Booking a Vacation Online VS With a Travel Agent

birds eye view of two people pointing to a map, laptop and cameras by their side

Last time you booked a vacation, did you book it online or with a travel agent? My guess, you booked online. I’ve done it, and I get it. It’s conveniently there and available for you 24/7, so why book with a real-life person? Well aside from their vast knowledge & real life experience, there are some major benefits I’ve learned while working alongside travel agents for the past 5 years.


First off, some of you may already know that I worked for a travel company as a sales manager. Travellers could either book their trips online or through a travel agent, but it always surprises me how many first-time travellers book online without asking advice from a travel expert, like a travel agent.


While working in the travel industry I get asked daily why travellers should book with travel agents versus online, so to help I’ve answered some of these frequently asked questions below. In the end, you can be the judge whether you want to book your next trip with a travel agent.


Q: Am I paying more when I book with a travel agent? When travel agents make commission, does that come out of my pocket?
A: The word commission makes a lot of us feel uncomfortable, especially when we don’t know if it increases our costs. Travel agents typically do get paid a base salary and on top of that commission, while other agents earn commission only, BUT what people don’t understand is this: commission does not come out of your pocket as the customer. The company you are travelling with will pay the travel agent that commission, and it does NOT increase your costs! For example, say you want to buy an Air Canada flight ticket; whether you buy that flight on Air Canada’s website or through the travel agent it is going to be the same price for you. The only difference is if you buy it through a travel agent, Air Canada would then pay the travel agent a percentage of the sale – the commission – to thank the agent for the sale, and you don’t have to do all the digging for the best sale & seat. Don’t believe me, you can look up the price of the flight online to see if it matches the price with what the agent has quoted before you pay (which I recommend you do).


Q: But what about booking fees?
A: Some travel agents do initially charge booking fees, but these fees are normally removed if you go ahead and book the trip through them; however, I recommend asking the agent before you book, as every travel agency has different policies. Unfortunately, a lot of people take advantage of travel agent’s time and expertise and ask the agent to plan an entire trip, only to go home and book it all online, leaving the travel agent with no payout for the time they’ve put in. Over the years this has become more of a problem, so to ensure people come back to book the trip with the travel agent, they’ve put these booking fees in place to protect their time. If a traveller takes the advice of an agent and books it online, the agent doesn’t get any compensation nor recognition for their hard work. So as a word of advice, if you know 100% you want to book your trip online, be respectful of that agent’s time and don’t ask them for help.


Q: Can I save more money if I book through a travel agent?
A: In some cases, absolutely! Most travel suppliers (ie. Contiki, Sandals, Hard Rock Hotels, etc) have special partnerships with certain travel agent groups, like TravelCuts or Merit Travel. When there is a preferred partnership in place, typically the travel supplier will give that travel agency an exclusive discount for their customers, that the client cannot get when they book online. This means that you cannot always find your trip cheaper online, which should be reason enough to get a quote from a travel agent.


Q: Is it true travel agents can help you get other perks or upgrades?
A: Yes! Are you celebrating a special occasion on your vacation? Let your agent know and they can put a note on your file to advise the company you are travelling with to do something special for you. Also in some cases, if you are a loyal client of the travel agent, or booking multiple elements for your trip (ie. flights, insurance, rental car, and hotel, etc) they can sometimes pull some strings to get you a room with a view or flight upgrade. Note: This may not happen every time, but there is never any harm in asking for it.


Q: Why else would I want to book through an agent?
A: Travel agents are the first to know about travel advisories, visa requirements and booking tricks. Recently I booked a flight through my travel agent, and a few weeks later the airline issued a new policy that all bookings required middle names. This meant everyone had to cancel his or her tickets and get a new one issued. The worst part was the flight cost had gone up, and the airline wasn’t offering to pay the difference – they were now expecting their customers to pay the higher price! Luckily, because we booked with a trusted agent, the agent was contacted by the airline about this change, so our agent cancelled, updated and re-issued our tickets without charging us again until the money was returned on our credit card. Also, our agent fought for us and therefore we were able to pay the original price, and not get overcharged. If we booked it online, our credit cards would’ve been charged twice in the month, and the second charge would have been higher. What a headache! If this isn’t proof enough, our travel agent also saved us $800 on these flights by knowing how to book a free stopover in Hong Kong on our way back from Australia. #Winning!


Q: When should I not book with an agent?
A: The only time you may not be able to book with a travel agent is when you are using points to pay for your trip. For example, if you are using WestJet dollars, More Rewards, or Aeroplan points you may have to book directly with the points company, as they have their own travel agencies to book your trips. However, some agencies do have the contracts to book RBC points or Air Miles, so your best bet is to ask the agent if you can pay with points before you start planning your trip with them (once again, you don’t want to waste their time if you can’t book with them in the end).


Aside from the opinions above, the number one reason why I book through an agent is their wealth of knowledge and experience. A travel agent’s job is to find a trip that’s going to be best suited to your wants and needs, whether that’s a tour, airline, all-inclusive property or hotel, and because of this, they’ve normally travelled with a lot of companies to report back on their experiences. Even if they haven’t travelled with the company you are looking at, they also have their customer’s feedback they can share with you and the supplier representatives at their fingertips. With this all being said, find a travel agent you can relate to, trust and perhaps has travelled to your countries of interest. In order to do that, you can search online or call a travel agency beforehand and ask to be connected with an agent who has travelled to the destination or with the company/resort you want to travel with.


Overall friends, when it comes to using a travel agent there are some things I book through a travel agent and some I book on my own. If I’m only booking a simple flight to Toronto, I’ll book it on my own, as it is straightforward and easy for me to do; but if I am booking a more expensive flight or complicated vacation package, I always like to ask a professional to get advice and save money. Hope that helps answer some of your questions! If you have any other questions about using a travel agent, shoot them my way.


Will you book with a travel agent for your next holiday? Let me know!

Happy Travels,
Amber from A Blissful Wanderer

For more trips ideas, thoughts or insights before booking your next vacation, talk to a Merit Travel Consultant first.

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