. Here are some of them…

  1. Know the ropes. While computers have made many once-complicated tasks easier for the average traveler, professionals will always possess insider information and expertise. Meanwhile, as travel-comparison sites continue to add more options, they become more complicated. Hidden fees, restrictions, expiring discount fares, and a limited selection of airlines – only ones that pay commissions show up on most travel sites – can all be frustrating factors in online booking. You can spend hours and still not be absolutely, positively certain you’ve gotten the best deal.  Deal with a reputable travel agent, however, and you can be sure.
  2. Solve problems. Travel agents can keep on top of issues like lost luggage and delays. Because of their ties to the industry, they can typically talk to airline customer service reps more effectively (and calmly) than you can – they do it all the time. And if you’re stranded  by bad weather with your fellow travelers, your travel agent might find you a way out faster.
  3. Book multiple things. Travel agencies don’t just handle flights. They can also help you get the best hotel, car rental, and travel insurance.
  4. Provide more information. Agents can tell you what documentation you need for international flights and where to get it, explain local laws and regulations at your destination, point out the can’t-miss hotspots, and inform you of discounts, and they’re a great all-around source for travel advice.
  5. Manage complex itineraries. If booking a nonstop domestic weekend trip for a family isn’t trouble enough, try doing it for a week-long international vacation that involves multiple destinations and modes of transportation. Now imagine having to tweak the itinerary later because someone gets sick or your schedule changes. Leaving that mess to an agent means you can enjoy your journey instead of stressing over it. Time, especially on vacation, is money.

Of course, agents aren’t always necessary, and they certainly aren’t free. The average fee according to the American Society of Travel Agents is $36 – but hopefully they can save you more than that. ASTA also points out that travel agents no longer make commission through airlines, although they still might through cruises and hotel packages.

This doesn’t directly affect what you pay, but if you find an agent unwilling to discuss their commission structure, you might want to get a second opinion – that may signal upselling, and it’s one of CNN’s 9 signs you’ve got a bad travel agent. To find a local agent recommended by ASTA, visit TravelSense.org and type in the first three digits of your ZIP code.

Of course, travel agents aren’t all equally skilled, motivated, experienced or smart.  To find the best one, use the same method you’d use to pick any pro: Ask friends for referrals, talk to several and always ask about experience and credentials.

For more on the frustrations of online travel booking and the benefits of travel agents, see a post from Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson4 Reasons I’m Done Booking Online Flights.

And if you’re determined to manage your own travel, Stacy and I can help there too – check out 7 Steps to Cheaper Airfares.

Stacy Johnson

It's not the usual blah, blah, blah

I know... every site you visit wants you to subscribe to their newsletter. But our news and advice is actually worth reading! For 25 years, I've been making people richer without making their eyes glaze over. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!


Read Next: Considering a Fixer-Upper? 15 Ways to Avoid a Money Pit

Check Out Our Hottest Deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,985 more deals!